“Let us draw to a close this era of meta-narratives. Communism and Democracy may both be laudable ideals but the era of their dogmatic universalism is over. Let us stop telling people and our children there’s only one way to govern ourselves in a singular future towards which all societies must evolve… Let universality make way for plurality”
It’s a standard assumption in the West: As a society progresses, it eventually becomes a capitalist, multi-party democracy. Right? Eric X. Li, a Chinese investor and political scientist, begs to differ. In this provocative, boundary-pushing talk, he asks his audience to consider that there’s more than one way to run a successful modern nation.
A venture capitalist and political scientist, Eric X Li argues that the universality claim of Western democratic systems is going to be “morally challenged” by China.
Why you should listen to him:
A well-connected venture capitalist in Shanghai, where he was born, Eric X. Li studied in America (and even worked for Ross Perot’s 1992 presidential campaign) before returning home, where he started doubting the idea that China’s progress could only follow the path of the West’s free-market principles.
In a much-discussed op-ed he wrote for the New York Times in February 2012 and in other writings, he has put forth the idea that China needed a different development framework, around a different idea of modernity. The Chinese system, he says, is meritocratic, highly adaptable despite the one-party rule, long term-oriented, pragmatic and non-individualistic. As he writes: “The Chinese political system … comes close to the best formula for governing a large country: meritocracy at the top, democracy at the bottom, with room for experimentation in between.
While some criticize him as a cheerleader of the Chinese government and a champion of Chinese exceptionalism, Li is comfortable in the role of provocateur. He is the founder of Chengwei Capital in Shanghai, serves on the board of directors of China Europe International Business School (CEIBS) and is a Fellow of the Aspen Institute.
“Li believes that China is inventing an alternative set of organizing principles for human affairs that are fundamentally different—not in opposition—but fundamentally different from what the world has been looking to the West for in the last three-four hundred years.” – Anant Giridharadas, “Chinese Dreams”