It’s the Fourth of July – time to celebrate our independence and birth of our nation.
Ever think about how revolutionary it was at the time to claim in our Declaration of Independence
…”that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”?
It was the first time a nation was founded on the principle of individual rights and freedom.
As a country, we are so focused on the right to Life, but tend to forget about the Freedom part. Maybe that’s because we take it for granted. Yet government can sap that freedom, one small right at a time.
To appreciate the full value and importance of freedom, we need once in a while to look beyond our own country’s history and experience. Today, I’m thinking of China, home to nearly 20% of the earth’s population.
Yang Jisheng is author of Tombstone, a book which chronicles the famine that Mao Zedong wrought on his people. Mr. Yang’s father, a farmer, was one of the 36 million Chinese who died in the 1958-1962 famine that Mao’s policies created.
Earlier this year, Mr. Yang received the Manhattan Institute’s Hayek’s Prize in New York. He said in an interview there with Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal that the book that Friedrich Hayek wrote, The Road to Serfdom, “… had a huge impact on me.” As Stephens writes in his interview, “Mr. Yang quickly saw that in Hayek’s warnings about the dangers of economic centralization lay both the ultimate explanation (of the famine that took his father’s life) – and the predicaments of China’s present.”
Stephens observes that “To this day, few people realize that Mao’s forced famine was the single greatest atrocity of the 20 Century, exceeding by orders of magnitude the Rwandan genocide, the Cambodian Killing Fields and the Holocaust.”
It’s fascinating how the Chinese, especially those in power, look at and describe freedom. “A saying attributed to the philosopher Lao Tzu, he (Yang) says, has it that a ruler should fill the people’s stomachs and empty their heads.” Current Chinese rulers seem to be following this strategy in hopes of staying in power.
Mr. Yang sees this as wrong and says,
“People have more needs that just eating. In China, human rights means the right to survive, and I argue with these people. This is not human rights, it’s animal rights. People have all sorts of needs, (such as) spiritual needs, and the need to be free.”
Though many people believe China will become the dominant power in the 21st Century, I wonder if China can succeed if its leaders continue to deny freedom to their people? Many would argue that it is freedom that has enabled the United States to succeed so well.
In case you want to read further:
- Yang Jisheng, Tombstone: The Great Chinese Famine of 1958-1962
- Friedrich A. Von Hayek, The Road to Serfdom
- Bret Stephen’s Opinion piece in the May 25, 2013 Wall Street Journal – “Reading Hayek in Beijing“
Happy Fourth of July, and remember
to celebrate and cherish Freedom!