By H. Li
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Additional resources for Political Thought and China's Transformation: Ideas Shaping Reform in Post-Mao China
According to Zheng Yongnian, liberalism advocates rationality, peace, compromise, and social justice. 38 Liberalism continues to be only what might be called an oppositional ideology, and basic liberal views are held only by academics in urban centers. In the words of Zhou Lian, associate professor of philosophy at Renmin University, liberalism in China faces two challenges. First, theoretically, liberalism becomes virtually synonymous with the philosophical demeanor itself and has less ability to interpret Chinese experience.
The advocates of neo-authoritarianism contend that a strong, authoritarian government was indispensable both to maintain political order and social stability and to further the economic reform necessary to begin establishing a liberal democracy. They argue that modernization in a nonWestern developing country like China could not follow the Western model. Rather, they hold that economic modernization and political modernization should be carried out in two separate stages, with economic development taking precedence over political democratization and led by a reformoriented authoritarian government.
Deng maintained that Mao had focused too much on politics and that China instead needed to concentrate on economic development. In contrast, the liberals argue that the fundamental problem is the political system, namely, the totalitarian regime. After 1989, the liberal camp suffered a major setback. The proponents of liberal democracy and liberal wings within the system were suppressed. Some were arrested and imprisoned, others were sent into exile; almost all were silenced. Because of the control by the authorities, the liberal bloc virtually disappeared.