Questions about "Asian values"--whether they justify authoritarianism, or have contributed to the remarkable economic ascent of East Asia, or to the region's subsequent and almost equally startling descent--have been the subject of wide and controversial discussion over recent years. But there is another question that has not been as widely considered: Will Asian values--can they--survive the homogenizing effects of globalization?
"Globalization" is a protean word, capable of taking on many meanings. I shall use it here to mean the worldwide spread of Western-dominated information and entertainment media, with their presumed effects on values in the places they reach. V‡clav Havel has offered the image of "a Bedouin mounted on a camel and clad in traditional robes under which he is wearing jeans, with a transistor radio in his hands and an ad for Coca-Cola on the camel's back." Perhaps the jeans and the Coca-Cola are, so to speak, only skin-deep; but the transistor radio, the television set and Hollywood movies: do they not undermine Bedouin values, whatever those may be?
The issue of the future of Asian values is rather more serious than that of the survival of Bedouin ones. For it is in East Asia that we find together the fullest developed version of a cultural or civilizational ethos that successfully nurtures rapid economic growth, and that in some key respects (or so it is generally believed and widely asserted) contrasts with what we find in "the West."