Mao Yushi: Winner of the 2012 Milton Friedman Prize for Advancing Liberty

Akbar GanjiPhoto by Cato Institute

Mao Yushi, one of China’s most outspoken and influential activists for individual rights and free markets, has been named the 2012 winner of the Cato Institute’s Milton Friedman Prize for Advancing Liberty. The award was presented on the evening of May 4 at the Washington Hilton, and included a keynote address by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and special remarks by John Stossel.

Mao, an 83-year-old economist, is a well-known advocate for an open and transparent political system and is one of the pioneers of the movement in China for civil society and freedom. Before economic reform began in China in 1978, he had been an engineer and during his lifetime has faced severe punishment, exile, and near starvation for remarks critical of a command-based economy and society. During the Cultural Revolution, he and his family were deprived of all of their property, and in 2011 he angered some in China with his article “Returning Mao Zedong to Human Form,” which boldly calculated the human cost of Mao’s brutal Communist policies from 1949 to 1976. The article led to calls for his prosecution and execution, with 50,000 left-faction members signing a petition that called for his imprisonment on charges of treason. Immediately following the article’s appearance he had to be surrounded by students to protect him from physical attack from zealots, while the government remained silent and neutral.

In 1993 he and five other economists founded the Unirule Institute of Economics, an independent Chinese think tank committed to the growth of a market economy and to reforming Chinese government policies.

In addition, Mao Yushi has been a pioneer in creating private charity and self-help programs in the People’s Republic of China and has helped countless people become independent members of society through the Fuping Development Institute and other initiatives. He believes that the more income an individual earns the more freedom an individual has, and has devoted himself to China’s transition from a planned economy to a free market economy.

He is the author of 15 books on how a market economy performs. One of these books, Economics in Everyday Life was a best seller, explaining market economics in accessible terms for the general population. His writing has provided the public with a better understanding of free markets and has helped clarify and ease the Chinese government’s shift from a planned economy to a market economy.

In 2004 the liberal-leaning magazine Southern People Weekly named Mao Yushi one of China’s 50 most distinguished intellectuals, and in 2007 China Newsweek named Mao and Tsinghua University’s Qin Hui the most influential intellectuals of the decade. His friend Liu Xiaobo, the Nobel Peace Prize recipient in 2010, once wrote of Mao Yushi, his “bravery is worthy of our respect.”

Established in 2002 and presented every two years, the Milton Friedman Prize for Advancing Liberty is the leading international award for significant contributions to advancing individual liberty. The Nobel laureate economist Milton Friedman died in November of 2006. 

The Milton Friedman Prize for Advancing Liberty’s Biennial Dinner and award presentation will be held at the Washington Hilton in Washington, D.C., on May 4, 2012.

Mao Yushi was chosen to receive the award through a public, worldwide nomination process.

Mao Yushi: Recipient of the 2012 Milton Friedman Prize for Advancing Liberty



The members of the 2012 International Selection Committee are:

  • Mustafa Akyol—Author, Islam without Extremes: A Muslim Case for Liberty, Turkey
  • Edward H. Crane—President, Cato Institute
  • David Friedman—Professor of Law, Santa Clara University
  • Roberto Salinas León—President, Mexico Business Forum; Associate of Economist Intelligence Unit, Mexico
  • Mary Anastasia O’Grady—Member, Editorial Board, Wall Street Journal
  • Matt Ridley—Author, The Origins of Virtue and The Rational Optimist; Winner, Hayek Prize, Great Britain
  • Frederick W. Smith—Chairman and CEO, FedEx Corporation
  • Linda Whetstone—Chairman, Network for a Free Society, England
  • George F. Will—Pulitzer Prize-Winning Syndicated Columnist