May 15, 2009

The Meaninglessness of Asian Values

This is Asia.

A reader requested that I write about Asian values.

I don't like "Asian values". It usually implies dishonesty. Most of the time, when someone is using that term, he's actually pushing his own secret agenda.

That someone could be an authority figure using "Asian values" to tell you why you should respect his authority.

He could be a suppressor of free speech, using "Asian values" to tell you why he should have the power to suppress your speech.

This is Asia.

Or he could simply be wanting to impose on you his views on how you should eat, dress, work or have sex. And he's using "Asian values" to argue why you should conform to his views.

In all these cases, it's just a con job. And I have to say that people who do fall for the "Asian values" argument are either very stupid, or very ignorant about Asia.

Okay, folks - here are some basic facts. Asia is the world's largest and most populous continent. Asian countries include China, India, Japan, Afghanistan, Turkey, Indonesia, Myanmar, North Korea and Singapore.

Now, tell me what values you share with the average person in all these countries.

This is Asia.

You'll quickly see that "Asian values" is a largely meaningless term. Simply because Asia is such a large, diverse continent. It has all sorts of different countries, cultures, traditions and religions.

The world's biggest democracy is an Asian country. The world's largest communist state is also an Asian country. The word's largest Muslim nation is an Asian country. The world's largest Buddhist nation is an Asian country. The world's largest Hindu population is also an Asian country.

So what can the term "Asian values" possibly mean? Approximately nothing. Asia is much too vast and varied for us to be able to speak meaningfully of its "values".

This is Asia too.

47 comments:

Indiana said...

Thank you for writing this.

But I still want to know why every second politician throws this term around whenever the idea of anything vaguely freeing is proposed, but more so, why do people lap it up and cling to it?

Is it from a sense of insecurity, a need to be led (ala Jackie Chan's speech), or is it some form of racist counter colonial need, or is it just because people are stupid, as you have suggested?

Alan Wong said...

It is the same with using 'Conservative society', 'Pro-family', 'Family values' etc; especially when a no. of Mentors (whether self declared or otherwise) like to use such words to push their arguments across.

You see, Opposing your elders or leaders is pro-western and therefore is not something coming from 'Asian values'.

The same with pro-gay is pro-western and therefore not pro-family or contributing to family values.

It's really amazing when it comes to issues relating to sex, some conservative society can be really open about it.

Anonymous said...

Well said, Mr Wang. Now please tell me about "Family Values".

Anonymous said...

I agree with you- totally.

veii said...

Noted social scientist Ben Andersen recently clarified that the concept of being "Asian" was largely an European invention, neccessitated by their colonial expansion over much of the large geographical area known as the Asian continent. Before, say, 1850, if you asked a typical Malay, Burmese or Arab what he thought about being an "Asian", he would probably have been dumbfounded, because to him there would be no such thing as an "Asian person (Asiatic)" or "Asian Culture". In fact, even up to say 1920 you would probably have received the same response from most "Asians" as well.

If there is indeed a typical form of "Asian Values" then it would probably owe as much to Victorian prudery as it does to "Confucianism". Victorian norms of family life, marriage fidelity, respect for laws and hygiene spread throughout all of the colonized parts of Asia, including those ruled by other European powers and those ruled indirectly such as China, or those nations actively emulating Europe, such as Japan.

If we take "traditional Chinese" norms as a model instead, then polygamy would be acceptable, order would come about not through official laws but from the customs and directives of clans or kongsis, and regard for hygiene and sanitation would be far lower than it has eventually become today. Just a few examples of what "Asian Values" would look like without the infusion of European/Victorian norms and worldviews.

Anonymous said...

一语中的。亚洲价值观根本是个障眼法。

Anonymous said...

Right down to minimum basics, Asian values is simply a collection of the good and bad stuff and even then it is subjective. Good or bad can still be interpreted differently because the countries that are part of Asia are too many and too diverse in terms of race, history, religion, culture,etc. So actually it is futile to try and make a case for Asian values.

ps: recall one mentor who foolishly proclaimed to his audience about this so called "Asian values". lol

Horjiber said...

Pro-Family" in the "Asian Values" means hor, polygamy.

Monogamy is a Western ideal.

So how? "Conservatives". Push for Polygamy or not?

YCK said...

Thanks for indulging the request =) Good to know that many see the problem with the stereotyping.

I see it as a reaction to colonialism. Ex-colonies either try to define themselve as the opposite of the ex-masters, or stay beholden to them for the progress and changes they brought.

Either view is misled, requiring the "Western" to remain the reference for self-definition.

Anonymous said...

hmmm... big guys in g-string... grossed... hahahaha

KAM said...

There are some "asian" values which are also apparent in the western countries.

1. Family togetherness: Italians share the same
2. Kiasuism: all westerners will go for free stuff
3. Buffet meal: all westerners will also rush but more politely
These may seem trivial, but the roots go back to the same. We are not that different from the westerners.
They had a head start because China stuck her head in the sand for over 100 years. And because ALL citizens in Singapore, descended from POOR immigrants and therefore we are the poor class people from original China.

Anonymous said...

George says,

Asian values? I 'knocked' LKY over this when he in his usual over the top mode made much of this a couple of years back. Lots of toadies also use this term whenever they want to justify their own 'feudal' outlook or to knock the west and its leaders.

Basically, the hidden agenda of all these 'Asian Values' folks is their threat perception and sense of inadequacy when they see certain trends or directions that if allowed to proceed or progress unhampered would spell trouble, even disaster for their continued absolute control over their people. These 'Asian Values' are in effect O.B. markers used by these rulers to keep their subjects in check, in line they have drawn for them.

Polygamy is a common 'value' of 'Asian'. But, are you all aware that there is actually a certain group of people somewhere in the mountains of India where polygamy is practised in 'reverse' ie in this community, it is the women folks who are polygamous. Read about this long ago. The reason is basically there not being enough females to go around for all the males in the community!

That's pragmatism for you, in things sexual!

I am not kidding. ;)

Anonymous said...

"Pro-family" and "Family values" equal influencing impressionable teenagers to throw away their parents' ancestral tablets/deities, and not paying last respects at grandparent's funeral.

yuez said...

Well, this "Asian values" thing has been debunked many times by academics and other politicians. Lee Kuan Yew and Mahathir used it often last time but not so much anymore these days. However, some conservatives still love to use the words to gain support I guess. Anyway, even Lee Kuan Yew himself, said that 377A have to be repealed one day.

Mr Wang, I love the way you put the pictures, reminds me of the HCBC "Your point of view" advertisements where they show different aspects of life in different cultures, then ending off with "HCBC, your local bank." Maybe Josie could do something like that for DBS? Haha.

So many things are happening these days. I heard there is a campaign against Siew Kum Hong seeking a 2nd term as NMP. Maybe you can blog about that too.

Anonymous said...

"Asian Values" is hogwash. The "conservatives" and "concerned parents" are simply repackaging western christian teachings as asian values in order to appeal to the majority. Isn't it clear that these people are farthest from being asian? - english is their first language, they hardly understand chinese and dialect, they don't practice traditional chinese customs.

Tan Ah Beng said...

Should go read about how those jokers on the REACH forum merged the meanings of "Asian Values",hypocrispy,conservative and intolerance when arguing how NMP Siew should not be continuing. Real funny stuff they've got there.

singaporeshortstories.blogspot.com said...

Could it be more appripriate to speak of Eastern Values?

Anonymous said...

Those who talk about Asian values are politicians. And politicians usually have an agenda. Their agenda is basically on power and wealth.

But I think what they really meant are those East Asian (China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Korea, Japan and even tiny Singapore) values which give rise to economic power and prosperity. Don't you agree these countries are the more prosperous among Asian countires? And maybe their values have something to do with it.

chnrxn said...

Wikipedia summarizes this rather well.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asian_values

Anonymous said...

dear Tan Ah Beng,

indeed, the Reach forum is quite atrocious to the point where i gave up reading altogether. What happened to Singapore's drive for meritocracy? The other controversial (because of their so called liberal stance and sexuality) are established figures in their own domain. Given their talent and concern for their country, why should they not be given a chance to serve as NMP? I am disappointed that the people on the Reach forum only mention about their disgust about their homosexuality (some to the extent of saying that they were degenerates which really shocked and saddened me) and that they will push the government for the alternate lifestyle blah blah blah. cant they just focus more something else that matters more?

Chee Wai Lee said...

It is far more pertinent to try to understand the subtleties of various social cultures, how they are similar and how they differ. Forget about something as large as "Asia" ... just look at the cultural diversity in Singapore and embrace that diversity

Oh wait ... our leaders don't know how to handle that ... alright alright ... let's stick to "Asian Values" ...

On a lighter (??!!??) note, I remembered laughing out loud a long time ago when some guy on the ST forum suggested a "Speak Tamil" campaign so Singaporeans can better do business with India since "it is spoken by a majority there". Bet he didn't know only 5.9% of the population speaks Tamil in India. The largest language group is Hindi and even that is spoken only by 41% of the people. The last official count of the number of languages spoken in India was 22 but it is now understood that 29 languages are spoken by more than a million people, 50 by more than 100,000 and 122 by more than 10,000.

The funny thing? I might have actually agreed with that guy had I not come to the US and met with many different Indian nationals with many different perspectives on their country.

Anonymous said...

George says,

Humans have a need to pigeonhole things, anything. Perhaps, this has all to do with the fight for survival - pigeonholing allows one to call forth a pre-set set of response to any given situation or event a la 'instinct'.

Why 'eastern' is better than 'asian'?

Wouldn't it be better to call a spade a spade - Singapore values, Singapore's homophobic's values, LKY values, LHL's lack of values, etc...?

Anonymous said...

Dear Mr. Wang,

I can't help but to notice that the comments left on your blog appear more monolithic than say in the past one year or so.

Is this a fair characterisation on my part? Would you say that your blog attracts a readership (or at least those who comment on your posts) that is more or less stable in terms of its political self-identification/self-understanding?

Regards.

蝴蝶思语 said...

Singapore can best be described as a nation with "rojak" values as we head down the path of integrating more diverse ethnicities. Rojak may not be all negative, it may taste better after trial and error.

What I find disturbing is the lack of social services for families split by barriers of citizenship.

Anonymous said...

The aftermath fo the Sichuan Earthquake best epitomises real Chinese-Confucian values. Even the Western world was astound and spell-bound.
You only have to observe from the netizens, citizenry, cab drivers to the national leaders.
The generrous donations that poured in from among the Chinese people, the cab divers who even today ferry foc rations into the dasater areas, the top brass who goes down the field ever so frequently to find out for themselves the ground needs and direct actions.

Money collected from China itself came to US billions of dollars!

I salute the new China. Not the corrupt Koumintang.

Conversely, look at the democratic West falling apart from greed and crony capitalism and spreading the disease to all over the world which hs dealing with them today.

Reflect . . . How sad.

Anonymous said...

Rojak can also kill you...

Anonymous said...

Wang Yuegu, Feng Tianwei and Li Jiawei fought tooth and nail to place tiny Singapore on the world map with their Silver medal win at the recent Olympics.

From next to nothing in the seventies, Deng Xiaoping, marshalled the 1.3 billion hungry mouths into reviving their Chinese-Confucian values of thrift, deligence, patriotism, etc. Yesterday is but history today for China.

Today, China is the US No 1 creditor nation (surprise?), taikongnauts walk in space, top the recent Olympics Medal tally . . . . more to come . .

Whilst here we have some local born ingrate Singaporeans who have received much rom the state but quietly plot and scheme to detonate and hoe to destroy their own homeland. How sad.

So much for values . . . .

Anonymous said...

Wait a minute! Is not Communism the official state philosophy of China? "Asian Values", calling it "Eastern Values" does not clarify anything. Localizing it to East Asia AND rooting it in Confucianism does not solve the problem conclusively either. Does any typical citizen of PRC, ROC, S. Korea, Singapore, or Japan, even know the tenents of that philosophy? Are there serious academics (of the relevant field) to be cited saying that the defining social characteristics of these nation is due to Confucius? (I will be happy to be shown wrong and be directed to sociological papers saying so.) I think not. It is probably because the Western-Eastern divide is quite bad at defining the world. It is not worth the trouble resustitating the idea.

To illustrate the mutability of such a line drawn in sand: Is Chrsitanity a Western religion? In the past, when I was younger (a few decades back), it was fashionable to say that Eastern religions are supersitious. Christianity a Western religion is based on reason. Now I sometimes here that Christianity is an Eastern religion, given the geographical location of Israel. Why the drastic change? I believe it is because the metal landscape of the people have changed.

sandycharm said...

Isn't it strange that Asian values are used interchangeably with Confucian values? Hahaha.
It's like the entire continent is East Asia. And where is Taosim? Too anarchist for them, I wager.

Lovely work.

Anonymous said...

Nothing new about this tactic. LKY is just busy copying the US Republicans wholesale again.

That and he is a known Chinese chauvinist.

Anonymous said...

"Nothing new about this tactic. LKY is just busy copying the US Republicans wholesale again.

That and he is a known Chinese chauvinist."

Sorri but the facts prove otherwise.
(1) The majority doesn't enact any NEP against the minority like Malaysia.
(2) The mnoritiy races are represented beyond their proportion in the public service paid by the private sector paymasters.
(3) There are no Dalits or untouchables or "non-Bumis" classification in Singapore.
(4) Malay, Tamil, Chinese are the official languages.
(5) Malay & all Indian languages are counted for promotion, streaming and selection into higher learning institutes.
(6) The private sector paymasters pay for Vasantham & Suria and all the mother tongue language teachers.
(7) There are more . . .

Reflect and then show me another country where such actions speak louder than words brfore you condemn MM. And btw, no one owes US a living.

Reflect. There are no

The said...

I think LKY was referring more to Confucian values, but in order not to appear Sino-centric and be more politically correct and appeal to the whole population, he used the code word Asian value. Things like respect for authority, family as a unit, society above self etc are more Confucian than Asian.

Anonymous said...

EH come on leh. I want them champion Asian value and Pro-Family please!

Because hor, that means hor, they is want stay with parents and be filial. It means hor, these people now must the be against HDB.

HDB make the pigeonhole so small "in response to new Singaporean wants", making it impossible to stay together. Worse still hor, they play the "market subsidy" game, and "balloting" game. So that it is a gamble you can get that new flat near your parents at an affordable price or not.

See! Pro-family Asian values is going to do so many good things for us.

We must celebrate them.

But please, no stupid mass rallies or anti-gahmen things. We are Singapore.

Anonymous said...

Wa! Pro-family Asian values!

That means these people are against preaching, "reaching out" and consersion through those many scheming methods?

Because Asian families pay respect to their elders, pray to heaven and earth, respect the Government, and not denote a certain dvine entity as the owner of all.

And no converting means, less families will not be pained by the kids wanting to destroy ancestral tablets of respect, not wanting to pay last respect to even their PARENTS who doted on them all those times.

Kudos!

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...
May 16, 2009 5:33 PM

It would be good if the growth (also debt to US)is used to service its own nation. Being a creditor of US is nothing to be proud about as USD holding may get inflated away given the spending behaviours of US and their expertise in transferring away their obligations through other mechanisms.

As for taikongnauts walk in space, the US did it on the moon, not space, in the year 1969. Since then, they have been sending lots of unmanned missions to outer space much beyond that.

A lot of asian countries are still playing catching up in terms of mindset with Japan, let alone Europe or US.

Anonymous said...

Elderly being taken care of, retired and enjoyed their golden sunset years has always been one of the most important value for many Asians, so why are our Asian valued leaders keep asking their people to work beyond retirement or even for some to work until they drop?

So don't think about the real meaning of Asian value, just think about what is in the mind of those leaders when they start using the words 'Asian value'.

Anonymous said...

Hello. Polygamy is not an "Asian" monopoly. Western societies are also polygamic.

Monogamy however, IS a Western invention and nothing Asian.

So Asian value campaigners are against Monogamy.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...
May 16, 2009 5:33 PM

"As for taikongnauts walk in space, the US did it on the moon, not space, in the year 1969. Since then, they have been sending lots of unmanned missions to outer space much beyond that.

A lot of asian countries are still playing catching up in terms of mindset with Japan, let alone Europe or US."

Yes. However, if you take the span of time i.e. from the 70s onwards, you will find that the speed at which China cathes up is remarkable.

What do you do when the free world is all about economic competition. Answer - You try to destabalise eg Tibet, Taiwan. Force the Yuan to rise. Agitate your resource suppliers. Etc.

The huge foreign reserves (world's largest) must be invested not hidden under the pillow. I think they have noted your concern and China is trying slowly but surely to divest. Yes, the US can play them out.

Today, the US might not dare to fire a missile into any Chinese embassy like it did in Yugloslavia sometime ago.

China has demonstarted it can shot down satellites in space. The US 7th fleet is also very wary of the numerous state of the art Chinese submarines that are prepared to exchange themselves with the sitting duck aircraft carrier (moving time bomb) in the Straits.

Times have changed but I believe under the Han Chinese (eg Tang, Ming) a powerful China is a benevolent country in the time of Zheng He who sailed the high seas to make friends not colonise.

Anonymous said...

i agree. there is NO "Asian value". it is a social construction - constructed by our state to maintain its paternalistic / authoritarian rule on the people. who is asian? what is asian? if asian = conservative, let's look at the potteries, paintings etc from the early China, we will see homosexuality printed/painted on these objects. let's look at India, we see Karmasutra, as well as sculptures and hindu temples that openly celebrate sexuality. So who says Asians are conservative, condemn homosexuality?

Anonymous said...

just out of curiousity, when you talked about Asia, did you bear in mind Philippines as well?

Anonymous said...

Ming Dynasty (the most oppressive in Chinese History) benevolent!!!

Karma sutra openly celebrate homosexuality!!!

There is no discrimination against minority in singapore(All Inidans speak Tamil)!!!

The US 7th fleet wary of "state of the art" Chinese submarines!!!

Yes ... Mr Wang is really Archbishop Wang of COOS ... He is also next in line to the POPE and will unify the Christian world to prepare for the 2nd coming.

Anonymous said...

"Times have changed but I believe under the Han Chinese (eg Tang, Ming) a powerful China is a benevolent country in the time of Zheng He who sailed the high seas to make friends not colonise."

Look at the present on how a country treats and respects its own citizens and that is roughly how the country is going to progress. Progress for everyone in general and not for some.

Just look at the disgraceful culture of some unscrupulous people who do not mind selling tainted milk to their own kind, their very own future. It could be a case of few bad eggs but imagine a culture of top level secrecy and silence until much later.

Yes, times have changed and we shall see. I do root for the well being of China as most of our own ancestral blood came from there.

Anonymous said...

An elderly Chinese lady in her 80s said that she persuaded her staunch Taoist husband to let their daughter, who at the age of 16, now in her late 40s, to be a Christian.
Now her daughter, who is single and living with her, is constantly her to convert. However she is dead set against giving up her Taoist faith.
So much for pro-family value!

Anonymous said...

"Sorri but the facts prove otherwise.
(1) The majority doesn't enact any NEP against the minority like Malaysia.
(2) The mnoritiy races are represented beyond their proportion in the public service paid by the private sector paymasters.
(3) There are no Dalits or untouchables or "non-Bumis" classification in Singapore.
(4) Malay, Tamil, Chinese are the official languages.
(5) Malay & all Indian languages are counted for promotion, streaming and selection into higher learning institutes.
(6) The private sector paymasters pay for Vasantham & Suria and all the mother tongue language teachers.
(7) There are more . . .

Reflect and then show me another country where such actions speak louder than words brfore you condemn MM. And btw, no one owes US a living."

Wake me up when we ever have an Indian or Malay Defence Minister, then all that crap will make sense. You are mixing up political convenience, with hidden facts.

Anonymous said...

May 18, 2009 5:13 PM

"Ming Dynasty (the most oppressive in Chinese History) benevolent!!!"
# You don't know History. The Yuan Chinese (Chinese Mongol) & Ching (Chinese Manchus) were ruthless.

"Karma sutra openly celebrate homosexuality!!!"
#Hetrosexuals are always shown to be in the forefront.

"There is no discrimination against minority in singapore(All Inidans speak Tamil)!!!"
# True unless one is blind. Tamil speak Tamil to Tamil. Malay speak Malay to Malay. What's wrong with Chinese speaking Chinese (Mandarin) to Chinese? Mandarin is the lingua franca of China, Taiwan and now Hong Kong is picking it up fast. The entire world is picking up Mandarin (Who wants to lose out?). It's the national language of these business places. Our schools are teaching Mandarin. Unlike the others, Mandarin is used in the United Nations. Whereas Hindi is the national language of India. Regardless, the private sector taxpayers' monies are used to pay the slaries of Tamil and Malay language teacers. No one is complaining. Are there?

"The US 7th fleet wary of "state of the art" Chinese submarines!!!"
#You are behind time. Been to Qingdao where the recent display of the latest Chinese naval armaments were on display. Simply awesome. The Americans are wary. That's why they sent snoopies around Hainan Island, China's submarine hub. The US has of late asked for openess & transparency from China as if they are very open and transparent. Anyway, they know that times have changed and China can't be bullied and cowed and be pushed over today.

"Yes ... Mr Wang is really Archbishop Wang of COOS ... He is also next in line to the POPE and will unify the Christian world to prepare for the 2nd coming."
#Don't be too personal. You may gain the wrath of the Almighty and the flock here in pronouncing a lesser Catholic as Archbishop and POPOE in waiting.

Facts speak.

Anonymous said...

Observer -

"(All Indians speak Tamil)"

Unlike China, Taiwan and HK, try enforcing that i.e getting Indians to speak Tamil in India and you will have a bloodbath.

Try getting the Tamils to speak the national language of India, Hindi, in Singapore? Ask them. Ask the Tamils. They are so happy that the private sector taxpayers pay for the development of the Tamil language here and the government gives it equal recognition. Back in India??

I think our government wouldn't mind getting all the Indians to speak Tamil. It will save on the Chinese taxpayers' monies in providing resources to cater to the various groups eg teachers. What India can't you think you can? Perhaps you can try. But I am not sure you head will roll when the Hindis, Sikhs, Gujuratis, etc. come after you.

Be real dah. English is the common language amongst all the different races in Singapore. And please allow the Chinese to learn their official mother tongue (in fact the written script is common regardless) paid for by the private sector taxpayers.

Next time, think before you put pen to paper. Singaporeans are a smart and well-informed people. Sometimes they only choose to keep quiet that's all. Live & let's live.

Trebuchet said...

You could write on the meaninglessness of the phrase 'Western Religions' (or 'Eastern Religions', for that matter).

After all, if you start from the Asian coast of the Mediterranean and move to the Asian coast of the Pacific Ocean across the Asian continent (stopping by on the Asian coast of the Indian Ocean along the way), you will have touched base with ALL the world's major religions (or at least, those that make up the top 90% of people who have a religion).

There aren't any major Western religions; there are only Eastern religions done in a Western way... *grin*