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Message-Id: <199804221118.HAA29188@h-net.msu.edu>
Date: Wed, 22 Apr 1998 07:19:13 -0400
Reply-To: H-Net list for Asian History and Culture <H-ASIA@h-net.msu.edu>
Sender: H-Net list for Asian History and Culture <H-ASIA@h-net.msu.edu>
From: "Steven A. Leibo, The Sage Colleges" <LEIBO@cnsvax.albany.edu>
Subject: H-ASIA: Asian Values

Asian Values

Dialog from H-Asia list
April-May 1998

April 22, 1998
From: Timothy Kneeland <tkneelan@greenville.edu>

Roger DesForges etal "Chinese Democracy and the Crisis of 1989" contains a variety of essays from both Western and Chinese angles that might be helful

From: Jo Kirkpatrick <jkirk@micron.net>

I would suggest a reservation about conceptualizing "the Asian side" as THE Asian side.

There have been many debates about values going on in various parts of Asia, more especially since the recent economic debacles, some of which were in part attributed to "Asian values".

Have a look, for ex., at the online ed. of FAR EASTERN ECONOMIC REVIEW for April 15th, article titled "Culture Shock. Tougher Banking Rules Test Thai Business Customs." If Ms. Standen cannot find it, she can drop me an email and I'll send her my copy as an email attachment.

Joanna Kirkpatrick

From: mt.berger@unsw.edu.au (Mark Berger)

May I immodestly suggest an article by myself which sumarizes and analyzes the 'Asian' and the 'Western' sides of the debate. See Mark T. Berger, "Yellow Mythologies: The East Asian Miracle and Post-Cold War Capitalism" positions: east asia cultures critique vol. 4. no. 1. 1996. pp. 90-126. revised and reprinted as Mark T. Berger, "The Triumph of the East? The East Asian Miracle and Post-Cold War Capitalism" in Mark T. Berger and Douglas A. Borer, eds., The Rise of East Asia: Critical Visions of the Pacific Century [London: Routledge, 1997]. pp. 260-287.

Mark T. Berger
School of Modern Languages
University of NSW 2052
Sydney Australia

From: Eric A Hyer <EAHyer@fhss.byu.edu>

Commentary magazine recently published a piece by Frances Fukuyama on Asian values.

From: Wolfgang Behr <w.behr@em.uni-frankfurt.d400.de>

Naomi, your students might wish to consult

M.C. Davis, _Human Rights and the Chinese Values. Legal Philosophical, and Political Perspectives_, H.K.: OUP 1995

M. Freeman, "Human Rights, Democracy and 'Asian Values'", _The Pacific Review_ 9 (1996)

and, to get to the core of the problem,

H. Roetz, "China und die Menschenrechte: Die Bedeutung der Tradition und die Stellung des Konfuzianismus", in: G. Paul et al. eds., _Traditionelle chinesische Kultur und Menschen- rechtsfrage_, Baden-Baden:Nomos 1997: 37-55.

A particulalrly polemical defence of "the" Asian position by Juha Janhunen entitled "Human rights and Ethnic Rights in Asia as well as a critical rejoinder by Chen Maiping ("What are Asian Values?") may be found @ http://nias.ku.dk/nytt/thematic/human_rights/tableoutline.h


Hope that helps, cheers, Wolfgang

Wolfgang Behr, Research Fellow, Int'l. Inst. for Asian Studies
wbehr@rullet.leidenuniv.nl | w.behr@em.uni-frankfurt.de

From: mark selden <ms44@cornell.edu>

For reconsidering Tiananmen and human rights, Naomi Standen may find useful the two special issues of the Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars edited by Peter Van Ness. These are "Debating Human Rights: The United States and Asia," 27.4 and 28.2 (1996). Discussion includes but is not limited to the PRC and Tiananmen.

A revised and expanded manuscript is in press at Routledge, possibly under the title Debating Human Rights in the United States and Asia.

mark selden

From: Genzo Yamamoto <gy@bu.edu>

"Effective Government in Singapore: Perspective of a Concerned American," by Douglas Sikorski, (Asian Survey, 36:8)--an American defense of Asian values.

"Culture is Destiny: A Conversation with Lee Kuan Yew," by Fareed Zakaria, (Foreign Affairs, Mar/Arp 1994).

"Is Culture Destiny? The Myth of Asia's Anti-Democratic Values: A response to Lee Kuan Yew," by Kim Dae Jung, (Foreign Affairs, Nov/Dec 1994).

"Human Rights and Asian Values" a booklet of a speech given by Amartya Sen at the 16th Morgenthau Memorial Lecture on Ethics and Foreign Policy published by the Carnegie Council on Ethics and Public Policy. This is also a defense of the "Western" side though his argument is that it is hardly limited to the "West."

Amartya Sen has published extensively on this subject and his other writings may be of interest.

I would also be interested in knowing other articles covering this--and if people are aware of English-language govt publications of the various Southeast Asian states that would reveal official positions of governments on various issues.

Genzo Yamamoto
Boston University

Message-Id: <199804241759.NAA60038@h-net.msu.edu>
Date: Thu, 23 Apr 1998
From: "N. Sivin" <nsivin@sas.upenn.edu>

Whenever anyone tells me about Asian Values or anything else that is true of all Asia and different from all the West, I ask myself whether it is a wooden nickel they want me to take, or snake oil they want to sell me. In the case of autocrats who want ever so much for Americans to understand why the people of their country shouldn't have free political choice, and don't want it in any case, I would say it's both at once.

Any sophomore who takes a course of mine and who still airily generalizes about Asia as a unit--except as a European stereotype--is unlikely to pass. Why are we wasting space on a scholarly list with this tawdry stuff?


Nathan Sivin
History and Sociology of Science
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia PA 19104-6304
(215) 898-7454

Date: Fri, 24 Apr 1998 22:08:38 -0400
From: YU LAN <o47xs@unb.ca>

It seems to me that the Tiananmen Square protest has its roots in the ancient tradition of making radical suggestions to the court when seeing the court is malfunctioning.

Now in official discourse, it is related to dissidents. But in China's history, there had always been dissidents. Kang Yuwei was a dissident. The very reality of dissidents of toda discursively constructed by both the Chinese government and the West with different political agendas. The West wants to play a role in China's "peaceful evolution" while China wants to link any dissenting voice to "bourgeois liberalization." On this point, the West and the Chinese government actually conspired to create people like Wang Dan, Wei Jingsheng. China thus is legitimized in persecuting them. The behavior of these "dissidents" also has been shaped by this discourse in that they now look to the West for support instead of seeking support from cultural roots of China itself. This builds up an vicious circle and the democracy movement in China will never walk out of the shadow of Western ideas.

Yu, Lan
MA student
Department of Anthropology
University of New Brunswick
Yu, Lan
774 Reid
Fredericton, N.B.
E3B, 3V9

From: Kenneth Paul Sze Sian Tan <kpsst2@cam.ac.uk>

>Whenever anyone tells me about Asian Values or anything else
>that is true of all Asia and different from all the West, I
>ask myself whether it is a wooden nickel they want me to
>take, or snake oil they want to sell me. In the case of
>autocrats who want ever so much for Americans to understand
>why the people of their country shouldn't have free
>political choice, and don't want it in any case, I would say
>it's both at once. Nathan Sivin

Might it not be the case that these Americans themselves erroneously assume from the start that Asia is governed by autocrats, and peopled by unenlightened subjects unable and unwilling to exercise free political choice? Perhaps the "Asian Values" debate, while often ludicrously reductionistic in its description of East and West, is merely part of the very same game that critics of Asia play ever so often in journalism, academia and diplomacy.

In any case, the act of generalizing Asia and the West is interesting not for its textual content, but rather more for its political and sociological motivations. More practically, looking at the various formulations of "Asian Values" by different Asian governments may go some way in producing greater understanding of how they might wish their countries to evolve in the global context. That, surely, must count just as much as what America and others might wish for them.


Kenneth Paul Tan
University of Cambridge

From: "Howard L. Goodman" <HLGoodman@compuserve.com>

I agree precisely with Sivin. Well put. z


From: Steven Leibo <leibos@Sage.EDU>

While I understand the point Prof. Sivin is making I think it is a little like claiming there is no reason to study religion if one does not believe in God. The fact is that religion has long influenced the human community whether God exists or not. In the same vein, "Asian Values" as an idea may mean nothing when we look at whether Asia exists as a single entity, yet the fact is that the term "Asian Values" has most certainly emerged as a set of ideas, however valid or bogus and they are most certainly worth looking at.

Steven A. Leibo

Message-Id: <199804251755.NAA61570@h-net.msu.edu>
Date: Sun, 26 Apr 1998
From: Scott Simon <ssimon@ms13.hinet.net>

As I read the recent thread about Asian values, several thoughts immediately come to mind.

1) "Asian values" are usually associated with authoritarian governments. Taiwan, however, offers an example of an Asian country with a thriving civil society, a democratic government, and a commitment to human rights, and it is not the only example in the region. Perhaps Sun Yat-sen was more on the mark with his idea that democracy requires a period of tutelage before it can be implemented. Counter-examples of Asian democracies clearly reveal the political implications of "Asian values," especially when espoused by such figures as Lee Kwan-yu of Singapore.

2) If we look at country-specific examples of "values" arguments, they often contain strong nationalistic elements. Taiwanese school children (in the fifth class textbook "Shehui"), for example, are taught that foreign parents, like animals, love and take care of their children. Foreign children, however, leave their parents when they grow up, like birds flying away from the nests they are born in. The Chinese, however, are the only people to have developed the moral qualities of filial piety, benevolence, etc.

Taiwanese sociologist Hu Youhui argues that the state makes such arguments in order justify the lack of a decent welfare system, and to place responsibility for taking care of the elderly on children. I add that such rhetoric also has a nationalist dimension, as it makes the claim that Chinese people are morally superior to foreigners.

3) The rhetoric on "Asian values," like other nationalisms, creates a polarity between "Asia," or "China," or "Taiwan." By emphasizing nationality, it obscures conflicting interests within societies, including those based on gender, class and ethnicity. Such ideologies, therefore, tend to maintain the status quo and benefit those who already hold power.

Susan Greenhalgh wrote an excellent piece in American Ethnologist (1994) about how the rhetoric about Confucian values in Taiwanese family enterprises obscures gender inequalities within such firms. Considering the pervasiveness of "Asian values" or "Confucian ethics" rhetoric in journalism, business writing, and even anthropology, the political implications of the discourse merit further research.

Scott Simon
Ph.D. candidate, Anthropology
McGill University, Montreal
(currently living in Tainan, Taiwan)

Date: Sun, 26 Apr 1998
From: Pat Gunning <gunning@cc.nchulc.com.tw>

Yu Lan hypothesizes a governmental "conspiracy" to explain people like Wang Dan and Wei Jingsheng. He does not mean that the governments (the "West" and the Chinese) actually joined together and made a deal. His meaning is that in explaining the current popularity of these men, one ought to focus on the "actions" of the separate governments and not on the actions of the men themselves.

It is surely true that a lot of false history attributes events to the special strength, charisma, etc. of particular individuals. However, in the case of the Tiananmen Square protest, as he calls it, the leaders of the Chinese government deliberately prosecuted (persecuted) particular individuals. Now if the government's choice of those individuals were completely random, Yu Lan's case would be proved. On the other hand, if the choice was calculated with the goal of stifling future "protests" by potential leaders such as they, then at least the government regarded particular individuals as potentially affecting history in significant ways. In this event, it seems to me that the idea of a conspiracy, in Yu Lan's sense, would be far-fetched. It would be more correct to call Wei Jingsheng and Wang Dan "heroes of the revolution" not only or primarily because of their specific actions but because of the Chinese governments response to their actions.

So the important question in how one should interpret this historical event, it seems to me, is whether the Chinese government targeted these individuals because it judged them to be leaders or whether it simply selected them at random.

Pat Gunning


Date: Sat, 25 Apr 1998
From: "Rudy S. Tan" <tanrs@leland.Stanford.EDU>

What do we mean by "Asian values"? To start off, lets say that we actually mean "East asian values", i.e. for the moment, we leave out West and South asia. Next we note that "asian values" sometimes means different things to different asians, when ethnic chinese talk of asian values, they sometimes mean chinese values

The concept of "Asian Values" is a useful artifice, like the idea of "Western civilization" or "Oriental despotism"

Take a look at any book on western civ and you get the impression that the whole of europe/the west was/is a single monolithic entity. Look at a popular book like "The wealth and poverty of nations" by David Landes, we have this passage, taken from the chapter titled "European exceptionalism: a different path":

To be sure, Europe had always thought of itself as different from societies to the east. The great battles between Greeks and Persians - Salamis, Thermopylae - have come down in folk memory and in the classes of yesteryear as symbolic of the combat between East and West, between free city (the polis which gives us our word "politics") and aristocratic empires, between popular sovereignity (at least for free men) and oriental despotism (servitude for all).

Reading this, one gets the impression that there was such a an entity as "Europe" in those days or that the Greeks were Europe in its entirety, and the idea that the europeans were somehow "different" (i.e. culturally or morally superior) to the rest of the world (as though europe did not have some home-grown "oriental despotisms" of its own).

We are then persuaded that "western civilization" today is somehow a direct descendent of Ancient Greece, that the Greeks, Swedes, Germans, Poles, Serbs, Croat, Americans and English of today are somehow linked by a bond of common culture which sets them apart from the rest of the world.

The upshot of this is, everyone likes to feel that they are somehow "different" from the rest of the world, it gives us a warm and fuzzy feeling to say that we are "asians" and have "Asian values" the same way a german puffs up his chest when he declares himself a "european" or a "westerner" hence making himself a direct heir of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle.

One way of interpreting "Asian values" is that it is a reaction to the west looking at itself as "The West", now that economic success has been achieved by some asian countries, its a realization that we don't have to be morally and culturally subservient anymore to the West. it's a realization that though east asians are a diverse lot (ie. the "confucianist" cultures of China, japan, korea and the chinese diaspora and South-east asia - muslim indonesia and malaysia, buddhist thailand, etc.) we have a bit more in common with each other than with the rest of the world.

Whether we actually have that much in common is to some extent irrelevant, if enough people buy into this thing, and if enough asian governments take it upon themselves to proselytize this idea, it will take a life of its own.

We shouldn't dismiss "asian values" as just the invention of some authoritarian governments to justify their hold on power, it's greater than that, a kind of regional nationalism if you will. Sometimes the myth can be more powerful than reality. I think its unwise to dismiss "Asian Values" as a scam, I think you will be seeing a lot more of it in the future.

Rudy S. Tan

Date: Tue, 28 Apr 1998 07:45:08 -0400
From: Salma & Lubis <lubisksn@tm.net.my>

I don't see how Asians can hang on "Asian values" when the environment for extended families is being eroded especially in the cities. For example, Malaysian and Singapore leaders keep talking about Asian values, but the housing policy is that everyone from villagers to urban settlers should be resettled into low-cost high-rise apartments designed for nuclear families and eventually, alienated individuals. This is so that we have more space for oil palm estates, shopping complexes, roads, golf courses and other modern and "higher order" land uses. This is in spite of any Confucian, Islamic or other rhetoric we may have to swallow together with Asian values myth.

Khoo Salma Nasution
Asia & West Pacific Network for Urban Conservation

From: ashkenazi@gyosei.ac.uk (Micheal Ashkenazi)

I agree with Professor Sivin in his suspicions of the use of "Asian Values" as a cloaking device for good old-fashioned autocracy and denial of human rights (whatever they are). Nonetheless, it IS a legitimate area of inquiry. One thing that is always intriguing (at least to me) is the question of the ability of the West (as broad and amorphously gaseous an entity as "Asia" to absorb so much carrot-ware of the "Mystical East" variety. Is it the case that we have adopted comparative ethic\cs as a form of PC, and that this is being exploited CONSCIOUSLY by the powers-that-be? Or is there some other explanation? Perhaps it is all down to marketing? And is there a difference between the emphases of "Asian values" as sold by Beijing and by Singapore?

Dr. Michael Ashkenazi
Gyosei International College
London Road
Reading, Berkshire, RG1 5AQ
Tel: +44-118-9310152 (ext. 359)
Fax: +44-118-9310137

From: Edward Friedman <friedman@polisci.wisc.edu>

Rudy Tan wisely points out the chauvinistic idiocy in the notion western values and rightly notes that Asian values is the other side of the same feel-good myth. But I am not a westerner. I am a Midwesterner. I root for the Green Bay Packers. Besides much of civilization is rooted in its dominant ethos. The Judeo-Christian ethic originates in Asia and Africa, where Moses was born. Numerous European fascist racists denounce Judaism, Christianity and Islam as all non-European threats to Europe's primal, tribal, martial vigor. The Asian values theory was invented in the 1960s by American conservatives frightened by the deepening of democracy reflected in the civil rights movement, feminism, etc. To limit democracy at home, they insisted that Japan rose because it was really authoritarian and premised on Confucian discipline. By the mid 1980s many Asians accepted the American theory, claiming that Asia was resistant to AIDS because it had values in contrast to immoral Africans and decadent Americans. Now Asia is on the way toward having the most cases of AIDS in the world. The Asian values theses-- there are many-- as Western values ideas which forget Torquemada, Hitler, Cromwell and Simon Legree are misleading myths, rationalizations of prejudices which serve political purposes.

Ed Friedman

From: Naomi Standen <nstanden@staff.uwsuper.edu>

I see that others have already engaged with Professor Sivin's comment, but as I am just back, I will have my two penn'orth as well. Professor Sivin seems to be assuming that in making my bibliographical request for material giving the 'Asian' side of the debate, I am in some way stating that I agree with or approve of that 'Asian' view, or even the existence of the debate, and that I will be passing such an approval on to my students. Actually, the course is at 300 level, and the students are well able to think critically about the material I present them with, which is precisely my purpose in choosing something that may, perhaps, be regarded as controversial by some on this list, and undoubtedly regarded as problematical by many, including me.

I cannot imagine that Professor Sivin only ever presents to his students material that he agrees with, and neither do I. Are we to deny our students the opportunity to think through these issues for themselves simply because some of us might assume that they are not capable of it? Well, we all teach differently, but I find it hard to avoid the view that the issue is out there, however tawdry it may be, and whether we in the academy like it or not. As a historian, I am accustomed to dealing with what's in front of me; whether or not I think it SHOULD be there is not a relevant question. My purpose as a teacher is to get my students thinking about things - lots of things, regardless of what viewpoints they might form or I might have.

What would happen if we only taught what WE, from our ivory eminences, thought was suitably untawdry (if that is a word)? If one of my students goes to some part of Asia and is confronted with some version of 'Asian values', how are they going to be able to respond to their own satisfaction if they have never met the ideas before and never had a chance to reflect upon them? If, as is the case for most of this particular class, one's students are going to become high school teachers, how are they going to be able to respond to the question or challenge in class from someone presenting some version of 'Asian values' - or to the student who trashes the whole of Asia BECAUSE of 'Asian values' - if my student, now themselves a teacher, has never met and thought about these ideas before? I happen to think that most 'women's magazines' are pretty tawdry, but I can also see the validity - if not the necessity - of teaching students new ways of 'reading' them that enhance the students' understanding of the world in which they live, and enable them to SEE the tawdriness for what it is.

Naomi Standen
Department of History, Politics and Society
University of Wisconsin-Superior

From: Bryan R Ross <bross@hawaii.edu>

The problem with the "Asian Values" argument is that like Weber's argument it is a "post hoc ergo procter hoc" argument. It has no real validity.

Brayn Ross

Message-Id: <199805011320.JAA81438@h-net.msu.edu>
Date: Tue, 28 Apr 1998
From: singa <singa@cc.emu.edu.tr>

I'm a new member of the H-asia list and have been around for a month. I'm pleased to see discussion of some sort finally taking place in this list after deleting a month's worth of bookprice, conference, and annoncements of the likes that seems to go on.

I'm pleased that Rudy S.Tan has cleared the air and brought to our attention with regards to exactly what Asian Values mean to different readers. The phrase `Asian Values' has become a cliche used for the identification of the East as a collective world or culture. Before we even discuss Asian Values, it is probably helpful if we knew what it entails and if `Asian Values' really exist afterall! We may like to consider the following:

1) An important point already put forward by Rudy Tan, that is when we say Asian Values, we ask, which part of Asia? China, India, Russia, Indonesia, Malyasia, Thailand, Japan, Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong or Australia? If a blanket term such as Asian Values can be representative of the whole of Asia then in the same way it is possible for the existence of European Values. I think not because a British is as much an Italian as a Japanese is an Indonesian.

2) The ambiguity of the term `Asian Values' is further revealed with its usually immediate associations with the Chinese race. This may imply China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and very often, carelessly included, Singapore. There is perhaps a possible argument here for Asian Values as the span of this blanket term narrows down in its implications to a particular race (in this case focusing on the Chinese), rather than the large geographical territory of diverse cultures the term tries to cover. So, if it is the value system of the Chinese we are concerned with then wouldn't it be more precise and direct to confront the issue as `Chinese Values' rather than `Asian Values'?

3) Why is Singapore a careless inclusion?
    i) Well one of the most successful aspects of the Singaporean government is its ability to maintain racial harmony amongst its people. The beautiful island of Singapore is populated with an interesting racial mix of Chinese, Indian, Malay, and others. Although the Chinese race makes up the largest percentage (about 70%) of the population, it has in their 30 odd years of independance developed a culture of its own - a multi-racial, vastly westernised culture. For this reason, to indicate that Singapore is a representative of the Chinese race seems to stretch the imagination a little too far.
    ii)The Singaporean govt.PAP has in the recent years been concientious in injecting into its society the essence of Asian Values, of the importance of its applications in All Singaporean families. Done with all good intentions for its people undoubtedly (although the idea of imposing Chinese values and occassionally dropping in ideas such as confucius ethics, in the presence of non Chinese Singaporeans however small their ratio is seems surreal and absurd), their faith in the existence of this magic term known as `Asian Values', this mysterious set of moral values that they see as peculiar only to asians, or rather, the Chinese, is highly abstract. An idea of the list of what

Singapore constantly refers to as Asian or Nationalistic Values are as follows:
    a) effective communication within the family unit
    b) respect for the elders - speak their language (most younger generation Singaporeans only speak English and are unable to relate to their elderly who only speak their native language - a sign of westernisation)
    c) Be patient with your children, listen to what they have to say

(The list goes on, there are about 6 items. The above 3 have been rephrased but the meaning has been kept as accurately as possible)

Reading the list and we can only take them at face value, it seems to me that this so called Asian/Nationalistic values of Singapore is nothing but a set of moral standards that can be applied across all cultures world wide! Oops! Here I have made a sweeping statement of exactly the kind of loose usage attached to the term Asian Values that I m trying to demolish. If every moral system, values or standards can be applied across all cultures world wide than all efforts to explore the subject of anthropology will be nothing but a futile gesture. What I mean is the set of values listed can be recognised easily by any if not most cultural groups whether they are Asians or not.

It is important thus to look closely into the content of Singapore s agenda entitled in bold and caps.`Asian Values', and decide upon its relevance to the context of this debate.

4) So, what about the infamous authoritarian system that Nationalistic spirit and its domestic counterpart, filial piety, project? Again it is significant as to which cultural context are we discussing this issue? Say, in the Chinese context, to quote Scott Simon s article paragraph 2 :

"2) If we look at country-specific examples of "values" arguments, they often contain strong nationalistic elements. Taiwanese school children (in the fifth class textbook "Shehui"), for example, are taught that foreign parents, like animals, love and take care of their children. Foreign children, however, leave their parents when they grow up, like birds flying away from the nests they are born in. The Taiwanese sociologist Hu Youhui argues that the state makes such arguments in order justify the lack of a decent welfare system, and to place responsibility for taking care of the elderly on children. I add that such rhetoric also has a nationalist dimension, as it makes the claim that Chinese people are morally superior to foreigners."

I admit the existence of such a concept the Chinese have of the West with regards to filial piety. To me this concept is nothing but a lack of imagination on the part of the Chinese that perhaps there are more than one way filial piety can be expressed.

However the issue I wish to discuss here is that it will be more interesting if instead of again being trapped quickly into associating ideas such as filial piety, authoritarian system, Asian values,etc with the Chinese race, but to take a step back and look at it from a broader perspective, we will discover that these values that we ve been interrogating the Chinese or Mr Confucius with, are beginning to reveal itself in non Asian cultures! Take Southern Europe - Italy for example, inspired by the film Godfather - I mean its family structure not its`mafia- ism , the signifiacnce of the family unit - or of the extended family unit, the authoritarian - patriarchal tradition, etc. How is it then for a culture so distant from asia be so asian in their value system?

It seems to a large extent that our value system respond in accordance to the development of our cultural/social infrastructure, which in turn accelerates at a particular rate, in response to some extent the development of its economic infrastructure. Thus we can expect the existence of similar value systems at the moment collectively still known as Asian Values, in societies whose social/cultural infrastructure perform at relative levels.

Whether that particular culture is in asia or not is not the point. Ie. It can happen in Italy or in Latin America! The fact that most of Asia share similar value systems is not a coincidence, it is based on the relative performance of their social/cultural infrastructure.

To revert to Scott Simon s article para 2 again, that the state makes such arguments in order to justify the lack of a decent welfare system.... " is a good example of this concept.

In conclusion I still wish to know what this set of Asian Values that we so often talk about entail?

Wu Suhan
Faculty of Architecture and Design
International American University
North Cyprus

Date: Mon, 04 May 1998
From: Kristin Stapleton <kestap01@pop.uky.edu>

Dear colleagues,

I agree with Naomi Standen's response to Nathan Sivin, but I also think that the question of "Asian Values" deserves some scrutiny for other reasons, as other posts have suggested. The existence of the concept, as Steven Leibo points out, may actually change how people behave. To try to explore this possibility, which I consider only a hypothesis, I number of eminent Korea scholars if people in South Korea looked to Lee Kwan-yew as an "Asian leader" who could speak for them (Akira Iriye has argued, rightly or wrongly, that some Chinese accepted the idea of the Greater East Asian Co-Properity Sphere, after all, so it didn't seem all that far-fetched to me that some non-Singaporeans might be pleased to see Lee Kwan-yew rise to world prominence as spokesperson for "Asia"). The answer I got is that few, if any, Koreans care at all about "Asian Values." When I asked why this might be, one scholar told me he thought it is because the South Koreans are obsessed with living in an American-style democracy, for various reasons. I think the relationships of Lee Teng-hui and Jiang Zemin to the "Asian Values" concep -yew) are very interesting, also for various reasons.


Kristin Stapleton
University of Kentucky

From: chenj <chenj@yorku.ca>

Mr Yu Lan's view of the PRC and the West conspiring to create people like Wang Dan and Wei Jingsheng is most interesting. It reveals an understanding of the world by someone who used to live in an iron box, with little input for his mind to process and now, in the absence of the iron box, he carries on his habit of thinking without input. I do not believe that he is a student of humanities or social sciences. He is just fond of discussing world affairs without input.

One finds similar ways of thinking among PRC students and scholars in the West.

Jerome Chen chenj@yorku.ca

Date: Fri, 8 May 1998 23:33:07 -0400
From: "Peter C. Perdue" <pcperdue@MIT.EDU>

The debate over Asian values is not one we can avoid, but is it possible to inject any coherence at all into the discussion? The concept is stretched so broadly as to be utterly meaningless: what country does not think that children should obey their parents? But one specific hypothesis I find intriguing: The two most outspoken proponents of the concept are Lee Kwanyew of Singapore and Muhammad Mahathir of Malaysia. Both have common roots as former socialists, anti-communists, strongly influenced by British colonial rule. They like the authoritarianism of the old colonial regime, they preserve the socialist faith in government intervention and its suspicion of global capitalism, and, explicitly for Lee, more surreptitiously for Mahathir, they have a great admiration for what are really overseas Chinese practices of intense dedication to family-centered achievement in commerce. [See the interesting comments of Syed Hussein Alatas in The Myth of the Lazy Native on Mahathir; James Fallows discusses Mahathir and Lee in Looking at the Sun; Mahathir makes his own statement in a recent issue of Current History]. One reason the PRC, Taiwan, Korea, and Japan have failed to come up with any coherent set of Asian values is that they have no legacy of direct Western colonial rule to react against or transform. Instead, each of these Asian countries pits itself against one or more other Asian countries as its main enemy.

Date: Sat, 9 May 1998 05:59:19 -0400
From: Jacqueline Dumpis <a9204946@unet.univie.ac.at>

Greetings! A few words of introduction, first: I study Chinese and History at Vienna university and am in the process of getting my master's degree in "sinology", as we still call it.

I should like to add my own bit to the Asian values debate: last week I heard an Austrian law professor expound his idea of Oskar Weggel's idea of Confucianism as a business ethics system. It was indistinguishable from anything I have heard about Max Weber's protestant ethics as a base for modern capitalism - hard work, saving and investing, etc. ad nauseam. Business people will just do what is practical (mostly) and at the same time fit it into existing cultural codes. If this seems too bold or simplistic, please correct me. The one exception to practicality seems to be "face" - a concept not only found in Asia, but anywhere, I believe (I'm fairly well travelled ;-)).So, if Jerome Chen talks about people with no input in their closed little mind boxes harboring big ideas about the world in general, I just want to emphasize that this phenomenon comes in many degrees and guises. Even with very experienced Western Asia scholars I've met. "Saving Face" is a serious obstacle to communication on an equal and thus satisfying base. And the Asian values debate is just what was pointed out in the beginning: a cozy feel-good strategy of "us" vs. "them" (read the western and other barbarians), and thus for "our" face. Maybe it's more rewarding to look at ways to understand the need and for coping with it. I always believed that communication is the essence of area studies. So we dabble in communication with a "wild psychology" in mind- "what makes them tick?" was how I first put the question to myself. Alas, I know very little about anthropology and psychology. But something is going to be needed - because "Asian values " are clearly not the answer.

Jackie Dumpis


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