Glasgow to Shanghai – the global impact of Adam Smith

Published: 12 November 2009

As a new Chinese translation of one of Adam Smith’s key works is published, Professor Chris Berry is to deliver two public lectures in China.

Why is the father of modern capitalism Adam Smith* so revered in China with its tradition of communism?

As a new Chinese translation of one of Adam Smith’s key works, "Theory of Moral Sentiments" is published, a leading expert on the life and work of Adam Smith examines this phenomenon in two free public lectures in China.

Professor Chris BerryChris Berry, Professor of Political Theory at the University of Glasgow, where Smith wrote his world-changingworks, will deliver the lectures on 21 and 23 November at Fudan University in Shanghai. Previewing his lectures, Professor Berry said: “With the modernisation of China into a global economic superpower, there is renewed interest in the work of Adam Smith. It is an opportunity to look beyond the caricature that depicts him as the enemy of government regulation and believer in something called the ‘invisible hand’ to produce optimum economic outcomes. In fact, if we actually read Smith then these depictions can be seen to be contrary to what he tried to teach.

“Smith made it clear in Wealth of Nations that the ‘wealth’ lay in the well-being of the people. This covered not only their material prosperity but also their moral welfare. He thought to be in poverty was a miserable condition and that to be condemned to repetitive limited tasks (like sharpening pins several thousand times a day) damaged our ‘social’ and ‘intellectual virtues’.

“Adam Smith, the supposed father of capitalism, and Karl Marx, the begetter of communism have much in common. Both were intently interested in the transition from a feudal agricultural society to a commercial or market one. Both believed this change could be explained by deep-seated economic causes and both have had their ideas co-opted to establish social systems.

“Modern China, it would seem, wants the impersonal discipline of the market as the engine of modernisation and enhanced welfare. The challenge is to sustain this alongside Smith’s total vision in which the conception of welfare is inseparable from the enjoyment of liberty (the right of each individual to live their own lives as they themselves see fit) within the framework of the rule of law.”  

Professor Chris Berry will deliver his lecture on the theme of Adam Smith's ‘Moral Economy’ and answer questions at 2.30pm on Monday 23 November in the Institute for Advanced Study in Social Science at Fudan University.

Earlier, Professor Berry will lecture on "Theory of Moral Sentiments" on Saturday 21 November at Fudan University at the launch of the first ever Chinese translation of one of Adam Smith’s key works. Both lectures will be translated and published.

As an accompaniment to the lectures, the University of Glasgow has produced a short webclip on the life and work of Adam Smith. Professor Berry describes the making of the man, the global significance of his writing and explains why Smith's work still resonates with us today.

Further information:

Martin Shannon, Senior Media Relations Officer
University of Glasgow Tel: 0141 330 8593

Chris Berry, Professor of Political Theory,
Politics Department, University of Glasgow Tel: 0141 330 5064


* Adam Smith (1723-1790) was a student, Professor of Logic, Professor of Moral Philosophy and finally Lord Rector of the University of Glasgow.

He entered Glasgow University (founded 1451) at the early - but for the time not unusual - age of fourteen and studied under some of the leading scholars of the day. In 1740, Smith was awarded a Snell Scholarship to study at Balliol College, Oxford. After a period of free-lance lecturing, Smith returned to the University of Glasgow, first as Professor of Logic in 1750 and then, two years later, as Professor of Moral Philosophy, a post he held until he left academia in 1764.

The seeds of Smith's two great books ‘The Theory of Moral Sentiments’ and ‘Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations’ were sown in his professorial years at the University of Glasgow.

First published: 12 November 2009