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Liberalism of the Third Force in Republican China: Carsun Chang and Zhang Dongsun

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posted on 2021-12-08, 10:34 authored by Peng, Lifang

This study investigates the liberal thought of Carsun Chang and Zhang Dongsun who were core figures of the “Third Force”, those parties who did not align themselves either with the KMT or with the Communists in the 1940s. They developed a distinctive Chinese form of liberalism that contained elements of socialism, German idealism (Hegel and Kant), and the British tradition of liberty (Mill). Though similar in many respects to New Liberalism represented by the British thinker L. T. Hobhouse, this form of liberalism was specifically adapted to Chinese conditions. Like Hobhouse, Chang used German idealism to reconcile liberalism with socialism but he aimed to address Chinese problems including poverty, national sovereignty, and authoritarianism. Zhang subscribed to Chang’s views and agreed that these problems were the obstacles to Chinese democracy and state-building.  I use Michael Freeden’s theory of ideological morphology to establish the distinctive character of Chinese liberalism represented by Chang and Zhang. As an alternative to conventional approaches, it centres around the semantic meanings of a cluster of political concepts which constitute liberalism and socialism rather than specific definitions of those ideologies. This approach successfully explains the variations within liberalism, socialism, and their complex relationship in different cultures and regions, but has not yet been used by other scholars to discuss Chinese political thought. In addition, I also discuss specific textual and contextual aspects of the Chinese liberalism of Chang and Zhang.  Recognising the liberal tradition Chang and Zhang established helps develop a new understanding of Chinese liberalism and Chinese socialism past and present which are conventionally excluded from the narrative of Chinese political history. The Chinese liberalism identified in my research had an overlap with social democracy. It was not a single concept of liberty but a particular configuration of a few concepts such as liberty, equality, progress, justice, welfare, and limited power. This form of liberalism continues to exist in contemporary China. Chinese thinkers of this liberal tradition were and are actively involved in the debates over socialism, liberalism, and their relationships to Chinese problems such as modernisation, democratisation, and social transformation. In addition, this study reveals an ideological cause of a divided Chinese liberalism in the 1940s. Chang was a new liberal whereas Zhang was a representative of left liberalism. Furthermore, this research enables us to understand the continuing influence of the liberalism of Chang on the constitutional thought in Taiwan and its implications for the relationship between Taiwan and mainland China. Chang drafted the Constitution of the Republic of China. His liberal thought had an impact on this constitution that was initially intended to cover mainland China but was only enforced in Taiwan.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

Political Science

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

970116 Expanding Knowledge through Studies of Human Society

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of History, Philosophy, Political Science and International Relations


Huang, Xiaoming; Marquez, Xavier