East Asian Values
Written by Alfonso Elizondo
The exaggerated emphasis that conservative autocratic politicians now place on their political actions is an attempt to obstruct the process of emancipation taking place within their societies. This is how the new democratic forces in the Asian region see the current discourse on Confucianism and they reject it because its declared values do not reflect their cultural heritage or their recent social development. *Meanwhile, in the West, those who base their arguments on ‘Asian values’ are detractors of the welfare state.
Although this dual vision and instrumentation of the teachings of Confucianism could be very helpful for the development of Western civilization, one would need to highlight its genuine humanist character, which is an aspect that is often ignored by scholars and philosophers in the West.
The current global debate on Asian values is just a highly manipulated polemic between two different political and cultural traditions due to the conflict of economic and political interests between the old industrial countries of Europe and North America, on the one hand, and the growing economies of the Pacific area, on the other. Another dimension of the defenders of these Asian values is their maintaining of the current political and social status of their countries by means of simple mythology.
That is why the discussion of this issue remains at the practical political level where the instrumentalization of East Asian values occupies the foreground and almost nothing is discussed at the conceptual, philosophical and political theory levels.
Since the early 1990s, with the decline of socialism, the leaders of some flourishing Asian countries, such as Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, who resigned after 30 years in office, and Malaysian Prime Minister Mahather, are trying to find a new world order. In addition to this, they advertise their authoritarian politics, presenting it as ‘the Asian way,’ and they assume that it was their values that led to the celebrated combination of economic progress and oriental social discipline that they say are responsible for the drive and success of East Asia.
In 1991, the government of Singapore presented its version of Asian values in its’ White Paper ‘, where there are two themes that are the core of this version: ‘Nation before community, society above ‘Self ‘ and ‘Consensus takes the place of Controversy ‘. And in 1993, Singapore’s former ambassador to the US, Tommy Koh published a catalog of ten points thought be the values that led to the success and drive of East Asia, namely:
1. – Orientals do not believe in the extreme individualism practiced in the West because in Asian society the individual seeks to balance their interests with those of their family and the society, so that in case of doubt, these take priority. 2. – Oriental Asians believe in strong families which they see as protective communities and then there are the typical so-called Asian values such as 3.- Eagerness to learn 4.- Thrift and moderation. 5. – Dedication to Work. 6. – Team spirit. 7. – Koh believes that there is an Asian version of the social contract between the people and the government whereby the government maintains security and order while guaranteeing the satisfaction of basic needs such as work, education and health. Citizens are expected to observe the law, respect the government, work hard, save and get their children used to learning eagerly and to be independent. 8. – In some countries, governments want their citizens to be co-owners of the country. 9. – East Asians demand that their governments maintain a healthy moral environment and are against the sale of pornographic magazines such as Playboy. 10. – The good governments of East Asia want a free press but do not believe that this freedom of the press should be absolute, as it is in the West.
For those who defend this theory of ‘Confucian capitalism’, it is not difficult for them to view it as the explanation for the economic success of East Asia and they point out that loyalty, frugality, conscientiousness, education and harmony are the essential characteristics of that tradition.
Lee Kuan Yew says that Confucianism has helped in two major areas, by instilling a willingness to put the needs of the nation or society above those of the individual and fostering the habit of seeking consensus. In this political model, the minority accepts being a minority and is willing to join with the majority for a certain time, thereby avoiding or reducing internal struggle.
Addendum: This conflict of values between the West and East Asia is the most important one for the time being and it will determine whether the new world will have a new leader and whether violence and cruelty will continue to be the main characteristics of human society or it will evolve towards new and beautiful paradigms.