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Asian values was a concept that came into vogue in the 1990s, predicated on the belief in the existence in Asian countries of a unique set of institutions and political ideologies which reflected the region's culture and history.
Because the proponents of the concept came from different cultural backgrounds, no single definition of term exists, but typically "Asian values" encompasses some flavor 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 for 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 democratic 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.
Asian values were a popular idea in Malaysia, Singapore, and in some political circles in Japan. In Malaysia and Singapore, the concept of Asian values was embraced partly because it reconciled Islam and the ethnic Chinese community into an ideology that could challenge the West. 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.
Mahathir bin Mohamad and Lee Kuan Yew, the prime ministers of Malaysia and Singapore, respectively, at that time, were particularly vocal advocates of Asian values. Fareed Zakaria has written extensively on Asian values; meanwhile, 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.
The concept of "Asian values" began to lose currency after the Asian financial crisis weakened the economies of many Asian countries.
Two outspoken critics of Asian values have been the former President of the Republic of China (Taiwan), Lee Teng-hui, and former President of the Republic of Korea (South Korea), Kim Dae Jung.
- | Amartya Sen on Asian Values
- Francis Fukuyama, The Illusion of Exceptionalism
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