In three decades of reform China has become a society that is radically different both from what it used to be in Mao's time and from a liberal society. This new China poses especially interesting questions about freedom—interesting not only in the Chinese context but also more generally. Pivotal for my treatment of these questions is a distinction I draw between de facto freedom and the value of freedom, the latter in turn understood in terms of a larger notion of agency, and divided into such distinct dimensions as moral resource, right, and mode of subjection. This distinction allows me to argue that while China has no shortage of de facto freedom, it lacks the value of freedom, especially freedom as a mode of subjection. The lack of freedom as a value has serious moral and political consequences, as manifested in a prolonged moral crisis in post-Mao China and in a certain fragility of social order caused by the pitting of order against freedom. Such consequences suggest a strong need for China to develop the value of freedom. But it is possible and important to do so in a critical spirit, as I argue through a critical analysis of the place of freedom in a liberal society.
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Jiwei Ci; China and the Question of Freedom. boundary 2 1 February 2011; 38 (1): 53–76. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/01903659-1262545
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