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November 12, 2006

"Asian values" are not static. They change as economy develops.

Beyond the myth of 
”Asian Values”
      (This was published in “Chuo Koron”)                             11、1995
                            Akio Kawato
In the fifth century A.D.,when Buddha and Confucious were preaching their faith,the Persian Emperor Kserkses,with a view to invade Greece,had such conversation with Demaratos,a Greek,whose status and property was annihirated by Spartans. "If the Spartan army is not under control of one commander and every member i
s free,then how could they match with ours. If they were under one man's c
ontrol as in our forces,they would demonstrate power beyond reality out of fear
to the commander,and,threatened by whip,they would dare to attack our big forces in spite of their small number. But if they are in liberty,they would do neither of them."
"My lord,the Spartans are inferior to no one in man-to-man fighting,and in unity they are the strongest forces in the world. Because they are free not in all respects. They are subjected to the master,that is law,the Nomos. They awe this master far more than your Majesty's men fear you,my lord."(Herodotos"History")
Since then 2500 years have passed,and the belief that the East and the West are different and that they never have intercourses still lingers on. A stereotype view that the East is autocratic and collectivistic,while the West is constitutional,liberal and democratic is prevailing. This sometimes even smells of superiority complex,which has become almost a conviction under the historical fact that Western Europe,only by chance getting ahead of others in economic development,colonized the most part of the East.
During the Cold War the negative image of the 'East' was alomost entirely attributed to the Soviet Union,a unique product of socialistic values born in Weste
rn Europe they still have deep roots there distorted by autocratism and egari
talianism hereditary to Russia. When the USSR collapsed and Russia came to pronouce the word 'democracy',they were immediately admitted as a member of the 'West',and the word 'East'again became to mean the Middle East and Asia.
Today the difference in values between the East and the West is becoming even
a political problem,as is demonstrated in S.Hungtinton's article an essay mor
e precisel 'Conflict of Civilizations' and East-West controversy on human rig
hts. To this polemic drew particularly large attention in Japan,which has been the only fore-runner of the East all these 120 years and is now standing on a delicate position after the Cold War.
From an academic viewpoint is it really fair to say that the East and the West differ in basic values and they will never find a common language? Or is such
an argument a mere expression of racial and emotional dislike,dressed with an ideology? People in the West and the East are now exchanging equally harsh language. Before this rally falls into a vicious circle,the both sides should cool off
and reflect upon themselves.
A society and civilization never stops in one place. Changes in politics,economy and society affects each other,thus altering the whole picture. In some cases structure of vested interests hampers any development,but fortunately in most
Asian countries the society is still mobile enough. If one considers that the difference between the East and the West is final and that confrontations is a fatal one,it would be a static argument,overlooking the dynamism in history. It would lead only to a futile polemic.

Is Western Europe 'western' from the birth?
I would like to prove now,looking back at the history, that Westen Europe in
the past was not as they are now. In airports abroad I sometimes notice interesting phenomena. Group tours of Americans in Europe,for example,are peculiar with
their naivite and feeling of bewilderment,similar to group tours of Japanese,which sometimes look bizzare in the eyes of West Europeans. In their turn Group tours of West-European farmers smell of collectivistic atmosphere,similar to Japanese farmers.
This means that people in Europe and America,which are supposed to be individuallistic,sometimes behave collectivistic,depending upon their class and living
place. I suspect that old morals and values in West-Europan society still remain in some of rural area and among certain strata in cities. The racist fatalism that the West is individualistic and the East is collectivistic should be subjected to a question.
According to 'Germania' by Tacitus the ancient Germanic people formed fairly
developped society with a strong colour of individualism. This seems to support
the racist fatalism. However,this does not deny the possibility that self-assertion,the origin of the individualism,is characteristic to any man-kind.
Even in Western Europe the individualism as today did not exist in rural medieval era,whereas in Japan,believed to be a collectivistic society,there were symptoms of individualism,for example independent merchants in Sakai-city,'Basara'-Samurais in Muromachi period and highly accomplished Samurai morality,let alone
Susano-o in Japanese myth.
Is it not that individual character is stronger in ancient society based on hunting and in moder urban society and that collectivistic character is stronger
in rural society where the control by communities is firm? It is striking that in both hunting society and urban society economic independence and self-sustainability of every individual is strong.
Western Europe today depicts herself as the direct heir of the Greek-Roman civilization. But this is rather self-conviction than a historical fact,because between the both the Arab civilization existed. This civilization stimulated trade and was generous to religious dissidents. It is an irony of history that the Arab region sank to a standstill after it was deprived of the trade with Asia by Western Europe,and that it is now watched by wary eyes as the home of Islamic fundamentalism.
The Greek-Roman civilization,decorated in rosy colour by Western Europe,is not all beautiful,either. The 'democratic'Athen citizens left economic activities
to their slaves. They established hegemony over other city states and did not hesitate in armed intervention,slaughtering and enslaving of other citizens in order to maintain their hegemony. The Roman Emperors enjoyed absolute and arbitrary power,demonstrating 'Asiatic'negligence of human rights and atrocities. This is the freedom and confort only for elites.
There were several occasions of 'leap' in the West-European history. Economic growth constitutes the base of them. In the 11th century,when the Western Europe embarked on a substantial economic growth as a result of a progress in agricultural technology,monasteries began a vivid study of the Greek-Roman civilization preserved in the Arab. Development of trade based upon surge of agricultural output and trade with the Orient engendered medieval cities,where the rights of individuals,though limited to rich merchants,were gradually established.
The 'discovery of the New Continent' brought in a large influx of gold and silver. There is an estimate that the quantity of gold and silver in Western Europe almost tripled between 1500-1650. Production of wool,used in purchase of gold
and silver from the New Continent,rapidly developped,but the tempo of growth in
currency circulation surpassed that of production of goods. Because of this the
price level in Spain,for example,is estimated to have almost quadraped in 150 years after the beginning of the 16th century.
Price hike was more conspicuous in manufacutred goods and luxury goods than in agricultural products,therefore bringing about a fall of feudal lords whose main income came from rural economy. This facilitated the establishment of the absolute monarchism in Western Europe. This tendency was even more strengthend by the fact that the kings began to monopolize issuance of currencies. The absolute
monarchism brought about a unified domestic market,thus providing further impetus to economic development.
The conquest of the Inca and Astec Empires in the 'New Continent'was a result of mere superiority in fire arms and treachery of speculative element of Europe,which had relatively lower civilization. Thus,the gold and silver,which the conquerors extracted almost free,even if they paid for that,using enslaved labour of the local people,constitute a substantial basis of the economic prosperity of
today's Western Europe. Should not be West Europeans more modest towards people
of the developping countries,who aspires to lead a normal humanistic life by raising the living standard. It cannot be that those countries who boast of Christian philanthropical mind think about inposing import limit on commodities from countries of lower living standards.
The development of the wool production in the late medieval Western Europe led to manufacture production,which brought about the industrial revolution. Such
economic development brought about substantial changes in West-European society. There are some reseraches on that,based upon closed study of materials of that
L.Stone's monograph 'Family,Sex and Marriage in England' is a close study of
social changes in England between 1500 and 1800. According to his observation,inmedieval villages communities an 'Asiatic' state of affairs was rampant. For example communes controlled agricultural work of the members with a frequent interference in privacies by neighbours. Between 1550 and 1700 there was a decline in
kinship and communal society. Whereas the size of family constantly fell,the rule by the fathers was still authoritarian. However,roughly between 1640 and 1800
a natural feeling of love began to prevail between parents and their children and between husbands and wives. At the same time privacy came to respected.
Robert Muchanbred's work 'Invention d'homme Modern' observes changes in the Fench society from 15th through 18th century. In medieval French rural area the whole family used to sleep in one room. Men and women took bath together. Such rural habits came to be disdained by urban inhabitants,among whom those noble manners,nowadays established as European manner,gradually spread.

It is said that the word 'civilite',meaning nobleness and politeness, came into use in 1530s in Western Europe. It is exactly in 1530 when Erasmus' 'On
'was published to enjoy wide popularity among intellectuals as a book of enlightenment.
The Eastern ruling class also had refined etiquettes. But in Western Europe the above change meant not only refinement,but also establishment of an ideology of individualism. The Renaissance established the values of individuality and reason. The Religious Revolution liberated an individual from the church by directly confronting mankind to the God,bypassing intermediary role of the church. Such changes in West-European society first took place among new burgeois,engendered by the rapid economic growth. The growth in standard of living,prompted by the
Industrial Revolution,spread such changes to the most part of the city inhabitants and part of rural population.
Whereas the refined etiquettes among the Eastern aristocrats was a sort of password among the closed ruling class,changes in the West affected wider strata of the population. It also might have something to do with the fact that these changes took place exactly in a period of medieval 'Information Revolution',when printing technology came into use to make possible a fast and wide spread of knowledge and opinion.
These facts demonstrate that a turning point for Western Europe to begin development to today's state was the economic development from the 16th century. As
an Oriental saying puts it,`One becomes polite,only after he is properly dressed and fed'. A rise in living standard as a result of economic development lowers
individual's eonomic dependence on parents,relatives and friends,thus liberating an individual from communal,kinship limitations. The establishment of individuality and reason by the Renaissance and the liberation of an individual from the
church by the Religious Revolution conferred spiritual bases to such changes. The `Culture of Shame' based upon rural communal life thus changed into the `Culture of Sin',where an individual is directly confronted to the state and the God.
The West-European civilization reached the present developped stage after 400 years' bloodshed of revolutions and wars. If West Europeans forget about this and attempt to force developping countries to copy their present values and systems,it would be an attitude lacking in modesty. This not only incurrs an emotional repercussion,but also is doomed to distorted results,because,no matter which kind of system they impose,the developping countries will change it. The ways and means of coordinating various interests in the society correspond the stage of
social development,and not the vice versa.
The Western people tend to miss and mock that the East is losing her tradition and identity during the course of economic development,saying that the East is only copying the Western culture. However,is it not that Western Europe herself has been constantly losing those fierce energy and identity with the nature,whi
ch are visible in her ancient paganism and myths though some West European pe
ople do not like to be referred to them? The hyppies considered thinking of the
civil society as suffocating and sometimes even hypocritical,seeking a way out in the Oriental thinking. This might be also a result of such a loss.

The Myth of`Asiatic Values'
The East retaliates to a criticism from the West by bringing to the fore the
`Asiatic Values'. However,the word `Asiatic Values',too,sounds emotional rather
than objective,for Asia does not posess such a homogeneous culture as in Europe. Asia is a mixture of cultures and values,even roughly speaking,of China,India,Buddhism,Confucianism,Islamism,Hinduism and various paganism.
The Asians tend to notice only negative side of individualism,when they criticize it. They neglect those facts that the youth in the West by the age of 20 mostly become independent not only spiritually but also sometimes finacially from
the parents to become a well-trained citizen,and that in the Western society,notwithstanding the individualism,the Christianity inplanted care to neighbours and philanthropcial mind. How would the Asians assess the fact that those Western volunteers,ubiquitous all over the world,and Mother Theresa,the laureat of the Nobel Peace Prize,are the product of nothing other than the West-European civilization?
It is too simplistic to say that the West is individualistic and the East is
collectivistic and patrimonial. In the East,too,there are those individuals with highly developped intellect and independent mind,who are more modest and caring than some of Western intellectuals. It is not quite right to say,either,that the Western individualism engendered a dry,degenerated society as the Asians allege. If you join the network of friends in the West,you will find that this society is as rich as anywhere-else in warm friendship. The relations in the Western families are not coloured by sometimes almost imposed respect toward parents and
grandparents as in the East,and yet their love toward each other is more natural and close than in the East,where the relations among family members are sometimes affected by customes and economic calculations.
In order to demonstrate superiority of the Eastern civilization,some people say,"The Westerners try to conquer the nature,considering it an enemy,whereas in
the East people seeks an unity between the nature and the human kind." Such an argument requires a close examination,too. How would they assess the facts that the West Europeans are fond of taking walk in outdoors and nude sun-bathing,and that the Asians have been building dikes and canals to have a control on water? It is a common historical fact to the East and the West likewise that people destroyed forest for agriculture and polluted the ecology in economic development.
Today's Asia came to strongly advocate the `Asiatic Values',partly because they acquired self-confidence as a result of economic development. However,a paradoxical situation became conspicuous now,where the eonomic development changed the society to engender symptoms of individualism.
Nowadays tourists from Asia are rampant at airports all over the world. They
are not only from Japan,South Korea,Taiwan and Hong-Kong,but also from mainland
China and Thailand. It is not easy now to identify their nationality from their
attire and behaviour. As Prof.T.Aoki points out,it seems that the Asian newly rich middle class began to share common life style.
The Asians,especially the youth,too,are becoming individualistic.The Japanese,who used tour abroad in groups with a guide,now travel alone. There are such examples: a high school teacher who retired on his own will 2 years ahead of pension age in order to study Arabic language in Egypt,a youngster who is studying Chinese alone at Peking University,a young lady who dreams about engaging in agriculture with her boy friend,while continuing her job as social welfare officer.
Does it not mean that the wealth brought by economic development is now liberating people in Asia,just like in Western Europe 400 years ago,from unnatural subordination to community and patrimonial family bondage? It is not the `bad influence of the Western civilization' as some Eastern polemists claim,but an outcome based upon human nature. This process cannnot be stopped by artificial means.
Some people in the East criticize the Western culture,saying that it brings only sex and violence. But seeing that the society in the West is sound by large,this argument is not tenable.
Those who propagate the `Asiatic values' would fiercely argue,if the West betrays their attitude that they prefer more moderate economic growth of Asia so that ecology and tradition be preserved. They would say,"We are not zoological garden." But if people in the East sticks to the ambiguous notion of `Asiatic values' and hampers a natural change in their society,is it not an attempt to preserve their society in a state of `zoological garden'? This smells of anachronism. Perhaps,this partly reflects their egoism to maintain their ruling status.
The West has been gradually establishing liberty and individualism all through these 400 years. Import of Greek-Roman science and philosophy and the Reformation provided an ideological basis for individualism. In the East the traditional culture and values have not adapted themselves to the rapid change in society.
Instead of renewing themselves,they tend to become an existence like fossil. They do not provide an ideological background for the individualism. In other words in Asia material backgound is ready for a surge of individualism,but a new spiritual identity has not yet been established. Probably another tens of years will be necessary for that.

Confidence and Idealism `Asiatic Values'for now
  `Asiatic values'are now sought after. Asian countries need them in order to cope with the pressure from the West toward further political democratization and liberalization,Japan need them in order to match with the pressure toward further eonomic opening. The motives differ,but in both cases,equally,their argument
tend to become ideological,because they are inclined to defend their present political,eonomic systems.
This makes their argument sound unnatural,because peoples in Asia and Japan would not approve the present social systems,as they now stand. Developping economy necessitates changes and reforms in politics,eonomy and society.
Moreover,most of such ideological argument cannot be proved academically. For example,some people argue that Japan is destined to be collectivistic because of her rice farming culture and that Europe is by fate individualistic because of her cattle breeding culture. How would they judge about European farming culture in medieval age? And what about cattle breeding culture of the people in Mongolia and Central Asia? A broader view both in time and geography would be needed
for an exact polemic.
Other people claim that the `Asiatic values' are in the modesty and caring attitude to neighbours,which are allegedly so conspicuous in Asian society. However,these virtues could be found in Western Europe,too. They are even one of the basic composites of the Christianity and the West European civil society. Then,as those people argue,are `self-restraint and ability for compromise' the `Asiatic values'? But this argument is not tenable either. It is enough to recall the fact how furious the Asian people can become in serious conflicting situation.
Asia is politheistic and Europe is monotheistic. Then,is the pluralistic way
of thinking peculially Asian in comparison with the monoistic view of Europeans? However,the monoistic way of thinking is versatile. The cybernetics,which consists of only 1 and 0,is now able to transmit even digital pictures. Moreover,pluralistic way of thinking is now systematically incorporated to the Western thinking in the form of theories on fuzzieness and chaos. Is Asian pluralistic way of
thinking far deeper than such theories? Is it not that a primitive pluralism only engenders indulgement in religious intuition and mysticism?
It is not necessary to artifically invent `Asiatic values'. The modern philosoper,Decarte,had difficulty in proving his own existence. Finally,he found that
he certainly exists as long as he thinks. Similarly,is it not enough for Asia that she now has confidence and self-consciousness as an independent entity in the world?
However,self-confidence is not enough to be an independent entity in the world. Asian countries should declare their ideals,namely which kind of society they would like to realize as a result of the economic development,because a rich society without any ideals is nothing other than a mere colletive Casino.
Ideals could differ,depending upon generation and class. Some people would still argue that the `Asiatic values' is their ideal. I would like to propose something,perhaps more banal,but more acceptable to the most people,something based
upon the human nature. That is the consturuction of a society,where people,if they endeavour,can enjoy high standard of living and education and where their talent and indivuduality can fully blossom,a society where decisions are made in a rational and a way visible to the people.
If Asia can propose her own way to realize such an ideal,then she could rightly criticize those impatience,self-righteousness and arbitrariness of the West,quite conspicuous when they demand further modernization of Asia. Asia would not
need the unnatural armour of `Asiatic values' to defend herself.

Beyond the Civil Society
Japanese post-war generation grew up,taking for granted those Western infulences in the society after the Meiji Restoration and the War. I went abroad for the first time in the age of 22. Staying in America for study,I was startled,when
I realized that those customs and culture,which I took for granted as atomosphere,are not proper Japanese. Has Japan lost her own face? Where can I find identity of a Japanese? Some of Japanese intellectuals and artists are still engaged in a fierce spiritual battle to add Japan's colour to the Western academism and art.
Therefore,I fully understand the sentiment of those people,who are eager to find the `Asiatic values'.However,is it not a nostalgy to the warmth of pre-industrial society in general rather than a nostalgy to something Asiatic? This nostalgy is also shared by the ecologists in the West,who refuse limitless economic development.
I once put up at an inn in downtown Paris. The atmosphere,conversation,reminded me of the surroundings like in `The Thibeauxs',written by Martin du Gard. Perhaps,the society and human relations in the Western Europe have not much changed in its substance after the end of the 19th century. It seems that the Western art,too,is unable to find a new horizon. Has the Western civilization exhausted the possibility for further progress?
People has been arguing about the stalemate of the West-European civilization since Schpengler's `Fall of Western Europe' in the beginning of the 20th century. It is true that those norms of the civil society sometimes sound even hypocritical. They engendered suffocating situation,against which Nietzsche revolted. The hyppies attempted a revolt against it to restore normal humanness only to be
captured in the cobweb of the civil society.
Theories on the origin of the cosmos and particle physics,the ultimate of the Western way of analyzing things,have also hit the limits,because they betray something unconceivable in the final end. By virtue of these theries we can guess
about the beginning of the cosmos,but we can not know how the cosmic space came
into being and what motivated the big ban. We could verify existence of the elementary particles,but this one bit of the article could be a cosmos in itself. The science based on human reason has further potentiality,but it is already betraying its limits in the final end.
Many values,which have been valid in the West through the 20th century,are now being subjected to a doubt. The validity of the national state is questioned because of borderless international economy and strengthning of local self-governance,political parties are losing their grip because of diversification of interests in the society,and the petyy-bourgeois values are in crisis in the face of
increased divorces and liberation of homo-sexuality.
It is interesting to note that part of such changes are also taking shape in
Japan,which first in Asia embarked upon industrialization. The late comers are quick in catching up. Perhaps in near future,Asian countries will be capable to think about features of the 21th century's society together with the West. `Asiatic values',then,could make a positive contribution to such a process without becoming an argument to defend the present order.
Akio Kawato


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