Asian values

Asian values was a concept that came into vogue briefly in the 1990s to justify authoritarian regimes in Asia, predicated on the belief in the existence in Asian countries of a unique set of institutions and political ideologies which reflected the region's culture and history. Although there are indeed many differences in Eastern and Western ideas, philosophy, etc., there is no single set of "Asian" values. Nevertheless, like their Western counterparts, Eastern countries can be said to share some values, a simple example being the death penalty, which is legal in China and some other Asian countries but today considered immoral in many Western countries.


Because the proponents of the concept came from different cultural backgrounds, no single definition of the term exists, but typically "Asian values" encompasses some influences of Confucianism, in particular loyalty towards the family, corporation, and nation; the forgoing of personal freedom for the sake of society's stability and prosperity; the pursuit of academic and technological excellence; and work ethic and thrift. Proponents of "Asian values", who tend to support Asian-style authoritarian governments,Fact|date=September 2007 claim they are more appropriate for the region than the democratic values and institutions of the West. A frequent criticism is that the idea of "Asian values" is most promoted by the elites who benefit from authoritarian rule, rather than the wider populace of their nation.Fact|date=September 2007

A summary list of 'Asian Values' would include a distinctively 'Asian':

# predisposition towards strong and stable leadership rather than political pluralism;
# respect for social harmony and an inclination towards consensus as opposed to a tendency towards dissent or confrontation;
# acceptance of a paternalistic state and its bureaucratic intervention in social and economic affairs;
# concern with socio-economic well-being instead of civil liberties and human rights;
# preference for the welfare and collective well-being of the community over individual rights;
# manifestation of loyalty, respect and trust to all forms of authority including parents, teachers and the state;
# life long devotion towards one's occuptation; and
# pursuit of actions which are objective rather than subjective.

Political Significance

The concept of "Asian values" was a popular idea in Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, and India, and also in some political circles in Japan Fact|date=February 2007. In Malaysia and Singapore, the concept of Asian values was embraced partly because it reconciled Islam, the religion of the Malays, with the Confucianism of the ethnic Chinese, and Hinduism, thereby helping to create a sense of common values between different ethnic and religious groups in those countries, as well as forming an ideology that could challenge the West. In Japan, it was popular among some nationalist circles Fact|date=February 2007 because it challenged the West and also offered the possibility of Japanese leadership in a new Asia.

Mahathir Mohamad and Lee Kuan Yew, at that time the prime ministers of Malaysia and Singapore, respectively, were particularly vocal advocates of Asian values. Fareed Zakaria has written extensively on Asian values, while Amartya Sen has been one of the concept's strongest critics. Some critics of the term argue that no universal "Asian" value system exists, because the cultural diversity of Asia is too great for there to be a single set of common values across the region. Fact|date=February 2007 The suggestion that a set of 'Asian values' operated throughout the Asian region, or even just in East Asia, contradicts what we know about the presence of long-standing religious (Islamic, Hindu, Confucian, Buddhist) and other divisions in the region, and of the major social and cultural transformation that has been underway, especially in the last decade or so. (Millner, 1999. What's Happened to Asian Values)

The concept of "Asian values" began to lose currency after the Asian financial crisis weakened the economies of many Asian countries, leading to the collapse of the Suharto regime in Indonesia. Some consider these values to have contributed to the crisis. When the crisis spread worldwide, the blame subsided. [Paul Krugman. [ Latin America's Swan Song] . Extracted October 30, 2006.]

A sharp observation may suggest that speaking in the name of Asian values serves the purpose of forming a robust counter force in Asia, and most particularly in China, to the nations which most clearly represent values of individual freedom Fact|date=February 2007. One way or the other, the use of the term is capable in itself of creating a significant dialogue between continents of the world, and between human ideas in all fields. Fact|date=February 2007

An important aspect of the concept of the above mentioned Asian values systems is that many agree that there should be room for democratic and scientific decision-making and thought being a driving force for any universally accepted values system, especially given that resort to such thought is highly verifiable by all concerned independent of subjective values-systems held. Fact|date=February 2007

In 2006 Indonesian Vice President Jusuf Kalla linked the concepts of Asian values with the proposed East Asian Free Trade Agreement and East Asian Community arising from the East Asia Summit. He defined Asian values as placing emphasis on co-operation over competition. []


Taiwan social-politics critic [ Long Ying Tai] argues that Asian values are merely a doublespeak on suppressing universal values of freedom of speech and human rights.

Several Asian political figures have expressed criticism of the idea of Asian values, including former President of the Republic of China (Taiwan), Lee Teng-hui, and former President of the Republic of Korea (South Korea), Kim Dae Jung.


The concept of Asian values is the main theme of the 2002 film "Hero" which was directed by internationally acclaimed Chinese filmmaker Zhang Yimou and starred famed martial arts actor Jet Li. The film was criticised for its perceived pro-totalitarian subtext and ulterior meaning of triumph of security and stability over liberty and human rights. Stephen Hunter gave the film a strongly positive review, but mentioned his concern that the film endorsed the views presented by Qin Shi Huang, concluding "That was the King of Qin's reasoning and it was all the other big bad ones' as well: Hitler and Stalin and most particularly that latter-day king of Qin named Mao, another great unifier who stopped the fighting and killed only between 38 million and 67 million in the process." [ [ 'Hero': An Ending That Falls on Its Own Sword ( ] ] The film received the approval of the government of the People's Republic of China.



* Loh kok Wah, Francis & Khoo Boo Teik. "Democracy in Malaysia: Discourses and Practices" Curzon Press, Richmond Surrey, 2002.
* Surain Subramaniam. "The Asian Values Debate: Implications for the Spread of Liberal Democracy" Asian Affairs. March 2000.

See also


External links

* [ Human Rights and Asian Values: What Lee Kuan Yew and Le Peng don't understand about Asia] by Amartya Sen.
* [ The Illusion of Exceptionalism] by Francis Fukuyama
* [ "Asian Values" and the Universality of Human Rights] by Xiaorong Li
* [ What's Happened to Asian Values?] by Anthony Milner

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