November 5, 2021

Xunzi and Plato on the Economics of Totalitarianism: A Meeting of Distant Minds

Event Series: China and the West: Cultural Dialogues

Showing the Xunzi and Plato on the Economics of Totalitarianism: A Meeting of Distant Minds Video

Xunzi (“Master Xun”) lived in the latter part of the aptly named Warring States period (ca. 312– 221 BCE). While the details of his life are hazy, it has been suggested that he followed the example of Confucius (Kongzi), whose teachings he professed to endorse, in travelling between states in the hope of securing high office and implementing his plans for the restoration of “order,” as set out in Xunzi, the book that bears his name. In this webinar, Terry Peach argued that the book contains a coherent and connected body of economic thought and analysis, notably an analysis of the pathology of unrestrained economic (gain-seeking) behavior and a detailed model of economic planning that together constitute what Peach terms the “economics of totalitarianism.” He also suggested that there are striking similarities with the economics in Plato’s Republic, notwithstanding certain differences that reflect intellectual and cultural legacies. Xunzi and Plato bequeathed remarkably similar economic systems that addressed similar problems and were informed by similar values. The presentation was based on a chapter in European and Chinese Histories of Economic Thought: Theories and Images of Good Governance (Routledge, forthcoming; eds. Amelung and Schefold).

This event was part of the China and the West: Cultural Dialogues series, sponsored by Georgetown University's Future of the Humanities Project (a partnership with Campion Hall, Oxford, and Blackfriars Hall, Oxford) in cooperation with the Society for Anglo-Chinese Understanding in London.


Terry Peach is a historian of political economy. He studied at Oxford University, where he obtained the degrees of B.A., B.Phil., and D.Phil., and currently holds the positions of professor of economics at Shanghai University of Finance and Economics; honorary senior research fellow at the University of Manchester, United Kingdom; and chair (president) of the U.K. History of Economic Thought Society. He has published books, articles, and editions on Adam Smith, David Ricardo, classical economics more generally, W.S. Jevons, and, more recently, the history of ancient Chinese political economy. His publications include Interpreting Ricardo (1993, 2009), David Ricardo: Critical Responses, vols. i-iv (2003), The History of Ancient Chinese Economic Thought (2014), and The Political Economy of the Han Dynasty and its Legacy (2019), the last two co-edited with Cheng Lin and Wang Fang. An edition on economic thought in post-1949 China is in progress.

Tong Ping is an entrepreneur and international education specialist. She has extensive experience with both Chinese and British higher education systems, and she has cooperated closely with government organizations. She runs three education-related companies in China and the United Kingdom, helping institutions to establish links and students to pursue their studies abroad.

Barnaby Powell (moderator) is a veteran of development banking in East Asia and author, with Alex Mackinnon, of three books on China: China Calling (2008), China Counting (2010), and 2018 – China Goes Critical (2013).

Michael Scott (moderator) is Fellow and Senior Dean at Blackfriars Hall, Oxford. He is also senior adviser to the president of Georgetown University and leads the Future of the Humanities Project. He has previously served as pro vice chancellor at De Montfort University, Leicester, and was the founding vice chancellor of Wrexham Glyndwr University. His books include studies in Shakespeare and his contemporaries and in twentieth century theatre. He has been a fellow and visiting professor at two Chinese universities and published a book on King Arthur with the Foreign Research and Teaching Press in Beijing.