Yan Xuetong: When can a value such as free speech be considered universal?

For values to be considered universal, at least half the world should accept them, says Professor Yan Xuetong, director of the Institute of International Studies at Tsinghua University.

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Comments (4)

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  1. I’m not sure it’s entirely philosophically coherent, but as one of China’s leading IR intellectuals, it’s interesting to see him lay out some of his moral thinking: he’s argued for a while that if China is really to achieve greatness it “needs a model at home that can inspire people abroad” as well as exercising “moral leadership” in its international environment (see e.g. http://nyti.ms/wu9Z0u). What that actually looks like has sometimes been more elusive, but it would probably need to be a version of universalism “with Chinese characteristics”… He has what sounds like a bit of a shot at describing elements of that here. Will be a big debate for China in the decades ahead…

  2. Interesting stuff Xibai – esp his pts about the numerics/temporal nature of ethics. Is it fair to say for him universal values are emergent properties / empirically-revealed codes of behaviour? Rather than something which can be prescribed? Or have I misunderstood?

    • EH, you are correct. In his opinion, universal values are just ‘out there’, to be discovered through empirical, scientific research rather than debates.

  3. Since YouTube is inaccessible in China, I uploaded the clip to Sina Video, and it was deleted within hours. I am totally baffled because Yan Xuetong is a very well-known scholar in China, and honestly I don’t see anything ‘sensitive’ in the video that would warrant such sanction.

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Free Speech Debate is a research project of the Dahrendorf Programme for the Study of Freedom at St Antony's College in the University of Oxford. www.freespeechdebate.ox.ac.uk

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