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Asian values was a concept that came into vogue briefly in the 1990s to justify authoritarian regimes in Asia, predicated on the belief in the existence within Asian countries of a unique set of institutions and political ideologies which reflected the region's culture and history. Although there are many differences in Eastern and Western ideas, philosophy, etc., there is no single set of "Asian" values. The political phrase "Asian values" should not be confused with "traditional values."



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

A brief list of such "Asian Values" includes:

  1. Predisposition towards single-party rule rather than political pluralism
  2. Preference for social harmony and consensus as opposed to confrontation and dissent
  3. Concern with socio-economic well-being instead of civil liberties and human rights
  4. Preference for the welfare and collective well-being of the community over individual rights
  5. Loyalty and respect towards all forms of authority including parents, teachers and government
  6. Collectivism and Communitarism over Individualism and Liberalism
  7. Authoritarian governments (which have certain responsibilities as well as privileges) as opposed to liberal democracy governments

Political significance

The concept of "Asian values" was a popular idea in People's Republic of China, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, and India, and also in some political circles in Japan. In Malaysia and Singapore, the concept of Asian values was embraced partly because it reconciled Islam, the religion of the Malays, with the Confucianism of the ethnic Chinese, and Hinduism, thereby helping to create a sense of common values between different ethnic and religious groups in those countries, as well as forming an ideology that they could call their own which is different from the West.[1] In Japan, it was popular among some nationalist circles because it challenged the West and also offered the possibility of Japanese leadership in a new Asia.[2] Throughout the 60s-80s decades, the East and Southeast Asian regions were the only developing regions that grew exponentially in terms of economic wealth; some proponents of Asian Values have credited this success to a distinctive "third-way" Asian political model that was touted as an alternative to both totalitarism and liberal democracy.

Mahathir Mohamad and Lee Kuan Yew, at that time the prime ministers of Malaysia and Singapore, respectively, were particularly vocal advocates of Asian values. Fareed Zakaria has written extensively on Asian values, while Amartya Sen has been one of the concept's strongest critics. Some critics of the term argue that no universal "Asian" value system exists, because the cultural diversity of Asia is too great for there to be a single set of common values across the region. [3] The suggestion that a set of 'Asian values' operated throughout the Asian region, or even just in East Asia, contradicts what we know about the presence of long-standing religious (Islamic, Hindu, Confucian, Buddhist, and Christian) and other divisions in the region, and of the major social and cultural transformation that has been underway, especially in the last decade or so.[4]

The concept of "Asian values" began to lose currency after the Asian financial crisis weakened the economies of many Asian countries, leading to the collapse of the Suharto regime in Indonesia. Some consider these values to have contributed to the crisis. When the crisis spread worldwide, the blame subsided.[5]

A sharp observation may suggest that speaking in the name of Asian values (as opposed to Western, or universal values) serves the purpose of forming a robust ideological counter force in Asia, and most particularly in China, to the nations which most clearly aim at "westernizing" the East. [6] One way or the other, the use of the term is capable in itself of creating a significant Dialogue Among Civilizations between human ideas in all fields.[7]

In 2006 Indonesian Vice President Jusuf Kalla linked the concepts of Asian values with the proposed East Asian Free Trade Agreement and East Asian Community arising from the East Asia Summit. He partly defends Asian values by placing emphasis on co-operation over competition.[8]


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

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


The concept of Asian values is the main theme of the 2002 film Hero which was directed by internationally acclaimed Chinese filmmaker Zhang Yimou and starred famed martial arts actor Jet Li. The film was criticised for its perceived pro-totalitarian subtext and ulterior meaning of triumph of security and stability over liberty and human rights.

See also

This entry is related to, but not included in the Political ideologies series or one of its sub-series. Other related articles can be found at the Politics Portal.


  1. ^ Nishida, Kitaro (1989), Nishida Kitaro Zenshu (Complete Works of Nishida Kitaro in nineteen volumes), 4th ed., Iwanami Shoten, Tokyo
  2. ^ Kakuzo, Okakura (1904/2002), The Ideals of the East, Tuttle Publishing, North Clarenton
  3. ^ Joy Hendry, Heung Wah Wong, edited by, (2006), Dismantling the East-West Dichotomy: Essays in Honour of Jan van Bremen, New York: Routledge, ISBN 0415397383
  4. ^ Milner, Anthony (1999), What's Happened to Asian Values?
  5. ^ Paul Krugman. Latin America's Swan Song. Extracted October 30, 2006.
  6. ^ Mahbubani, Kishore (2008), The New Asian Hemisphere: The Irresistible Shirt of Global Power to the East, PublicAffairs Publisher, New York
  7. ^ Web site of the International Center for Dialogue Among Civilizations
  8. ^ People's Daily Online Indonesia calls for countries to bear Asian values


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

External links


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