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Web-only Exclusives
November 30, 2000

From Our Correspondent: Hirohito and the War
A conversation with biographer Herbert Bix

From Our Correspondent: A Rough Road Ahead
Bad news for the Philippines - and some others

From Our Correspondent: Making Enemies
Indonesia needs friends. So why is it picking fights?

Asiaweek Time Asia Now Asiaweek story


Amid a Western "invasion," Asia seeks a new cultural identity

By Bina Jang

asia in the new millennium
Mapping the Future The future wealth and size of Asian nations

The 21st Century By Arthur C. Clarke

Asia Trends 2000 The promises and perils of one wired world

The Microchip Silicon will get into everything
The Power As the region prospers, chances for conflict may become greater
Essay by Fidel Ramos Ending repression was easy; now we must defend freedom
The Dynasty It's here to stay
The Classes Many more Asians may escape poverty
The People Democracy in Asia will become increasingly deep-rooted
Essay by Bishop Carlos Ximenes Belo Shifts to new paradigms may include the "common good" and spirituality
The Mind Classrooms of the future will be virtually unrecognizable
Essay by Stan Shih The challenge of creating markets in a competitive world
The Body Science will soon deliver miracle cures, designer babies and new dilemmas
The Soul Asia seeks a new cultural identity
Essay by the Dalai Lama Balancing material progress with inner development to achieve true success
The Food Are the pushers of genetically modified edibles out to lunch?
The Vacation Inner and outer space are the destinations of the future
The Design Asia still has a place in the shape of things to come
The Metropolis Sweeping global changes are reshaping urban destinies
The Earth Environmental awareness is growing
The Jobs New and reinvented careers will fire the imagination
The Money The cashless society is on the way
The Investor Globalization and the Net will empower future shareholders and savers
The Sexes Democracy, capitalism and the Internet can lift women to the top
Essay by Marina Mahathir In Malaysia, we should change the way society looks at their roles
The Family The family promises to be much different than it is today
The Economy New ways of working call for new ways of thinking
Essay by Donald Tsang Financial well-being is a responsibility for each nation and the world
The Network The connection will go much deeper

The Asiaweek Round Table on ASEAN in 2020

Celebrations Asia is gearing up

Celebrities How some of the region's most visible personalities intend to welcome the New Year

Millenium Dictionary From pop anthems to dawn sites and midnight nuptials, a guide to 2000

NO DOUBT ABOUT IT, Asia is under siege. The invasion is coming from the West, which gave the world the Beatles, Baywatch and, some insist, the idea of an ego-centric universe. Asians aren't sure what, if anything, they should do about this onslaught. For many, especially the young, West is best, its creed of individualism and liberal democracy superior to time-honed Asian values. Certainly, the new middle class is soaking up Western lifestyle and culture, tossing aside traditional injunctions on fate, family and "face."

But is "Westernization" Asia's blueprint for the next millennium? That depends on the definition. The Western value system is typically identified with personal freedom and rationalism. It has also been equated with modernization. But as Japan, Hong Kong and Singapore clearly show, modernization hardly means total Westernization.

Another interpretation may be more apt. Like Western Europe several centuries ago, Asia had begun to expand economically in the 1980s and 1990s. Before the Crisis, growth boosted individual wealth and lessened people's dependence on family and society. Such trends are not necessarily the result of Western influence. Instead they "stem from the true nature of human beings," says Japanese senior diplomat Akio Kawato in his paper, "Beyond the Myth of 'Asian Values.' " Modern urban societies, with their economic independence, exhibit a strong sense of individualism, he argues. But agricultural societies rely economically on cooperation, and hence have a group orientation. After the Crisis, Asia's cities will continue to drive cultural change, Akio believes.

The trend is probably irreversible - despite some governments' preferences. Both Singapore and Malaysia cling tenaciously to the kind of "Asian values" they propagated vigorously in the early 1990s. Patriarchal families, consensus over confrontation, respect for authority and deference to societal interests were invoked as the basis for a social structure that led to economic success, albeit at some cost to individual liberties. The Crisis has dented the appeal of that theory. Disaffection has kindled a reformasi movement in Malaysia, and Singaporean youth need to be repeatedly reminded by the government that the self must come second to community and nation. Such stirrings will likely lead, in the new millennium, to a freer, livelier Malaysia and Singapore.

The argument for "Asian values" floundered perhaps because it was more political than spiritual. For a start, it dwelt on East Asia and Confucianism, and largely ignored South Asia, home to a host of religions and cultural traditions. To be truly representative, an Asian-values philosophy would have to consider Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam and Christianity, not to mention other faiths like Shamanism, Shintoism or Jainism.

Yet the publicized beliefs contain certain universal truths. Take family values - endorsed by both Asia and the West. But in the West, "they're based on the individual and the nuclear family, while in Asia they're centered on the patriarchal family structure," says Beijing sociologist Li Yinhe.

So if core values are similar, the debate should be less about relative superiority than on how to manage the evolution from agrarian to industrial society, from group interests to individual prerogatives. The transition will not be easy. The swing of the pendulum from Asian to Western modes has been "too extreme, perhaps too quick," says Pavan Varma, an Indian diplomat and author. He believes this has created a generation of urban Indians that is culturally adrift - "which would be hard put to explain a religious festival, but understands the intricacies of top-10 music charts."

All Asia shares the problem. Li bemoans "money worship" in China and German theologian Hans Kłng worries about young Singaporeans who have given up "a lot of religious customs." Kłng says the secular, capitalist way of life is challenging all religions and their value systems. He believes that it is no longer possible to repeat the old myths that contradict modern rationality, so Asia's religions will have to "rethink their message and practice in modern civil society." When they do, in the decades ahead, notions about Western and Asian values will change.

Because modern Asian societies have begun to pursue a similar lifestyle, they are becoming more homogenous. "At a foreign airport it is hard to tell if a traveler is from Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Thailand or Singapore just by looking at their clothes and actions," says Akio's treatise. "However, these new trends have not gone past the veneer of fashion or custom - this new generation has yet to possess its own philosophy or ideological backbone. That is why the older generation is concerned that the self-assertions of the new generation could lead to debauchery and depravity."

Whatever their flaws, East Asia's "Asian values" awakened a regionwide sense of cultural identity, not least because they were in part a thumbing of the nose at a pushy West. Though the clash of civilizations will probably continue, increasing globalization in the 21st century will ensure that Western society will in turn absorb greater elements of Asian culture. "Society itself will find the equilibrium between traditional and contemporary values," observes Akio. "Society and culture never remain transfixed." The Asia-West synthesis is likely to play itself out well into the next millennium.


More than Westernization, growing wealth and its accompanying freedoms are impacting Asia's drive for modernity. New value systems, blending local and foreign elements, are struggling to emerge. To stay relevant, religions will have to reassess their role and practices in the civil society of the future

This edition's table of contents | Asiaweek home


U.S. secretary of state says China should be 'tolerant'

Philippine government denies Estrada's claim to presidency

Faith, madness, magic mix at sacred Hindu festival

Land mine explosion kills 11 Sri Lankan soldiers

Japan claims StarLink found in U.S. corn sample

Thai party announces first coalition partner


COVER: President Joseph Estrada gives in to the chanting crowds on the streets of Manila and agrees to make room for his Vice President

THAILAND: Twin teenage warriors turn themselves in to Bangkok officials

CHINA: Despite official vilification, hip Chinese dig Lamaist culture

PHOTO ESSAY: Estrada Calls Snap Election

WEB-ONLY INTERVIEW: Jimmy Lai on feeling lucky -- and why he's committed to the island state


COVER: The DoCoMo generation - Japan's leading mobile phone company goes global

Bandwidth Boom: Racing to wire - how underseas cable systems may yet fall short

TAIWAN: Party intrigues add to Chen Shui-bian's woes

JAPAN: Japan's ruling party crushes a rebel ž at a cost

SINGAPORE: Singaporeans need to have more babies. But success breeds selfishness

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