The liberalism currently active in the Chinese intellectual arena was embryonic in the late 1970s, intertwined with democratic and populist appeals. As it rapidly developed in the early 1990s in parallel with the country’s accelerating globalization, liberalism shifted from the calls for freedom and democracy of the 1980s to an alternative democracy associated with the market economy. Despite their growing influence, however, liberals did not speak publicly until the middle of the decade.
From the outset there were two types of 1990s liberalism—an ‘economic liberalism’ and a ‘political liberalism’. The ‘former, represented by Lin Yifu, Fan Gang, Zhang Shuguang and others, advocated the speedy and thorough development of the marketing economy as prelude to political reform. The latter, represented by Li Shenzhi and Liu Junning, stressed the necessity of an urgent reform of democratic constitution in addition to solving the problem of human rights. These advocates, albeit with differences, were influenced by Western classical liberalism, especially that of Friedrich A.
In the late 1990s, a heated debate occurred between the liberals and those representing the so-called New Left. After that, liberalism became more popular and more diversified, and there emerged the ‘New Liberalism’ of Xu Jilin, Wang Dingding and others. Grounded in John Rawls’ A Theory of Justice, they tried to combine liberalism with republicanism, and held that China needed to realize not only freedom and democracy but also economic justice. Theories of and debates over liberalism were published in newspapers and magazines such as Twentieth-First Century (Ershiyi shiji, Hong Kong), Res publica (Gonggong luncong, Beijing), The Open Times (Kaifang shidai, Canton) and Nanfang Weekend (Nanfang zhoumo, Canton).
Fewsmith, Joseph (2001). China Since Tiananmen: The Politics of Transition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 122–31.
Zhu, Xueqin (2004). ‘For a Chinese Liberalism’. In Wang Chaohua (ed), One China, Many Paths. London: Verso, 86–107.

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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