‘Asian values’ is an expression that straddles two meanings. On the one hand, it denotes a subset of human values in general, purportedly discerned by anthropologists during close ethnographic encounters or identified by sociologists and economists investigating the Asian path to modernization. In this context, ‘Asian values’ aspires to be a scientific concept seeking to explain Asian cultural and economic exceptionalism. Typically, debate turns on how Asian values are especially conducive to consistently high rates of economic growth, an argument that inverts earlier claims that, for instance, Confucianism was a stubborn cultural obstacle to modern capitalism. On the other hand, and in recent times most prominently, ‘Asian values’ is inseparable from the highly charged, polemical set of assertions of some Asian leaders designed to deflect criticisms of their human rights record and to affirm, with various degrees of triumphalism, that Asian societies are better – more ethical, cohesive and disciplined – than their decadent counterparts in the West.
Copyright ©2003 Blackwell Publishers Ltd.