Asian values

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Asian customs and values, or just Asian values,[note 1] is a cultural and political ideology which defines elements of social norms, ethical values, traditional customs, belief systems, political systems, artifacts and technologies common to the nations of Southeast and East Asia, both historically and presently.[1] It aims to use commonalities – for example, the principles of collectivism or communitarianism – to unify people for their economic and social good and to create a pan-Asian identity. This contrasted with and challenged the perceived Western ideals of individualism, which is felt as incompatible for the region.[2] The concept was advocated by Mahathir Mohamad (Prime Minister of Malaysia, 1981–2003, 2018–2020), Lee Kuan Yew (Prime Minister of Singapore, 1959–1990), Park Chung Hee (President of South Korea, 1962–1979) and Shinzo Abe (Prime Minister of Japan, 2012–2020) and other Asian leaders.[3]

The popularity of the concept slightly waned after the 1997 Asian financial crisis when at the time Asia lacked a coherent regional institutional mechanism to deal with such crises.[4] A few months after the crisis, The ASEAN Plus Three (APT) was conceived in December 1997 with the convening of a summit among the leaders of ASEAN, China, Japan and South Korea. The APT Summit was institutionalised in 1999 when its leaders issued a joint statement at the 3rd APT Summit. The joint statement determined the main objectives, principles and further directions of APT countries' and resolved to strengthen and deepen cooperation at various levels and in various areas, particularly in economic, social, political and other fields. The topic of Asian values were further reinforced with the signing of Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), as it was the first free trade agreement between China, Indonesia, Japan, and South Korea, four of the five largest economies in Asia at the time of its signing.[5]


Various definitions of Asian values have been put forth. Generally, the phrase alludes to influences by Confucianism – in particular, filial piety or 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, a strong work ethic together with thrift.

Proponents of "Asian values" claim these values are more appropriate for the region than Western democracy with its emphasis on individual freedoms.[7]

"Asian values" were codified and promoted in the Bangkok Declaration of 1993, which re-emphasized the principles of sovereignty, self-determination, and non-interference in civil and political rights. They included:

  • Preference for social harmony;
  • Concern with socio-economic prosperity and the collective well-being of the community;
  • Insistence on hard work and thriftiness;
  • Loyalty and respect towards figures of authority;
  • Preference for collectivism and communitarianism.


Asian values gained popularity in China, Malaysia (under Mahathir Mohamad), Singapore (under Lee Kuan Yew), Indonesia and in Japan (perhaps as early as the pre-World War II era).[8] In the West, the study of Asian values was seen as a way to understand Asia and foster a closer relationship with the region.[9]

Proponents in Malaysia claim the concept helped reconcile Buddhism, Confucianism, Hinduism and Islam, and was unifying because it was different to the philosophy of the West, though the liberal nature of Hinduism evidently slightly contradicts it.[10] Lee maintained that more than economics or politics, a nation's culture would determine its fate.[11] In Japan, a concept of "Ideals of the East" was embraced in some nationalist circles because it challenged the West and also because it offered the possibility of Japanese leadership in a new Asia.[12] Some attribute the economic success of East and Southeast Asian nations in the 1960s to the 1980s to "Asian values"; a third-way, an Asian political model that was an alternative to both totalitarianism and liberal democracy.

"Asian values" was also evident in the planning of the return of Hong Kong to China in 1997.[13]

The popularity of the concept persisted. Some speculate it might have contributed to the religious, social, cultural and economic changes occurring in Asia in that time; for example, the Asian financial crisis and the collapse of the Suharto regime in Indonesia may have been successfully counteracted by liberal democracy.[14][15][16]

In 2006, Jusuf Kalla, the vice-president of Indonesia, linked Asian values with the proposed East Asian Free Trade Agreement and the East Asian Community arising from the East Asia Summit. He partly defended Asian values by placing emphasis on co-operation over competition.[17]

"Asian values" continues to be discussed in academe (particularly in the West) with reference to the question of the universality of human rights (as opposed to a position of cultural relativism).[18]

The authors of a study published in 2015 claimed that rice versus wheat agriculture explain differences in analytic thinking, "implicit individualism" and innovation between various Chinese provinces.[19] Compared to wheat farming, rice farming is a labor-intensive practice that requires cooperation among many people.[20] However, the results of the study are controversial due to very small sample sizes for some units of analysis (some samples were as small as fewer than ten individuals), questionable measurement instruments and model misspecification. Using an improved measure of individualism-collectivism, the authors of a replication study found that the conclusion of the 2015 article claiming to show evidence for the relationship between wheat versus rice farming was the result of faulty methodology.[21]


Amartya Kumar Sen, an Indian economist, philosopher, and Nobel laureate, and Yu Ying-shih, an American historian and sinologist, have argued that "Asian values" is doublespeak for suppressing "Western values" such as "freedom of speech" and "human rights".[22][23][24][25][excessive citations] American professor Randall Peerenboom noted that many Western scholars "are in general agreement that Asian governments use the rhetoric of Asian values for self-serving ends."[26]

However, a common countercriticism of the concept of Asian values is the perceived success of many Asian quasi-democratic societies such as the tiger economies of Taiwan (ROC), which was ruled under martial law from 1949 to 1987, Hong Kong under one country, two systems, South Korea under the leadership of Park Chung-hee which led to the Miracle on the Han River, the rapid development of Singapore under the Singapore model espoused by Lee Kuan Yew, which has been ruled by the People's Action Party since independence, and also Japan's economic miracle under the 1955 System, where the Liberal Democratic Party has been the dominant Japanese party continuously in power since 1955, except for brief periods between 1993 and 1994, and again from 2009 to 2012.[27] Furthermore, the Chinese economic reform in China is said to have been significantly influenced by the ideals of Asian values.[28]


  1. ^ Sometimes equated or historically known as the Eastern civilization, Democracy with Asian characteristics, the Eastern world and Eastern society

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Hoon Yau, Chang (January 2004). "Revisiting the Asian Values Argument used by Asian Political Leaders and its Validity Leaders and its Validity". Indonesian Quarterly. 32 (2): 154–174. Retrieved 26 December 2020.
  2. ^ "Case Study: The concept of Asian values". BBC World Service. Retrieved 24 December 2020. Although their arguments vary, advocates of Asian values maintain that there are clear and often sharp differences between the values and traditions in the East and in the West. They argue that Asians tend to value community and Westerners value the individual. Whereas Asians appreciate order and harmony, Westerners appreciate personal freedom. Other so-called 'Asian values' include saving and thriftiness, insistence on hard work, respect for leaders and family loyalty.
  3. ^ "Remarks by H.E. Mr. Shinzo Abe, Prime Minister of Japan, at the Symposium "Shared Values and Democracy in Asia" (Speeches and Statements by the Prime Minister) | Prime Minister of Japan and His Cabinet".
  4. ^ Gred L. "Asian Values revisited" Asia Europe journal 2003.
  5. ^ "What is RCEP and what does an Indo-Pacific free-trade deal offer China?". South China Morning Post. 12 November 2020. Archived from the original on 15 November 2020. Retrieved 15 November 2020.
  6. ^ Wei, Tan Dawn; Toh, Mavis. "Is Buddha tooth in Singapore the real McCoy?". The Buddhist Channel. The Straits Times, July 20, 2007. Retrieved 7 April 2020.
  7. ^ Mark R Thompson, "Pacific Asia after 'Asian values'", Third World Quarterly, 2004.
  8. ^ Barr M. "Cultural Politics and Asian Values: The Tepid War." Routledge, 2004 ISBN 0415338263, 9780415338264.
  9. ^ Cauquelin J. et al. "Asian Values: Encounter with Diversity." Routledge, 2014 ISBN 1136841253, 9781136841255.
  10. ^ Nishida K Nishida Kitaro Zenshu (Complete Works of Nishida Kitaro in 19 volumes), 4th ed., Iwanami Shoten, Tokyo 1989.
  11. ^ Zakaria F "A Conversation with Lee Kwan Yu" Foreign Affairs, Journal of the Council on Foreign Affairs, a non-partisan organisation, Florida, US. March - April 1994.
  12. ^ Okakura K The Ideals of the East, Tuttle Publishing, North Clarenton 1904, 2002.
  13. ^ Beatty B. "Democracy, Asian Values, and Hong Kong: Evaluating Political Elite Beliefs." Greenwood Publishing Group, 2003 p14 ISBN 0275976882, 9780275976880.
  14. ^ Milner A. "What's Happened to Asian Values?" Faculty of Asian Studies, ANU, 1999.
  15. ^ Krugman P. "Latin America's Swan Song" An MIT web page article, unsourced and date not stated. Accessed 21 May 2014.
  16. ^ Francis Fukuyama F. "The End of History and the Last Man". Free Press 1992. ISBN 0-02-910975-2.
  17. ^ "Indonesia calls for countries to bear Asian values." People's Daily Online, an English language Chinese online news website. Accessed 21 May 2014.
  18. ^ "The Asian values debate and its relevance to international humanitarian law." Archived 6 January 2014 at the Wayback Machine ICRC.
  19. ^ T. Talhelm; et al. (2014). "Large-Scale Psychological Differences Within China Explained by Rice Versus Wheat Agriculture". Science. 344 (6184): 603–608. Bibcode:2014Sci...344..603T. doi:10.1126/science.1246850. PMID 24812395.
  20. ^ Gladwell, Malcolm (2008). Outliers: The story of success. New York: Little, Brown and Co.
  21. ^ Ruan, Jianqing; Xie, Zhuan; Zhang, Xiaobo (1 October 2015). "Does rice farming shape individualism and innovation?". Food Policy. 56: 51–58. doi:10.1016/j.foodpol.2015.07.010. ISSN 0306-9192.
  22. ^ Bruun O. and Jacobsen M. " Routledge, 2003. ISBN 1135796262, 9781135796266.
  23. ^ Kim D. "Is Culture Destiny? The Myths of Asia's Anti-Democratic Values." Foreign Affairs, Florida, US, November 1994.
  24. ^ Amartya Kumar Sen (2003). Human Rights and Asian Values. Carnegie Council on Ethics and International Affairs. ISBN 978-0-87641-049-3.
  25. ^ Yu, Ying-shih (2005). "Confucianism and China's encounter with the west in historical perspective". Dao. 4 (2): 203–216. doi:10.1007/BF02856724.
  26. ^ Peerenboom, R. P. (1 September 2000). "Human Rights and Asian Values: The Limits of Universalism". China Review International. 7 (2): 295–320. doi:10.1353/cri.2000.0096. ISSN 1527-9367.
  27. ^ "Remarks by H.E. Mr. Shinzo Abe, Prime Minister of Japan, at the Symposium "Shared Values and Democracy in Asia" (Speeches and Statements by the Prime Minister) | Prime Minister of Japan and His Cabinet".
  28. ^ Vogel, Ezra F. (26 September 2011). "Glossary" (PDF). Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China. Harvard University Press. ISBN 9780674055445. LCCN 2011006925. OCLC 756365975. OL 24827222M.


  • Loh Kok Wah F. and Khoo B. T. "Democracy in Malaysia: Discourses and Practices" Curzon Press, Richmond Surrey, 2002.
  • Subramaniam S. "The Asian Values Debate: Implications for the Spread of Liberal Democracy" Asian Affairs. March 2000.
  • Ankerl G. "Coexisting Contemporary Civilizations: Arabo-Muslim, Bharati, Chinese, and Western" INUPRESS, Geneva, 2002 ISBN 978-2881550041

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