Speaking of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan in late 1980s through early 1990s in China, the prevailing response was unbridled admiration. This was my personal perspective at the time as well. After all, it was the time repressive Communism, bluntly criticized by Thatcher, Reagan and Pope John Paul, seemed to be crumble and the whole world was running towards a more entrepreneurial and individualistic system, the opposite of what China had been for many decades, therefore, the broad gestures from aforementioned leaders were hugely popular in China and they offered Chinese people hope.
We were utterly ignorant of what Thatcher and Reagan's highly controversial domestic policies and their adverse effects on the societies as communities, such as the inequality and other wrongs came along with their hallmark laissez-faire capitalism. We saw them as the embodiments of personal and societal freedom, as brave warriors facing down the Communism evil. Besides, televisions, black and white and later colored, brought them to our humble adobes, and their film-star glamor seduced the whole generation of Chinese people, who were so used to seeing poker-faced politicians and all other the individuals had been dressed like the same working ants in cheap blue Mao suits till only a couple years ago and no good sense of style had emerged yet.
We cared if they were friendly towards China and Chinese people or not; we cared if they were to help to defeat the Soviet Union or not. We cared for their entrepreneurial and free market doctrines, the opposite to the failed collective economic policies which had been plaguing China for decades. We cared not, however, if the qualities of their universities suffered, like the great University of California.
Therefore, how could a bewitched Chinese not to love Thatcher? And how could they not be loved by their own fellow citizens?
The first dissonance I heard came in the late 1980s, when I studied language tapes recorded in the UK, with a scene of young people protesting against Thatcher. I was utterly bewildered. Why was she so hated? Didn't she beat down the hugely ineffective and cumbersome rules, busted the hated union leaders, smashed the wasteful welfare states, and opened the way for sweeping privatization and deregulation? Shouldn't she be lauded for all those achievements instead?
Only after I'd lived in the US long enough, and had witness the destructive force of those laissez-faire capitalism policies of Thatcher and Reagan brand, and the consequent hugely indecent, and ever-larger wealth inequality in the society, that I realized why their policies and their legacies were not so golden, as I once had believed, and then I understood why they were considered controversial, at the least.
Of course, they had achieved much and not all of their policies were wrong; therefore let me just say that they both were political giants, who had cast long shadows.
Margaret Thatcher - Capitalism and a Free Society