A Peking University economics professor who was sacked for his political views explains the underside of elite Chinese higher education. … Mr. Xi, 53, says he had a mostly apolitical youth in Anhui province, west of Shanghai, where both of his parents were shipyard workers for China's navy. He never considered himself a communist and says he always felt drawn to the West, thanks partly to foreign picture books from his childhood. He imagined life as a painter or translator, and after graduating college in 1984 went to work as an interpreter for the government's Foreign Affairs Office. … His political awakening came later, in 1987-89, when he studied management at the University of Toronto, visited several European democracies—and read Milton Friedman's "Free to Choose." Friedman's writing helped make Mr. Xia a classical liberal and, by the mid-1990s, a student of economics. Today he cites F.A. Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, James Buchanan and Gary Becker among his intellectual idols. The list also includes Xiakoai Yang, the Chinese economist—and Mao-era political prisoner—who convinced him that China cannot thrive without imitating the institutions, and not just the technologies, of the West.