I just returned from China, where I was invited to speak and lecture for a few days. I had been to the south of China, Guandong Province in 2006, but this was my first visit to the capital city of Beijing. When you are in another country, you see various human dynamics freshly, and you get a glimpse of your own country through the eyes of others. We are known for Southern hospitality, but the Chinese take the responsibility of host to an entirely different level, making sure someone is with you every waking moment to ensure your needs are met.
I had a chance meeting with two famous scholars while in Beijing. It was such an honor to meet Liu Junning and Feng Xingyuan. Both men have been strong advocates for capitalism within China. You can read some about Liu Junning in Wikipedia, where it says that he is “one of the most prominent liberal voices inside Chinese academia. Liu is an opponent of what are called Asian values, including the view that Asia should take a different route of political development outside of the tradition of liberal democracy, seen as a Western principle.” The Chinese are known for taking the long view and Liu points out for thousands of years Chinese values have been marked by an entrepreneurial spirit and individual responsibility. In the grand scheme of Chinese culture, collectivism is a very recent phenomenon, imposed by an authoritarian state. Since there is less political freedom in China, Liu has been severely punished for his ideas. In 2001 he was expelled from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and he was prohibited from traveling outside of China. Recently the travel prohibition has been lifted.
The growth in the Chinese economy has been the world’s envy for some time. The more capitalist China becomes, the higher the standard of living for its people. They are gradually introducing private property rights, free market exchanges, personal and corporate liability, and consistency and continuity of economic policy. Ironically, we are doing the opposite in the United States, and we have anemic economic growth. Liu believes that our two economies will “meet in the middle.” Who would ever have thought that it is possible that some day China will be more capitalist than the United States?
Feng Xingyuan is the vice director of the Unirule Institute of Economics. What I learned from Feng is that China also carries a tremendous amount of debt that is not made public to the outside world. Some day the debt comes due and then people’s quality of life will suffer. At a future point in both America and China, a generation of children will be much worse off than their parents because of the debt generated by their ancestors.
Both men are hopeful about China becoming more politically free. They note that the national “religion,” Confucianism, does not support government control of business and it does support ordinary people attaching great importance to commerce. In this way, Confucianism is similar to Christianity, which also advocates personal responsibility and limited government.
They both believe that the human spirit is entrepreneurial. The notions of hard work, personal responsibility, flexibility, and saving for the future are not a product of the Protestant work ethic, but a characteristic of human beings worldwide. Political freedom also seems to be part of the fabric of human existence. Although I absolutely loved my visit to China, it is so nice to be home where we have the freedom to post on Facebook. Many websites such as Facebook and YouTube are blocked by the Chinese government.
Eric B. Dent, a Lumberton resident, is a business professor at Fayetteville State University. Published October 2013