Roundtable: China and the Chinese People’s Search for Freedom in the Long 20th Century

Four decades after the end of the Cold War, China’s authoritarian regime has further eroded the limited freedom enjoyed by the Chinese people in all aspects of their daily lives, while the Chinese State has established longer reach and firmer control over the media, universities, religious groups, online speech, and in independent civil society. Even in economic activities, State Owned Enterprises are gradually pushing smaller private-enterprises out of the market and thus reversed the once expanding economic freedom the Chinese society has achieved during the post-Mao economic reforms. Those measures, however, also triggered increased discontent and caused much anxieties inside China and worried many observers abroad. The most recent destruction of free legal system in Hongkong even cause serious geopolitical confrontation between China and the West.

In this workshop, we will have a detailed historical discussion about the evolving concepts of freedom in China and the major challenges during Chinese people’s efforts to pursue them in the long 20the century. Dr. Federico Pachetti will first introduce an economic perspective where he will discuss why the creation of a market economy was essential for building a freeer society in China after Mao’s cultural revolution. Yitong Qiu, a PhD candidate at LSE will then present an overview of how Chinese political elites interaction with westerners have shaped the Chinese understanding of western liberalism from the beginning of 20th century to the current time. Dr. Amanda Zhang, a historian at St Andrew’s University, will focus on the freedom of women in China: what are the historical burdens, whether or not their social, cultural, and political status have improved over the past decades, and finally, what are the urgent issues that still restrict their freedom today.In addition, Professor Sabrina Habich-Sobiegalla, a keen observer on both China’s domestic political system as well as an expert on current European policy towards China will comment on those presentations from a contemporaneous perspective and to discuss why is our understanding of freedom in China important for Europe and in what ways those issues mentioned above would affect the rest of the world and their interaction with China in the future.


Prof. Dr. Sabrina Habich-Sobiegalla is a professor at Institute of China Studies, Free University Berlin. She studied Chinese Studies, Political Science and Business in Würzburg, Beijing and Vienna. She was a PhD student in the International Doctoral Program in Asia-Pacific Studies (IDAS) at the National Chengchi University in Taipeh from 2009 to 2013, where she wrote her PhD thesis on forced resettlement due to damm building in southwest China. Her thesis was the basis for her book Dams, Migration and Authoritarianism in China: The Local State in Yunnan which was published in 2016by Routledge. Sabrina Habich-Sobiegalla's current research project is about the resource 'water' as a public property and its meaning in the various social groups. 

Dr. Amanda Zhang is a research fellow in Chinese Cultural History at St Andrews University and holds a PhD and a MSt in Oriental Studies from University of Oxford as well as a Bachelor of Social Science degree from the University of Hong Kong. Her research interests include women’s history and social history, specifically women in the Chinese Communist Party before and after 1949. Dr Zhang’s research has been published on top peer reviewed journal such as Intelligence and National Security and British Journal of Chinese Studies.

Ms. Yitong Qiu is a PhD candidate at London School of Economics. Her researches the Qing empire through examining household possessions to understand the broader social and economic changes. She exploits the only continuous sources: the inventory confiscation records, which no previous scholars have collected and examined for this purpose. Her research is the first cross geographical and proto-ethnical study on Qing household possessions that covers the long 18th and 19th century. Ms. Qiu holds a BA Cum Laude with honours in Economics and History from Mount Holyoke College, MA, USA and MSc in Economic History (Research) from the London School of Economics. She was a visiting scholar at Institute of Modern History, Academia Sinica, Taiwan, in Summer 2019.

Dr. Federico Pachetti is a post-doctoral fellow at Corvinus Institute of Advanced Studies (CIAS), Corvinus University, Budapest. Previously, he held positions at New York University (NYU) Shanghai and at London School of Economics (LSE) and Political Science.Federico is interested in 20th century international and economic history, with a focus on how shifting dynamics in global political economy shaped the evolution of Sino-American relations during the final decades of the century. Federico is working on a book manuscript that explores the assistance American and international economic institutions provided to the People’s Republic of China (PRC)’s economic reforms during the 1980s. Federico received his PhD in global history from the University of Hong Kong in 2019.