How we organised a conference in China to talk about FREEDOM!

As he mobilised China with the Cultural Revolution, Chairman Mao did not want to create just a new political or economic system. He wanted to create a new mindset entirely. To realise these goals, both the freedom of speech and the freedom to organise had to be completely eliminated. For Chinese at the time, meeting with others publicly was entirely out of the question. Even within the walls of their own homes one had to be wary, as neighbours and even family members might report them to the Party leadership. My own grandfather was sentenced to over a year of hard labor simply for making a comment about Mao’s wife to one of his colleagues. Walking through the streets of Shanghai today, it seems inconceivable that just 40 years ago the place was under the thumb of such an oppressive regime. Markets and capitalist activity are everywhere, businesses are started with ease, and buildings shoot up without years of urban planning procedures. While on the surface, it seems that China has been completely transformed, deep down, the legacy of the Cultural Revolution lives on. Though the level of enforcement and the severity of the punishments have both declined, free speech and freedom to organise are still heavily restricted. As a result, there is a tremendous hunger for new ideas, particularly greater understanding of this new market economy that they are experiencing today. Chinese have embraced and thrived with capitalism out of instinct, but not because they agree with or understand it. Thus, a number of entrepreneurs and students are currently seeking out the answer to the question of whether or not capitalism is moral. Eager to provide them with the answer to this question, Li Schoolland initiated the first Shanghai Austrian Economic Summit in 2012. Given the restrictions on group meetings, …

The People’s Republic of China Goes Austrian?

What does an average guy from the West like myself know about China? Tian’anmen Square, the Great Firewall, communism, and collectivism. One can still find remnants of these generalizations in Chinese society today, even after the free-market reforms introduced by Deng Xiaoping in 1978. However, there is no doubt that China is radically changing. While there, I observed expensive luxurious cars on the street, lavish malls with ice skating rings, an abundance of technological products, and people using mini segways instead of walking. I spoke to many Chinese students, some sporting Rothbard shirts, and realized that they want to be individualistic and create their own paths in the world. They all question the information blockade and know about Facebook, Twitter, and their government’s restrictive policies. Their willingness to listen to my and other outsider views on China demonstrate their eagerness to learn more. This open mindset will not go away and is sure to influence political opinions in the future. Three years ago, I co-founded European Students For Liberty (ESFL). At that point, I was blown away to discover a handful of people committed enough to spend their time and energy promoting liberty. Before that, I thought there were barely any classical-liberals out there. Now, this fall, ESFL is organizing 16 conferences in 15 countries and the African Students For Liberty Conference this past weekend had 1180 student attendees. Things truly are changing! China is no exception, as demonstrated by this picture from the Shanghai Austrian Economics Summit organized by our friends from TFT Events and the International Society for Individual Liberty (and the great Schoolland family). Many Chinese professors talked about the follies and shortcomings of government intervention in the economy. Everyone at the event had a profound knowledge of classical liberal ideas and wanted to learn more. This astonishing conference was topped by the moving story of Yeon-Mi Park. Yeon-Mi fled North Korea in 2009 and had to live as an illegal immigrant in China before finally …

Austrian Economics and Social Media in China

In many places around the world we hear about the use of social media and mobile apps to help people communicate with each other in opposition to the state or against mainstream standards. From Egypt to Venezuela, social media has played an instrumental role in the organisation of protests. Fearing the same, the Chinese government has long sought to block the use of social media sites, thus Facebook and Twitter have a very minor presence in the country. Nonetheless, here in Shanghai I’ve learned about some of the innovative ways that local mobile apps are being used to spread ideas of liberty. While it is risky to talk about politics or to openly criticize the government in China, the field of economics provides somewhat safe ground to discuss ideas of liberty. Even then, one still must be mindful of one’s wording, because the terms ‘free-market’ or ‘capitalism’ are still blacklisted, whereas the phrase ‘market economy’ is perfectly acceptable. This past month a group of professors of Austrian Economics (a number of whom spoke at our 2012 Shanghai Austrian Economic Summit) got together and decided to create an online course entirely based on Hayek’s works. What’s exceptional about their approach is that the whole course is hosted on Weixin (known as WeChat for English users), which is like a Chinese version of Whatsapp. The lectures are given live, enabling students to tune in and respond in real time, while those who can’t make it at the time can still catch up later. The professor gives his lecture by leaving voice messages for the group. Each clip is limited by the app to being just a minute long, though they can be played consecutively. All the while, students can type in their questions, to which the professor can reply instantly. This style …