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Values and identities in Asia
through the lense of connected history
Hoa Sen University, the 3/9/2015
Tran ThiLien
Associated professor
University Paris Diderot – Research Unit Cessma
The subject “Values and identities” is an important issue as for the Asian as the Western people.
For Asian peoples, this topic is not a question of old traditions but an issue which has dominated
the last century and which is still a current topic: how to face Western domination, taking in
account the inputs of the Western civilization, bases of its political economic power, but keeping
their values and identities. This question remains a major issue for most of the Asian States at
the beginning of the 21th century in a context of globalization.
For South East Asian States and for Vietnamese in particular, this issue was very important in a
context of colonization and then the context of nation building: after centuries of meetings and
confrontations with the West, many Asian countries had proclaimed to gain knowledge from the
West, but keeping their own traditions. They moved on from the assertion of national identities
face to Western domination to a modernization policy, but often still, according to Western
models (socialism, capitalism). Today at the beginning of the 21th century, South East Asian
countries have to think how to set with regards to the other Asian states and to the Western
world, in a context of globalization. This issue is also significant for Westerners whose supremacy
had been contested by Japan and more recently by other AsianStates: More recently, ina context
of a great economic development of the region, some East Asian countries have been able to
compete with Western countries and claimtheir own model of development basedon their, they
say,own specific “AsianValues”. As professor Kishore Mahbubani 1, author of the book, CanAsian
think? says,it is impossiblefor Western countries to understand the present world and to foresee
the future today without taking in account the perspective of “the Rest”, and Asia in particular.
The aims of this presentation are to to give an understanding of the actual debates about the
significance of Asian values in particular , and a critical approach of what is meant by “Asian
values” particularly led by scholars from Indian origins who are very represented in the debates
about Asian values. It is also to insist on the contemporary relevance of « Asian traditional values
and identities » in the process of nation building and modernization in Asia. My paper first insists
on the context in which the discourse on Asian values has emerged in the nineties. Second, it
develops the arguments of the advocates of « Asian values » and their permanence within the
modernization process of Asian States and societies, insisting on the role of Confucianist,
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Buddhist and Muslim traditions in the conception of power as well as in the emergence of a
specific economic model, which have made the economic miracle in East Asia possible. Third, it
deals with all the debates it had provoked, and the critics of the discourses on Asian values. I
show the necessity for Asians and Westerners, to overcome a simplistic dual vision East versus
West and reconsider the vision of the past, present and future as a connected world with an
ancient and permanent circulation of peoples, ideas and goods.
But just before to begin my presentation, let us define the two terms: value and identity. The
term value (from latin valor), generally used on its plural form, means merits and qualities. It has
important connection with the idea of Ethic and Moral on an individual, and what is commonly
called Tradition on a social level. It designated a group of moral values shared by a significant
group of persons (of the same culture, of the same nationality). The term Identity (from latin
idem (« the same») on the singular or on the plural form, is used in the social sciences to describe
a person's conception and expression of his individuality or of his group affiliations (such as
national identity and cultural identity). On its singular form, the term has been used during the
modern period, period of fight for independence of many of South East Asian countries, face to
the West, but also face to Japanese imperialism. It has been also used on his plural form, with the
recognitionof the pluralityof identitieswithinasame country as most of the South East Asiancountries
have to manage with important ethnical minorities.
East Asianmiracle and « Asianvalues »: context andsignificance
What is interesting is that the fathers of the “Asian values” discourse, former prime minister of
Singapore Lee Kuan Yew and the former prime minister of Malaysia Mahathir Mohammad were
coming from South East Asia. All along the 60s-80s decades, the East and Southeast Asian
countries were the only regions that knew a strong economic growth. Some advocated Asian
Values, crediting this success to a distinctive "third-way" Asian political model presented as an
alternative to the liberal Western democratic model. The Malaysian version of Asian values or
“The Mahathir Model” basically was supposed to be influenced by Malay-Islamic values, and the
Singaporean School that stresses onConfucianismand China Model emphasized the combination
of Chinese-Nationalist-Communist values were dominating the discourse on Asian values.
These discourses on Asia values, which emerged in South East Asia, were made in the aim to
support their own political agenda: Stability and enforced social cohesion has become
internalized as the fundamental core of the Asian values: Lee Kuan Yew and Mohammad
Mahathir introduced the concept of Asian values in response to the global democratization,
booming economy and political stability of the 1990s, before that the currency crisis of July 1997
shocked Asian countries.
Then, the idea of Asian values spread all over Asia. Cultural and value differences between Asia
and the West were stressed by several official delegations at the 1993 World conference on
Human rights in Vienna. And today, the concept of "Asian values" is popular in China as in
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Vietnam, the Communist leaders talking about the role of the party to guarantee “social
harmony.” In Japan, these ideas of Asian values were popular among some nationalist circles
because it challenged the West and also offered the possibility of Japanese leadership in a new
Asia. Even Han Sung Joo, Former Minister of Foreign affairs of the Republic of Korea defended
the Asian values: “I think Asian values have much to do with Asian governance. When we talk
about “values in Asia,” weprobably meansocial or cultural values that are shared by a substantial
number of people in that society named Asia. (…) He considered that that Asian values which
were helpful during the early industrialization and preglobalization stage actually acted as
impediments for these Asian countries in adjusting to a new age of interdependence and
globalization. The earlier stages of industrialization and economic growth seemed to have been
helped by a paternalistic state, government guidance and protection of private enterprises,
communitarian outlook and practices and emphasis on social order, harmony and discipline. » 2
Two popular examples of that concept of Asian values are a song and a film. The Song of Dick
Lee, a Singaporean rock-pop-rap star singing in Japanese, Chinese (Mandarin) and Cantonese.
His 1998 song “Home “, commissioned by the Singapore National Arts Council and conferring a
major national award in 2005, marked his consecration as an official national cultural figure in
the city-state. This was confirmed in 2007 when he was chosen to compose “Rise”, the Official
Theme Song for the 40th Anniversary celebrations of ASEAN. He also composed a song for the
APEC Singapore 2009 summit which was sung in front of world leaders such as Obama. In his
song Orientalism (1991) which promotes a pan Asian pop music, he said: You have to perceive
How you want yourself to be. I think it’s time to show that all of us are no caricatures or
stereotypes, No token yellows! We simply have to be assertive, make them see this is the new
Asian ready for the twenty-first century!” Moreover, the film of Zhang Yimou Hero in 2002 also
deals with the theme of Asian values in choosing the period of the fighting kingdoms, the time of
, the first emperor of China , the king Qin who dreamed to unify China. The film was criticized
and perceived as pro strong power of Communist China with the triumph of security and stability
ideas on those of liberty and human rights.
This discourse on Asian values spread all over East Asia at the same time as the political scientist
Samuel P Huntington developed his idea of "The Clash of Civilizations?" in the American Review
Foreign Affairs 3, and then in a book untitled The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World
Order. 4, the political scientist Samuel Huntington develop the theory that people's cultural and
religious identities will be the primary source of conflict in the post-Cold War world.
2 Han Sung-Joo (ed), "Forward & Asian Values: An Asset or a Liability," Changing Values in Asia:
Their Impact on Governance and Development, Tokyo: Japan Center for International Exchange,
2003, pp. vii-9
3 Huntington, Samuel P, The Clash of Civilizations?,in Foreign Affairs, vol. 72, no. 3, Summer 1993,pp. 22–
49
4 Huntington, Samuel P, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, New York, Simon &
Schuster, 1996
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During the post-Cold War period, the idea that Human Rights, liberal democracy and capitalist
free market economy will become the only remaining ideological alternative dominated. For
example, Francis Fukuyama argued that the world had reached the 'end of history' in a Hegelian
sense. Huntington expressed his disagreement with that analysis and didn’t believe in his theory
of progress. He thought that the world will come back to a normal state of affairs characterized
by cultural conflict. To him the primary axis of conflict in the future would to happen according
cultural and religious lines. Cultural identity would become the principal cause of conflict: “It is
my hypothesis that the fundamental source of conflict in this new world will not be primarily
ideological or primarily economic. The great divisions among humankind and the dominating
source of conflict will be cultural. Nation states will remain the most powerful actors in world
affairs, but the principal conflicts of global politics will occur between nations and groups of
different civilizations. The clash of civilizations will dominate global politics. The fault lines
between civilizations will be the battle lines of the future.”
Huntington divided the world into the "major" civilizations within which religion, was, he said,
the main criterion of classification. The Western civilization, centered on Australasia, Northern
America, and Europe (excluding Orthodox Eastern and South-Eastern Europe); the Latin America
civilization which could be considered as a part of the Western civilization, though it has slightly
distinct social and political structures from Europe and Northern America; The Orthodox world
of the former Soviet Union, The Eastern world which was,he said,a mix of Buddhist, Sinic, Hindu,
and Japonic civilizations; the Muslim world and the Sub-Saharan Africancivilization. According to
him, the two main threats for the Western world were the Muslim and Chinese civilization. The
Huntington argument that Confucianism was becoming one of the major threats to Western
Christian civilization, aroused intense debates in China in the 90s and stimulated nationalist
sentiments among intellectuals. To the argument that Western civilization was synonym of
democracy and Human Rights, free economy, some Chinese intellectuals answered that
international conflicts was the result of the Western expansion. To them (as wellas some Russian
intellectuals), the Western form of nationalism, based on religion, had led to the conflicts. The
Confucian civilization could bring peace and harmony among nations becauseit was precisely not
based on religion. They were speaking about the civilizational superiority of China, which had
learned from the West capitalism (market system and free trade) in a very short period of time.
The discourses on Asian values
The Mahathir and Lee Kwan Yee models definitely defended in terms of “Asian values” with the
strong influences of Malay-Islamicand Confucian values, which set them far apart from “Western
liberal universalist values”, in terms of the role they play in society and how the State has
responded to them.
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Lee Kwan Yee and the successful Singaporean model
The great economic success whichmove Singapore from poverty to plenty within one generation
is the result of the Lee Kwan Yee policy. Singapore’s per capita GNP is now higher than that of its
erstwhile colonizer, Great Britain. It has the world’s busiestport and is the third-largest oil refiner
and a major center of global manufacturing and service industries. Lee managed this miraculous
transformation of Singapore’s economy while maintaining tight political control over the country:
Until a high age, he travelled all over Asia dispensing advice on how to achieve economic growth
while retaining political stability and control. It is a formula that the governing elites of these
countries were anxious to learn.
Lee Kwan Yew had developed his arguments in an interview the political scientist Fareed Zakaria
in Foreign Affairs in 1994,5 promoting an Asian perspective over the Western model. With the
end of the Cold War, criticismof the Western political and economic and socialsystemfrom elites
in EastAsia increased. Whereas some positive features of Western societies were acknowledged
as the free, easy and open relations between people regardless of social status, ethnicity or
religion, a certain openness in argument about what is good or bad for society; the accountability
of public officials, negative features were also underlined: The erosion of the moral
underpinnings of a society, the breakdown of civil society (guns, drugs, violent crime, vagrancy,
unbecoming behavior in public), the expansion of the right of the individual to behave or
misbehave as he pleases came at the expense of an orderly society as well as the diminution of
personal responsibility : “ Westerners have abandoned an ethical basis for society, believing that
all problems are solvable by a good government, which we in the East never believed possible.”
Lee Kwan Yew established differences between Asian and Western societies. He didn’t believe in
an Asian model as such but argued that Asian societies were unlike Western ones. The
fundamental difference between Western concepts of society and as government and East Asian
concepts, (Korea, Japan, China, Vietnam), distinct from Southeast Asia, which is a mix between
the Sinic and the Indian, though Indian culture also emphasizes similar values: the Eastern
societies believe that the individual exists in the context of his family. "We use the family to push
economic growth, we were fortunate we had this cultural backdrop: the belief in thrift (saving),
hard work, filial piety and loyalty and the extended family, and, most of all, the respect for
scholarship and learning."
To him, the bases of the Singaporean success lied first in the preexistence of the Western and
Japanese models and the lessons of their positive and negative results. Second, on the family
bases, defined as the extended family, and then friends and the wider society. “The tested norm
5 Fareed Zakaria, A Conversation with Lee Kuan Yew, in Foreign Affairs March/April 1994 Issue
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is the family unit. It is the building brick of society”, he said. In the East the main goal is to have a
well-ordered society so that everybody can have maximum enjoyment of his freedoms. This
freedom can only exist in an ordered state and not in a natural state of anarchy. According to Lee
Kwan Yew, History of China is of dynasties which have risen and fallen: “through all that
turbulence, the family, the extended family, the clan, has provided a kind of survival raft for the
individual. (…) The family and the way human relationships are structured, do increase the
survival chancesof its members.That has beentested over thousands of years”. Chineseaphorism
“Xiushen qijia zhiguo pingtianxia”6 resumed this idea shared by the whole Confucian societies
and the basic concept of Confucian civilization.
“We have focused on basics in Singapore. We used the family to push economic growth, factoring
the ambitions of a person and his family into our planning. Wehave tried, for example,to improve
the lot of children through education. The government can create a setting in which people can
live happily and succeed and express themselves, but finally it is what people do with their lives
that determines economic success or failure. Again, we were fortunate we had this cultural
backdrop, the belief in thrift, hard work, filial piety and loyalty in the extended family, and, most
of all, the respect for scholarship and learning.”
To the Singaporean leader, the cultural factors (values systems) were divergent between
Confucianism and Western values: as tradition of strict discipline, respect for the teacher, rote
learning and scholarship and hard work, providing high-quality education: “We are all in the
midst of very rapid change and at the same time we are all groping towards a destination which
we hope will be identifiable with our past. (…) The Japanese have solved this problem to some
extent. Japan has becomean industrial society, while remaining essentiallyJapanese in its human
relations. They have industrialized and shed some of their feudal values. The Taiwanese and the
Koreans are trying to do the same. But whether these societies can preserve their core values and
make this transition is a problem which they alone can solve. (…) Therefore, you will find people
unreceptive to the idea that they be Westernized. Modernized, yes, in the sense that they have
accepted the inevitability of science and technology and the change in the life-styles they bring.
(…) What are we all seeking? A form of government that will be comfortable, because it meets
our needs, is not oppressive, and maximizes our opportunities.”
“The Mahathir Model”: anti-Western imperialism, strong government and
protecting community
Mahathir Mohammad former Prime Minister who ruled Malaysia from 1981 till 2003, and was
credited with engineering Malaysia's rapid modernization was the other main advocate of the
6 Xiushen means look after yourself,cultivateyourself,do everything to make yourself useful;Qijia,look after
the family; Zhiguo, look after your country; Pingtianxia, all is peaceful under heaven.
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“Asian values.” Based on Malay-Islamic culture, he intended to propose a Malaysian perspective
of “Asian values”, anxious to protect Malaysians against Western values. According to him, the
concept of Asian values was supposed to reconcile the religion of the Malays, Islam, with the
Confucianismof the ethnicChinese andHinduism and contributed tocreate a sense of commonvalues
betweendifferentethnicandreligiousgroupsandtoforma commonideology,differentfromthe West.
In his book, The Malay Dilemma(1970), he describes the three bases of “Malayness” –feudalism,
Islam, and adat (traditional customs) which have to be adapted to modern needs but he rejected
Western universalism which could, he said, corrupt Malaysian culture and religious beliefs.
Concerned about the influence of Western individualism, and the future of Asian values and
traditions, he defended to Universalism (fact that the human condition is unique, and that all
human beings possess certain inalienable rights (fact that the human condition is unique, and
that all human beings possess certain inalienable rights), the idea of cultural relativism (human
values, far from being universal, vary a great deal according to different cultural perspectives.)
Because of the pervasiveness of the notion of “group” or “community” rather than that of the
“individual” in many cultures, he concluded that the Western models were not significant for
other countries. He launched the “Look East” policy in 1982 as a broader campaign against
“Western values” with the aim “to rid ourselves of the Western values that we have absorbed.”
The main elements of “The Mahathir Model” were strong authority, priority of the community
over the individual and strong family based society.
His policy was based on three ideas:anti-western imperialism, strong government and protecting
community. First, the Anti-western imperialism. In Asia, there was a widespread suspicion that
the West had a hidden agenda to maintain its hegemony by slowing down Asian prosperity and
competitiveness by “changing the rules” to invoke a new kind of protectionism, with human
rights and democracy as the standard-bearers, succeeding the colonialism and Christianity.
Mahathir claimed that Western pressure on developing countries, over human rights and
democratization would cause instability, economic decline and poverty: “They still consider their
values and political and economic systems better than any others. It would not be so bad if it
stopped at that; it seems, however, that they will not be satisfied until they have forced other
countries to adopt their ways as well.(…) . Westerners cannot seem to understand diversity, or
that even in their own civilization values differed over time. » 7
Mahathir further argued that the West had a long history of human rights violations and could
hardly be considered as a paragon of democracy and justice. To him, the groundless sense of
superiority was impeaching the West from seeing the significance of Eastern values.
The second baseof his model was a strong government. Mahathir, however, argued that peoples
in Asian countries believe in the idea of strong government, not limited government, as in
7 Mahathir M. and S. Ishihara(1995) TheVoice of Asia: Two Leaders Discuss the Coming Century, Tokyo:
Kodansha International,p. 75
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Western culture, where the government interventions in personal liberties and the economy
were limited by law, usually in a constitution, which has roots in Hebraic Law and Magna Carta
and the US Constitution. Without authority and stabilitythere could be no civility,and the society
would become fragmented and disordered. He mentioned that Malaysians (Asians) should
respect authority because authority guarantees social stability. However, Mahathir argued that
strong authority does not means despotic rulers, but noticed that even within the most
democratic system, citizens must pay due respect to government and understand the need for
healthy balance between individual rights and obligations towards society. In fact, Mahathir had
taken a step further by encouraging feudalistic loyalty among people to his leadership in using
the Malay culture and Asian values in order to justify his leadership.
His last aim was to protect the community. The importance of the community in Asian culture
and society explained the belief of the Asians, he said, that the community should take priority
over individuals at the opposite with the primacy of the individual in Western society. Modern
Asian societies were based on the idea that “Asian” culture, with its priority on the group rather
than the individual, is ideally suited to modern, industrial society. To him, emphasis on the rights
and freedoms of the individual was producing crime-ridden societies in moral decay, with little
social discipline or concern for the broader interests of community. Mahathir urged the need to
limit personal freedom for the sake of political stability and economic prosperity: The individual
and minority must have their rights but not at the unreasonable expense of the majority. To him,
the priority of the community over the rights of the individual was widely embraced in Confucian
East Asia, in Islamic Indonesia, Brunei, and Malaysia and Buddhist Thailand. The Asian concept
of the individual, different from that of the West through the importance of relationships in the
extended family setting, was giving East Asians a much more sophisticated ability to relate to
others.
East versus West
Despite the fact that this concept was proclaimed by very different persons with very different
cultural backgrounds, the concept of “Asian values" gathered Asian countries which were
supposed to have sharp with values and traditions of the Western model: single-party rule rather
than political pluralism, social harmony and consensus rather than confrontation and dissent,
welfare and collective well-being of the community rather than individual rights, loyalty and
respect towards authority including parents, teachers and government rather than individualism.
The supporters of the “Asian values” argue that Asians appreciate more order and harmony,
whereas Westerners appreciate more personal freedom. Likewise, Mahathir and Lee argue that
the supposedly universal human rights documents and treaties were privileging Western values
to the detriment of Asian values. To countries as Pakistan and China, it was necessary to sacrifice
some political and civil freedoms in order to protect the economic security of their people and
the stability of their societies. In 2000, Dr Mahathir was telling that too much democracy could
lead to violence and instability.
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To sum up, the Asian values thesis suggest that it is only through an orderly society which curtails
the excesses ofindividualismthat all members of the community could livesafeand fulfilledlives.
The Asian States should provide such an environment by curtailing individual freedoms and
striking a balance between civil liberties and social stability. In fact, these concepts developed in
the 1990s were more appropriate for Asian societies than the liberal values and institutions of
the West, were used to justify authoritarian regimes in Asia.
The debates about Asian values
There is an impressive literature about the question of Asian values. I select here the arguments
of three Asian intellectuals, who all are Indian or from Indian backgrounds, where the post
colonial studies had been very influential.
The critics of Asian values by Amartya Kumar Sen
Graduated in Economy and philosophy from the University of Calcutta and Trinity College
(Cambridge), he first had been Professor and Head of the Economics Department of the newly
created Jasavpur University in Calcutta in the fifties. Then, he had taught in England and the US
sincethe beginning of the seventies.He is well known for his contributions to welfare economics,
social choice theory, economic and social justice, economic theories of famines and indexes of
the measure of well-being of citizens of developing countries. He was awarded the Nobel Prize
in Economic Sciences in 1998.
One of his important book was published in 1982: Poverty and Famines: An Essay on Entitlement
and Deprivation. 8 In this book, he argued that famine occurs not only from a lack of food, but
from inequalities built into mechanisms for distributing food. His interest in famine can be
explained by his personal experience, as a nine-year-old boy during the Bengal famine of 1943 in
which 3 million people perished. Moreover, Sen provided a great contribution in the field of
development economics (social choice theorists in the area of economic measurement of poverty and
inequality) in the Human Development Report by the UN Development program, an annual issue that
ranks countries on a variety of economic and social indicators. 9
Sen's revolutionary idea in his book
The Idea of Justice 10 was the concept of "capability", stressing the importance of public
discussion and arguing that governments should be measured by the concrete capabilities of
their citizens in evaluating various states with regard to justice.
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8 Sen, Amartya, Poverty and Famines: An Essay on Entitlement and Deprivation. Oxford New York:
Clarendon Press Oxford University Press,1982
9 Sen, Amartya , On Economic Inequality (expanded ed.). Oxford New York, Clarendon Press,Oxford
University Press,1997 [1976] and Inequality Reexamined, New York Oxford New York, Russell Sage
Foundation Clarendon Press,Oxford University Press,1992
10 Sen, Amartya, The Idea of Justice, London, Penguin, 2009
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Amartya Kumar Sen doesn’t believe in the important cultural dichotomy between Western and
non-Western civilizations on the subject of liberty and rights, contesting the idea of unity of
Asia, characterized, at the opposite, by a great diversity even among the Confucean countries.
To him, the temptation to see Asia as one unit in fact a legacy of the Eurocentric point of view
(Asia/Orient). The rhetoric of cultures, with each "culture" seen in homogenized terms is
criticable: to him, political and religious leaders do not have a monopoly in interpreting local
culture and values: “ There are no quintessential values that apply to this immensely large et
heterogenous population, that differentiate Asians as a group from people in the rest of the
world” . He is against any generalizations about "Western civilization, Asian values," "African
cultures," and insists on the necessity to recognize heterogeneity, diversity within each country
and culture.
He also contest the uniqueness of "Western values", looking backward the History of the West.
He considers the idea of individual freedom as quite recent and not as the result of a long run
western heritage. The value of tolerance or the importance of individual freedom, have been
advocated by few Western philosophers as Aristotle but many others as Plato, St. Augustine
expressed their preference for order and discipline over freedom, as Confucius' thinking.
Moreover these philosophers, excluded women and slaves from these rights, so it is impossible
to speak about the universality of the rights. It also exist in non- Western traditions, particularly
in a great variety of Asian intellectual traditions, ideas of individual freedom and tolerance.
Sen underlines the presence of diversity and variety within eachtradition, both Western and non-
Western. Both in Asia and in the West, some have emphasized order and discipline, even as
others have focused on freedom and tolerance. The language of freedom is very important, he
said, in Buddhism: the Indian emperor Ashoka in the third century BC presented many political
inscriptions in favor of tolerance and individual freedom, both as a part of state policy and in the
relation of different people to each other. Sen gives the example of Confucius who was not so
authoritarian: he did believe in order, but he did not recommend blind allegiance to the State
and insisted on the importance of opposition. At least, he gives the example of the Islamic
civilization, often seen as being fundamentally intolerant and hostile to individual freedom. The
Mughal emperors in India were not only extremely tolerant, but some even theorized about the
need for tolerating diversity, as for example the great Mughal emperor Akbar during the
sixteenth century, whereas at the same time the Inquisitions in Europe chased the Jewish away
from Europe to the tolerant Cairo under the patronage of Sultan Saladin. Sen notices: “In seeing
Western civilization as the natural habitat of individual freedom and political democracy, there is
a tendency to extrapolate backwards from the present. Values that the European Enlightenment
and other recentdevelopments since the eighteenth century have made commonand widespread
are often seen, quite arbitrarily, as part of the long- run Western heritage, experienced in the
West over millennia. The concept of universal human rights in the broad general sense of
entitlements of every human being is really a relatively new idea, not to be much found either in
the ancient West or in ancient civilizations elsewhere.”
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At least, he contests the supposed link between Asian values and economic development. To
him, some countries had an economic development without being politically controled
(Botswana) and there are cases of famines in authoritarian countries (North Korea). it is the
economic policy and the context of this policy (as the use of international markets, a hight rate
of literacy, successful land reforms, incitation for investments, exportations) which only can
explain the economic success but not values.
The critics of Asian values of Fareed Zakaria
Fareed Zakaria is an Indian American journalist graduated from Harvard (Doctor of Philosophy)
who had studied under Samuel P. Huntington. He had been managing editor of Foreign Affairs
and is columnist in many American newspapers (The Washington Post, Newsweek, Time, New
York Times, Wall Street Journal, The New Yorker…). He is at the moment professor at Columbia
university in International relations; He is the author of many books as The Post-American World
(2008), where he argued that the most important trend of modern times is the "rise of the rest"
with the economic emergence of China, India, Brazil, and other countries. Another book, written
with James F. Hoge, The American Encounter: The United States and the Making of the Modern
World Essays from 75 Years of Foreign Affairs, (Basic Books; 1997) was translated into over 25
languages. He is considered by The New Republic as one of the most influential thinker.
To Fareed Zakaria, the Asian "model" is a transitional phenomenon. Western countries also went
through a period in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries when they were capitalist and had
limited participatory democracy. Western elites then worried, as Asiando today, that "too much"
democracy and "too many" individual rights would destabilize social order. But as these societies
modernized and as economic growth spread to all sections of society, things changed. He
underlines the increasing role of a growing middle class in South East Asia that demands a say in
its own future. Fareed Zakaria also insists on the variability of the role of culture: what explains
a culture’s failure in one era and success in another? If Confucianism explains the economic
boom in East Asia today, does it not also explain that region’s stagnation for four centuries?
When East Asia seemed immutably poor, many scholars as Max Weber, arguing that Confucian-
based cultures discouraged all the attributes necessary for success in capitalism. Today scholars
explain how Confucianismemphasizes the essential traits for economic dynamism. To him, when
people cannot find one simple answer to why certain societies succeed at certain times, they
examine successful societies and search within their cultures for the seeds of success. We can
sum up his argument: Cultures being complex, one finds in them what one wants.
Fareed Zakaria analyzes Lee Kuan Yew’s fascination with culture: to him, he is not a man
untouched by the West. Part of his interest in cultural differences is surely that they provide a
coherent defense against what he sees as Western democratic imperialism. A deeper reason to
him lays in his sentence: "We have left the past behind, and there is an underlying unease that
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there will be nothing left of us which is part of the old." Cultures change. Zacharia demonstrates
that most of the attributes that Lee sees in Eastern cultures were once part of the West. Under
the impact of economic growth, technological change and social transformation, no culture
remained the same. Four hundred years of economic growth had also changed the Western
societies: From the very beginning of England’s economic boom, many Englishmen worried that
as their country became rich it was losing its moral and ethical base. 11 It is this "decay" that Lee
is trying to avoid. Speaking about the anxious search for religion in East Asia today, it is in fact,
Zacharia says, a quest for a Confucian alternative to the West because of the fear to lose identity
with progress.
At least, he asserts that it is difficult to be modern without becoming more Western. The West
has left a mark on "the rest" (the non Western world) and it is not simply a legacy of technology
and material products. A great part of the literature about tradition and transformation in Asia,
has been written by Western scholars, that shows that West is not so alien to the Confucian
culture. He alsounderlines amisunderstanding about the relationship between rights and duties.
It is said that “Asian” morality is based on duties, while “Western” morality is based on rights.
John Locke (17th century) held that everyone has the duty to respect the lifeand dignity of others.
Rational individuals consent to live under government on condition that it also implements the
same duties. Individualism of the West is often overstated: Western societies constrain
individualism by such collectivities as the family, economic enterprise and nation.
The critics of Asian values of Yash Pal Ghai
Yash Pal Ghai is a Kenyan from Indian origins12, academic in constitutional law, graduated from
Oxford and Harvard University. He was professor in Hong Kong University and has been a Special
Representative of the UN Secretary General in Cambodia. He is the author of numerous books of
Law. 13 Yash Pal Ghai points out that there are also strong communitarian traditions in the West,
including conservatism, democratic socialism and some forms of liberalism. And that Asian
development strategies, based on strong states and participation in global markets, have also
been destroyed traditional communities. To him, invoking the value of community, therefore,
does not clarify the difference between “Asian” and “Western” values. However, he notices
differences between Malaysians and Westerners, the first being much more strongly rooted in
11 "Wealth accumulates and men decay," wrote Oliver Goldsmith in 1770.
12 His grandparents came from North India,and belong to the ancientwaves of migration sponsored by the
British Empire.
13 Public Law and Political Change in Kenya, A Study of the Legal Framework of Government from Colonial
Times to the Present, Oxford University Press, 1971; Hong Kong's New Constitutional Order The Resumption
of Chinese Sovereignty and the Basic Law, Hong Kong Univ Press, 1998; Public Administration and
Management in Small States, South Pacific Books, 1990 ; Autonomy and Ethnicity Negotiating Competing
Claims in Multi-Ethnic States, Cambridge University Press, 2000
13
13
their culture and religion than the second. This is unlike Western communities which believe
strongly in secularism and individualism and religion is relatively secondary in their life.
In conclusion, I would say that there is at the moment a rivalry between value systems and
resurgent norms. Increasing interrelated world needs new paradigms and redesigned norms. In
his book untitled Civilization on Trial published in 1948, the British historian Arnold Joseph
Toynbee already noticed that the Asia’s impact on Western life might be more profound than
that of Communist Russia.
And the division between the “West” and “East” isn’t misleading because these are neve been
two big permanent static blocks? In fact, the dynamic relationships between cultures in the age
of global interactions keep them in a constant state of flux. In his book Can Asians Think? 14
Kishore Mahbubani, a famous Singaporian academic and former diplomat and currently
Professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy (NUS) considers that after the past two
centuries of Western domination of world history, Asia will return to centre stage again. To him,
many leading globalminds do not understand this because their mental maps have been trapped
by narrow Western worldviews. In his last book entitled The Great Convergence: Asia, The West
and the Logic of One World 15, he argues that Asia had lived in an essentially unbalanced world.
“The flow of ideas reflecting 500 years of Western domination of the globe” has been for a long
time a one street (from the West to the East). He criticizes the Western triumphalism after the
end of the Cold War, whereas Western intellectuals were convinced that their minds and cultures
were open, self critical comparing with ossified Asian mind and culture and that “they had no
sacred cows.” He insists on the necessity for the Westerners to begin to see for the first time in
500 years that it was in fact a two way flow in the passage of ideas between the East and the
West.
That‘s why it is urgent to see the world and to write history in a comparative and connected
perspective. Since already some decades, scholars of Postcolonial studies,coming from “the rest
of the world” have questioned the Western supremacy in many fields, in particular in the
historical field, arguing on behalf of their respective cultural traditions and sources. It is now
urgent for Asians and Westerners, to overcome a simplistic dual vision East versus West and to
reconsider the vision of the past, present and future as a connected world with an ancient and
permanent circulation of peoples, ideas and goods.
14 This book has been published in 9 countries of which 2 India,China,Myanmar, Turkey and Malaysia) but
also The New Asian Hemisphere: The Irresistible Shift of Global Power to the East (published in 5 western
countries US, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, and 7 in Asia Egypt, China, Korea, Japan, Indonesia,
Taiwan and Vietnam).
15 The Great Convergence: Asia, The West and the Logic of One World , Public Affairs ,FirstTradePaper,
2014

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  • 1. 1 1 Values and identities in Asia through the lense of connected history Hoa Sen University, the 3/9/2015 Tran ThiLien Associated professor University Paris Diderot – Research Unit Cessma The subject “Values and identities” is an important issue as for the Asian as the Western people. For Asian peoples, this topic is not a question of old traditions but an issue which has dominated the last century and which is still a current topic: how to face Western domination, taking in account the inputs of the Western civilization, bases of its political economic power, but keeping their values and identities. This question remains a major issue for most of the Asian States at the beginning of the 21th century in a context of globalization. For South East Asian States and for Vietnamese in particular, this issue was very important in a context of colonization and then the context of nation building: after centuries of meetings and confrontations with the West, many Asian countries had proclaimed to gain knowledge from the West, but keeping their own traditions. They moved on from the assertion of national identities face to Western domination to a modernization policy, but often still, according to Western models (socialism, capitalism). Today at the beginning of the 21th century, South East Asian countries have to think how to set with regards to the other Asian states and to the Western world, in a context of globalization. This issue is also significant for Westerners whose supremacy had been contested by Japan and more recently by other AsianStates: More recently, ina context of a great economic development of the region, some East Asian countries have been able to compete with Western countries and claimtheir own model of development basedon their, they say,own specific “AsianValues”. As professor Kishore Mahbubani 1, author of the book, CanAsian think? says,it is impossiblefor Western countries to understand the present world and to foresee the future today without taking in account the perspective of “the Rest”, and Asia in particular. The aims of this presentation are to to give an understanding of the actual debates about the significance of Asian values in particular , and a critical approach of what is meant by “Asian values” particularly led by scholars from Indian origins who are very represented in the debates about Asian values. It is also to insist on the contemporary relevance of « Asian traditional values and identities » in the process of nation building and modernization in Asia. My paper first insists on the context in which the discourse on Asian values has emerged in the nineties. Second, it develops the arguments of the advocates of « Asian values » and their permanence within the modernization process of Asian States and societies, insisting on the role of Confucianist, 1
  • 2. 2 2 Buddhist and Muslim traditions in the conception of power as well as in the emergence of a specific economic model, which have made the economic miracle in East Asia possible. Third, it deals with all the debates it had provoked, and the critics of the discourses on Asian values. I show the necessity for Asians and Westerners, to overcome a simplistic dual vision East versus West and reconsider the vision of the past, present and future as a connected world with an ancient and permanent circulation of peoples, ideas and goods. But just before to begin my presentation, let us define the two terms: value and identity. The term value (from latin valor), generally used on its plural form, means merits and qualities. It has important connection with the idea of Ethic and Moral on an individual, and what is commonly called Tradition on a social level. It designated a group of moral values shared by a significant group of persons (of the same culture, of the same nationality). The term Identity (from latin idem (« the same») on the singular or on the plural form, is used in the social sciences to describe a person's conception and expression of his individuality or of his group affiliations (such as national identity and cultural identity). On its singular form, the term has been used during the modern period, period of fight for independence of many of South East Asian countries, face to the West, but also face to Japanese imperialism. It has been also used on his plural form, with the recognitionof the pluralityof identitieswithinasame country as most of the South East Asiancountries have to manage with important ethnical minorities. East Asianmiracle and « Asianvalues »: context andsignificance What is interesting is that the fathers of the “Asian values” discourse, former prime minister of Singapore Lee Kuan Yew and the former prime minister of Malaysia Mahathir Mohammad were coming from South East Asia. All along the 60s-80s decades, the East and Southeast Asian countries were the only regions that knew a strong economic growth. Some advocated Asian Values, crediting this success to a distinctive "third-way" Asian political model presented as an alternative to the liberal Western democratic model. The Malaysian version of Asian values or “The Mahathir Model” basically was supposed to be influenced by Malay-Islamic values, and the Singaporean School that stresses onConfucianismand China Model emphasized the combination of Chinese-Nationalist-Communist values were dominating the discourse on Asian values. These discourses on Asia values, which emerged in South East Asia, were made in the aim to support their own political agenda: Stability and enforced social cohesion has become internalized as the fundamental core of the Asian values: Lee Kuan Yew and Mohammad Mahathir introduced the concept of Asian values in response to the global democratization, booming economy and political stability of the 1990s, before that the currency crisis of July 1997 shocked Asian countries. Then, the idea of Asian values spread all over Asia. Cultural and value differences between Asia and the West were stressed by several official delegations at the 1993 World conference on Human rights in Vienna. And today, the concept of "Asian values" is popular in China as in
  • 3. 3 3 Vietnam, the Communist leaders talking about the role of the party to guarantee “social harmony.” In Japan, these ideas of Asian values were popular among some nationalist circles because it challenged the West and also offered the possibility of Japanese leadership in a new Asia. Even Han Sung Joo, Former Minister of Foreign affairs of the Republic of Korea defended the Asian values: “I think Asian values have much to do with Asian governance. When we talk about “values in Asia,” weprobably meansocial or cultural values that are shared by a substantial number of people in that society named Asia. (…) He considered that that Asian values which were helpful during the early industrialization and preglobalization stage actually acted as impediments for these Asian countries in adjusting to a new age of interdependence and globalization. The earlier stages of industrialization and economic growth seemed to have been helped by a paternalistic state, government guidance and protection of private enterprises, communitarian outlook and practices and emphasis on social order, harmony and discipline. » 2 Two popular examples of that concept of Asian values are a song and a film. The Song of Dick Lee, a Singaporean rock-pop-rap star singing in Japanese, Chinese (Mandarin) and Cantonese. His 1998 song “Home “, commissioned by the Singapore National Arts Council and conferring a major national award in 2005, marked his consecration as an official national cultural figure in the city-state. This was confirmed in 2007 when he was chosen to compose “Rise”, the Official Theme Song for the 40th Anniversary celebrations of ASEAN. He also composed a song for the APEC Singapore 2009 summit which was sung in front of world leaders such as Obama. In his song Orientalism (1991) which promotes a pan Asian pop music, he said: You have to perceive How you want yourself to be. I think it’s time to show that all of us are no caricatures or stereotypes, No token yellows! We simply have to be assertive, make them see this is the new Asian ready for the twenty-first century!” Moreover, the film of Zhang Yimou Hero in 2002 also deals with the theme of Asian values in choosing the period of the fighting kingdoms, the time of , the first emperor of China , the king Qin who dreamed to unify China. The film was criticized and perceived as pro strong power of Communist China with the triumph of security and stability ideas on those of liberty and human rights. This discourse on Asian values spread all over East Asia at the same time as the political scientist Samuel P Huntington developed his idea of "The Clash of Civilizations?" in the American Review Foreign Affairs 3, and then in a book untitled The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. 4, the political scientist Samuel Huntington develop the theory that people's cultural and religious identities will be the primary source of conflict in the post-Cold War world. 2 Han Sung-Joo (ed), "Forward & Asian Values: An Asset or a Liability," Changing Values in Asia: Their Impact on Governance and Development, Tokyo: Japan Center for International Exchange, 2003, pp. vii-9 3 Huntington, Samuel P, The Clash of Civilizations?,in Foreign Affairs, vol. 72, no. 3, Summer 1993,pp. 22– 49 4 Huntington, Samuel P, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, New York, Simon & Schuster, 1996
  • 4. 4 4 During the post-Cold War period, the idea that Human Rights, liberal democracy and capitalist free market economy will become the only remaining ideological alternative dominated. For example, Francis Fukuyama argued that the world had reached the 'end of history' in a Hegelian sense. Huntington expressed his disagreement with that analysis and didn’t believe in his theory of progress. He thought that the world will come back to a normal state of affairs characterized by cultural conflict. To him the primary axis of conflict in the future would to happen according cultural and religious lines. Cultural identity would become the principal cause of conflict: “It is my hypothesis that the fundamental source of conflict in this new world will not be primarily ideological or primarily economic. The great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural. Nation states will remain the most powerful actors in world affairs, but the principal conflicts of global politics will occur between nations and groups of different civilizations. The clash of civilizations will dominate global politics. The fault lines between civilizations will be the battle lines of the future.” Huntington divided the world into the "major" civilizations within which religion, was, he said, the main criterion of classification. The Western civilization, centered on Australasia, Northern America, and Europe (excluding Orthodox Eastern and South-Eastern Europe); the Latin America civilization which could be considered as a part of the Western civilization, though it has slightly distinct social and political structures from Europe and Northern America; The Orthodox world of the former Soviet Union, The Eastern world which was,he said,a mix of Buddhist, Sinic, Hindu, and Japonic civilizations; the Muslim world and the Sub-Saharan Africancivilization. According to him, the two main threats for the Western world were the Muslim and Chinese civilization. The Huntington argument that Confucianism was becoming one of the major threats to Western Christian civilization, aroused intense debates in China in the 90s and stimulated nationalist sentiments among intellectuals. To the argument that Western civilization was synonym of democracy and Human Rights, free economy, some Chinese intellectuals answered that international conflicts was the result of the Western expansion. To them (as wellas some Russian intellectuals), the Western form of nationalism, based on religion, had led to the conflicts. The Confucian civilization could bring peace and harmony among nations becauseit was precisely not based on religion. They were speaking about the civilizational superiority of China, which had learned from the West capitalism (market system and free trade) in a very short period of time. The discourses on Asian values The Mahathir and Lee Kwan Yee models definitely defended in terms of “Asian values” with the strong influences of Malay-Islamicand Confucian values, which set them far apart from “Western liberal universalist values”, in terms of the role they play in society and how the State has responded to them.
  • 5. 5 5 Lee Kwan Yee and the successful Singaporean model The great economic success whichmove Singapore from poverty to plenty within one generation is the result of the Lee Kwan Yee policy. Singapore’s per capita GNP is now higher than that of its erstwhile colonizer, Great Britain. It has the world’s busiestport and is the third-largest oil refiner and a major center of global manufacturing and service industries. Lee managed this miraculous transformation of Singapore’s economy while maintaining tight political control over the country: Until a high age, he travelled all over Asia dispensing advice on how to achieve economic growth while retaining political stability and control. It is a formula that the governing elites of these countries were anxious to learn. Lee Kwan Yew had developed his arguments in an interview the political scientist Fareed Zakaria in Foreign Affairs in 1994,5 promoting an Asian perspective over the Western model. With the end of the Cold War, criticismof the Western political and economic and socialsystemfrom elites in EastAsia increased. Whereas some positive features of Western societies were acknowledged as the free, easy and open relations between people regardless of social status, ethnicity or religion, a certain openness in argument about what is good or bad for society; the accountability of public officials, negative features were also underlined: The erosion of the moral underpinnings of a society, the breakdown of civil society (guns, drugs, violent crime, vagrancy, unbecoming behavior in public), the expansion of the right of the individual to behave or misbehave as he pleases came at the expense of an orderly society as well as the diminution of personal responsibility : “ Westerners have abandoned an ethical basis for society, believing that all problems are solvable by a good government, which we in the East never believed possible.” Lee Kwan Yew established differences between Asian and Western societies. He didn’t believe in an Asian model as such but argued that Asian societies were unlike Western ones. The fundamental difference between Western concepts of society and as government and East Asian concepts, (Korea, Japan, China, Vietnam), distinct from Southeast Asia, which is a mix between the Sinic and the Indian, though Indian culture also emphasizes similar values: the Eastern societies believe that the individual exists in the context of his family. "We use the family to push economic growth, we were fortunate we had this cultural backdrop: the belief in thrift (saving), hard work, filial piety and loyalty and the extended family, and, most of all, the respect for scholarship and learning." To him, the bases of the Singaporean success lied first in the preexistence of the Western and Japanese models and the lessons of their positive and negative results. Second, on the family bases, defined as the extended family, and then friends and the wider society. “The tested norm 5 Fareed Zakaria, A Conversation with Lee Kuan Yew, in Foreign Affairs March/April 1994 Issue
  • 6. 6 6 is the family unit. It is the building brick of society”, he said. In the East the main goal is to have a well-ordered society so that everybody can have maximum enjoyment of his freedoms. This freedom can only exist in an ordered state and not in a natural state of anarchy. According to Lee Kwan Yew, History of China is of dynasties which have risen and fallen: “through all that turbulence, the family, the extended family, the clan, has provided a kind of survival raft for the individual. (…) The family and the way human relationships are structured, do increase the survival chancesof its members.That has beentested over thousands of years”. Chineseaphorism “Xiushen qijia zhiguo pingtianxia”6 resumed this idea shared by the whole Confucian societies and the basic concept of Confucian civilization. “We have focused on basics in Singapore. We used the family to push economic growth, factoring the ambitions of a person and his family into our planning. Wehave tried, for example,to improve the lot of children through education. The government can create a setting in which people can live happily and succeed and express themselves, but finally it is what people do with their lives that determines economic success or failure. Again, we were fortunate we had this cultural backdrop, the belief in thrift, hard work, filial piety and loyalty in the extended family, and, most of all, the respect for scholarship and learning.” To the Singaporean leader, the cultural factors (values systems) were divergent between Confucianism and Western values: as tradition of strict discipline, respect for the teacher, rote learning and scholarship and hard work, providing high-quality education: “We are all in the midst of very rapid change and at the same time we are all groping towards a destination which we hope will be identifiable with our past. (…) The Japanese have solved this problem to some extent. Japan has becomean industrial society, while remaining essentiallyJapanese in its human relations. They have industrialized and shed some of their feudal values. The Taiwanese and the Koreans are trying to do the same. But whether these societies can preserve their core values and make this transition is a problem which they alone can solve. (…) Therefore, you will find people unreceptive to the idea that they be Westernized. Modernized, yes, in the sense that they have accepted the inevitability of science and technology and the change in the life-styles they bring. (…) What are we all seeking? A form of government that will be comfortable, because it meets our needs, is not oppressive, and maximizes our opportunities.” “The Mahathir Model”: anti-Western imperialism, strong government and protecting community Mahathir Mohammad former Prime Minister who ruled Malaysia from 1981 till 2003, and was credited with engineering Malaysia's rapid modernization was the other main advocate of the 6 Xiushen means look after yourself,cultivateyourself,do everything to make yourself useful;Qijia,look after the family; Zhiguo, look after your country; Pingtianxia, all is peaceful under heaven.
  • 7. 7 7 “Asian values.” Based on Malay-Islamic culture, he intended to propose a Malaysian perspective of “Asian values”, anxious to protect Malaysians against Western values. According to him, the concept of Asian values was supposed to reconcile the religion of the Malays, Islam, with the Confucianismof the ethnicChinese andHinduism and contributed tocreate a sense of commonvalues betweendifferentethnicandreligiousgroupsandtoforma commonideology,differentfromthe West. In his book, The Malay Dilemma(1970), he describes the three bases of “Malayness” –feudalism, Islam, and adat (traditional customs) which have to be adapted to modern needs but he rejected Western universalism which could, he said, corrupt Malaysian culture and religious beliefs. Concerned about the influence of Western individualism, and the future of Asian values and traditions, he defended to Universalism (fact that the human condition is unique, and that all human beings possess certain inalienable rights (fact that the human condition is unique, and that all human beings possess certain inalienable rights), the idea of cultural relativism (human values, far from being universal, vary a great deal according to different cultural perspectives.) Because of the pervasiveness of the notion of “group” or “community” rather than that of the “individual” in many cultures, he concluded that the Western models were not significant for other countries. He launched the “Look East” policy in 1982 as a broader campaign against “Western values” with the aim “to rid ourselves of the Western values that we have absorbed.” The main elements of “The Mahathir Model” were strong authority, priority of the community over the individual and strong family based society. His policy was based on three ideas:anti-western imperialism, strong government and protecting community. First, the Anti-western imperialism. In Asia, there was a widespread suspicion that the West had a hidden agenda to maintain its hegemony by slowing down Asian prosperity and competitiveness by “changing the rules” to invoke a new kind of protectionism, with human rights and democracy as the standard-bearers, succeeding the colonialism and Christianity. Mahathir claimed that Western pressure on developing countries, over human rights and democratization would cause instability, economic decline and poverty: “They still consider their values and political and economic systems better than any others. It would not be so bad if it stopped at that; it seems, however, that they will not be satisfied until they have forced other countries to adopt their ways as well.(…) . Westerners cannot seem to understand diversity, or that even in their own civilization values differed over time. » 7 Mahathir further argued that the West had a long history of human rights violations and could hardly be considered as a paragon of democracy and justice. To him, the groundless sense of superiority was impeaching the West from seeing the significance of Eastern values. The second baseof his model was a strong government. Mahathir, however, argued that peoples in Asian countries believe in the idea of strong government, not limited government, as in 7 Mahathir M. and S. Ishihara(1995) TheVoice of Asia: Two Leaders Discuss the Coming Century, Tokyo: Kodansha International,p. 75
  • 8. 8 8 Western culture, where the government interventions in personal liberties and the economy were limited by law, usually in a constitution, which has roots in Hebraic Law and Magna Carta and the US Constitution. Without authority and stabilitythere could be no civility,and the society would become fragmented and disordered. He mentioned that Malaysians (Asians) should respect authority because authority guarantees social stability. However, Mahathir argued that strong authority does not means despotic rulers, but noticed that even within the most democratic system, citizens must pay due respect to government and understand the need for healthy balance between individual rights and obligations towards society. In fact, Mahathir had taken a step further by encouraging feudalistic loyalty among people to his leadership in using the Malay culture and Asian values in order to justify his leadership. His last aim was to protect the community. The importance of the community in Asian culture and society explained the belief of the Asians, he said, that the community should take priority over individuals at the opposite with the primacy of the individual in Western society. Modern Asian societies were based on the idea that “Asian” culture, with its priority on the group rather than the individual, is ideally suited to modern, industrial society. To him, emphasis on the rights and freedoms of the individual was producing crime-ridden societies in moral decay, with little social discipline or concern for the broader interests of community. Mahathir urged the need to limit personal freedom for the sake of political stability and economic prosperity: The individual and minority must have their rights but not at the unreasonable expense of the majority. To him, the priority of the community over the rights of the individual was widely embraced in Confucian East Asia, in Islamic Indonesia, Brunei, and Malaysia and Buddhist Thailand. The Asian concept of the individual, different from that of the West through the importance of relationships in the extended family setting, was giving East Asians a much more sophisticated ability to relate to others. East versus West Despite the fact that this concept was proclaimed by very different persons with very different cultural backgrounds, the concept of “Asian values" gathered Asian countries which were supposed to have sharp with values and traditions of the Western model: single-party rule rather than political pluralism, social harmony and consensus rather than confrontation and dissent, welfare and collective well-being of the community rather than individual rights, loyalty and respect towards authority including parents, teachers and government rather than individualism. The supporters of the “Asian values” argue that Asians appreciate more order and harmony, whereas Westerners appreciate more personal freedom. Likewise, Mahathir and Lee argue that the supposedly universal human rights documents and treaties were privileging Western values to the detriment of Asian values. To countries as Pakistan and China, it was necessary to sacrifice some political and civil freedoms in order to protect the economic security of their people and the stability of their societies. In 2000, Dr Mahathir was telling that too much democracy could lead to violence and instability.
  • 9. 9 9 To sum up, the Asian values thesis suggest that it is only through an orderly society which curtails the excesses ofindividualismthat all members of the community could livesafeand fulfilledlives. The Asian States should provide such an environment by curtailing individual freedoms and striking a balance between civil liberties and social stability. In fact, these concepts developed in the 1990s were more appropriate for Asian societies than the liberal values and institutions of the West, were used to justify authoritarian regimes in Asia. The debates about Asian values There is an impressive literature about the question of Asian values. I select here the arguments of three Asian intellectuals, who all are Indian or from Indian backgrounds, where the post colonial studies had been very influential. The critics of Asian values by Amartya Kumar Sen Graduated in Economy and philosophy from the University of Calcutta and Trinity College (Cambridge), he first had been Professor and Head of the Economics Department of the newly created Jasavpur University in Calcutta in the fifties. Then, he had taught in England and the US sincethe beginning of the seventies.He is well known for his contributions to welfare economics, social choice theory, economic and social justice, economic theories of famines and indexes of the measure of well-being of citizens of developing countries. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences in 1998. One of his important book was published in 1982: Poverty and Famines: An Essay on Entitlement and Deprivation. 8 In this book, he argued that famine occurs not only from a lack of food, but from inequalities built into mechanisms for distributing food. His interest in famine can be explained by his personal experience, as a nine-year-old boy during the Bengal famine of 1943 in which 3 million people perished. Moreover, Sen provided a great contribution in the field of development economics (social choice theorists in the area of economic measurement of poverty and inequality) in the Human Development Report by the UN Development program, an annual issue that ranks countries on a variety of economic and social indicators. 9 Sen's revolutionary idea in his book The Idea of Justice 10 was the concept of "capability", stressing the importance of public discussion and arguing that governments should be measured by the concrete capabilities of their citizens in evaluating various states with regard to justice. - 8 Sen, Amartya, Poverty and Famines: An Essay on Entitlement and Deprivation. Oxford New York: Clarendon Press Oxford University Press,1982 9 Sen, Amartya , On Economic Inequality (expanded ed.). Oxford New York, Clarendon Press,Oxford University Press,1997 [1976] and Inequality Reexamined, New York Oxford New York, Russell Sage Foundation Clarendon Press,Oxford University Press,1992 10 Sen, Amartya, The Idea of Justice, London, Penguin, 2009
  • 10. 10 10 Amartya Kumar Sen doesn’t believe in the important cultural dichotomy between Western and non-Western civilizations on the subject of liberty and rights, contesting the idea of unity of Asia, characterized, at the opposite, by a great diversity even among the Confucean countries. To him, the temptation to see Asia as one unit in fact a legacy of the Eurocentric point of view (Asia/Orient). The rhetoric of cultures, with each "culture" seen in homogenized terms is criticable: to him, political and religious leaders do not have a monopoly in interpreting local culture and values: “ There are no quintessential values that apply to this immensely large et heterogenous population, that differentiate Asians as a group from people in the rest of the world” . He is against any generalizations about "Western civilization, Asian values," "African cultures," and insists on the necessity to recognize heterogeneity, diversity within each country and culture. He also contest the uniqueness of "Western values", looking backward the History of the West. He considers the idea of individual freedom as quite recent and not as the result of a long run western heritage. The value of tolerance or the importance of individual freedom, have been advocated by few Western philosophers as Aristotle but many others as Plato, St. Augustine expressed their preference for order and discipline over freedom, as Confucius' thinking. Moreover these philosophers, excluded women and slaves from these rights, so it is impossible to speak about the universality of the rights. It also exist in non- Western traditions, particularly in a great variety of Asian intellectual traditions, ideas of individual freedom and tolerance. Sen underlines the presence of diversity and variety within eachtradition, both Western and non- Western. Both in Asia and in the West, some have emphasized order and discipline, even as others have focused on freedom and tolerance. The language of freedom is very important, he said, in Buddhism: the Indian emperor Ashoka in the third century BC presented many political inscriptions in favor of tolerance and individual freedom, both as a part of state policy and in the relation of different people to each other. Sen gives the example of Confucius who was not so authoritarian: he did believe in order, but he did not recommend blind allegiance to the State and insisted on the importance of opposition. At least, he gives the example of the Islamic civilization, often seen as being fundamentally intolerant and hostile to individual freedom. The Mughal emperors in India were not only extremely tolerant, but some even theorized about the need for tolerating diversity, as for example the great Mughal emperor Akbar during the sixteenth century, whereas at the same time the Inquisitions in Europe chased the Jewish away from Europe to the tolerant Cairo under the patronage of Sultan Saladin. Sen notices: “In seeing Western civilization as the natural habitat of individual freedom and political democracy, there is a tendency to extrapolate backwards from the present. Values that the European Enlightenment and other recentdevelopments since the eighteenth century have made commonand widespread are often seen, quite arbitrarily, as part of the long- run Western heritage, experienced in the West over millennia. The concept of universal human rights in the broad general sense of entitlements of every human being is really a relatively new idea, not to be much found either in the ancient West or in ancient civilizations elsewhere.”
  • 11. 11 11 At least, he contests the supposed link between Asian values and economic development. To him, some countries had an economic development without being politically controled (Botswana) and there are cases of famines in authoritarian countries (North Korea). it is the economic policy and the context of this policy (as the use of international markets, a hight rate of literacy, successful land reforms, incitation for investments, exportations) which only can explain the economic success but not values. The critics of Asian values of Fareed Zakaria Fareed Zakaria is an Indian American journalist graduated from Harvard (Doctor of Philosophy) who had studied under Samuel P. Huntington. He had been managing editor of Foreign Affairs and is columnist in many American newspapers (The Washington Post, Newsweek, Time, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, The New Yorker…). He is at the moment professor at Columbia university in International relations; He is the author of many books as The Post-American World (2008), where he argued that the most important trend of modern times is the "rise of the rest" with the economic emergence of China, India, Brazil, and other countries. Another book, written with James F. Hoge, The American Encounter: The United States and the Making of the Modern World Essays from 75 Years of Foreign Affairs, (Basic Books; 1997) was translated into over 25 languages. He is considered by The New Republic as one of the most influential thinker. To Fareed Zakaria, the Asian "model" is a transitional phenomenon. Western countries also went through a period in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries when they were capitalist and had limited participatory democracy. Western elites then worried, as Asiando today, that "too much" democracy and "too many" individual rights would destabilize social order. But as these societies modernized and as economic growth spread to all sections of society, things changed. He underlines the increasing role of a growing middle class in South East Asia that demands a say in its own future. Fareed Zakaria also insists on the variability of the role of culture: what explains a culture’s failure in one era and success in another? If Confucianism explains the economic boom in East Asia today, does it not also explain that region’s stagnation for four centuries? When East Asia seemed immutably poor, many scholars as Max Weber, arguing that Confucian- based cultures discouraged all the attributes necessary for success in capitalism. Today scholars explain how Confucianismemphasizes the essential traits for economic dynamism. To him, when people cannot find one simple answer to why certain societies succeed at certain times, they examine successful societies and search within their cultures for the seeds of success. We can sum up his argument: Cultures being complex, one finds in them what one wants. Fareed Zakaria analyzes Lee Kuan Yew’s fascination with culture: to him, he is not a man untouched by the West. Part of his interest in cultural differences is surely that they provide a coherent defense against what he sees as Western democratic imperialism. A deeper reason to him lays in his sentence: "We have left the past behind, and there is an underlying unease that
  • 12. 12 12 there will be nothing left of us which is part of the old." Cultures change. Zacharia demonstrates that most of the attributes that Lee sees in Eastern cultures were once part of the West. Under the impact of economic growth, technological change and social transformation, no culture remained the same. Four hundred years of economic growth had also changed the Western societies: From the very beginning of England’s economic boom, many Englishmen worried that as their country became rich it was losing its moral and ethical base. 11 It is this "decay" that Lee is trying to avoid. Speaking about the anxious search for religion in East Asia today, it is in fact, Zacharia says, a quest for a Confucian alternative to the West because of the fear to lose identity with progress. At least, he asserts that it is difficult to be modern without becoming more Western. The West has left a mark on "the rest" (the non Western world) and it is not simply a legacy of technology and material products. A great part of the literature about tradition and transformation in Asia, has been written by Western scholars, that shows that West is not so alien to the Confucian culture. He alsounderlines amisunderstanding about the relationship between rights and duties. It is said that “Asian” morality is based on duties, while “Western” morality is based on rights. John Locke (17th century) held that everyone has the duty to respect the lifeand dignity of others. Rational individuals consent to live under government on condition that it also implements the same duties. Individualism of the West is often overstated: Western societies constrain individualism by such collectivities as the family, economic enterprise and nation. The critics of Asian values of Yash Pal Ghai Yash Pal Ghai is a Kenyan from Indian origins12, academic in constitutional law, graduated from Oxford and Harvard University. He was professor in Hong Kong University and has been a Special Representative of the UN Secretary General in Cambodia. He is the author of numerous books of Law. 13 Yash Pal Ghai points out that there are also strong communitarian traditions in the West, including conservatism, democratic socialism and some forms of liberalism. And that Asian development strategies, based on strong states and participation in global markets, have also been destroyed traditional communities. To him, invoking the value of community, therefore, does not clarify the difference between “Asian” and “Western” values. However, he notices differences between Malaysians and Westerners, the first being much more strongly rooted in 11 "Wealth accumulates and men decay," wrote Oliver Goldsmith in 1770. 12 His grandparents came from North India,and belong to the ancientwaves of migration sponsored by the British Empire. 13 Public Law and Political Change in Kenya, A Study of the Legal Framework of Government from Colonial Times to the Present, Oxford University Press, 1971; Hong Kong's New Constitutional Order The Resumption of Chinese Sovereignty and the Basic Law, Hong Kong Univ Press, 1998; Public Administration and Management in Small States, South Pacific Books, 1990 ; Autonomy and Ethnicity Negotiating Competing Claims in Multi-Ethnic States, Cambridge University Press, 2000
  • 13. 13 13 their culture and religion than the second. This is unlike Western communities which believe strongly in secularism and individualism and religion is relatively secondary in their life. In conclusion, I would say that there is at the moment a rivalry between value systems and resurgent norms. Increasing interrelated world needs new paradigms and redesigned norms. In his book untitled Civilization on Trial published in 1948, the British historian Arnold Joseph Toynbee already noticed that the Asia’s impact on Western life might be more profound than that of Communist Russia. And the division between the “West” and “East” isn’t misleading because these are neve been two big permanent static blocks? In fact, the dynamic relationships between cultures in the age of global interactions keep them in a constant state of flux. In his book Can Asians Think? 14 Kishore Mahbubani, a famous Singaporian academic and former diplomat and currently Professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy (NUS) considers that after the past two centuries of Western domination of world history, Asia will return to centre stage again. To him, many leading globalminds do not understand this because their mental maps have been trapped by narrow Western worldviews. In his last book entitled The Great Convergence: Asia, The West and the Logic of One World 15, he argues that Asia had lived in an essentially unbalanced world. “The flow of ideas reflecting 500 years of Western domination of the globe” has been for a long time a one street (from the West to the East). He criticizes the Western triumphalism after the end of the Cold War, whereas Western intellectuals were convinced that their minds and cultures were open, self critical comparing with ossified Asian mind and culture and that “they had no sacred cows.” He insists on the necessity for the Westerners to begin to see for the first time in 500 years that it was in fact a two way flow in the passage of ideas between the East and the West. That‘s why it is urgent to see the world and to write history in a comparative and connected perspective. Since already some decades, scholars of Postcolonial studies,coming from “the rest of the world” have questioned the Western supremacy in many fields, in particular in the historical field, arguing on behalf of their respective cultural traditions and sources. It is now urgent for Asians and Westerners, to overcome a simplistic dual vision East versus West and to reconsider the vision of the past, present and future as a connected world with an ancient and permanent circulation of peoples, ideas and goods. 14 This book has been published in 9 countries of which 2 India,China,Myanmar, Turkey and Malaysia) but also The New Asian Hemisphere: The Irresistible Shift of Global Power to the East (published in 5 western countries US, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, and 7 in Asia Egypt, China, Korea, Japan, Indonesia, Taiwan and Vietnam). 15 The Great Convergence: Asia, The West and the Logic of One World , Public Affairs ,FirstTradePaper, 2014