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Bernard M -- Taipei English Tutor

Bernard M - English Conversation / TOEFL / IELTS 一對一英文會話

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Confucian Values

According to Samuel Huntington (The Clash of Civilizations, 1996, p. 153) Dr Mahathir, the former Prime Minister of Malaysia, suggests that ". . . Asians generally pursue their goals with others in ways which are subtle, indirect, modulated, devious, nonjudgmental, nonmoralistic, and non-confrontational." In the very next paragraph Huntington quotes Lee Kuan Yew, the former Prime Minister of Singapore, as calling Australians "the new white trash of Asia."

Granted that not every single Asian will conform to Mahathir's description of the stereotypical Asian, but as one of the foremost proponents of Asian and Confucian values, you would think Lee Kuan Yew would be a paradigmatic example of a distinctive Asian way of doing things. Actually his abrasive manner is just another reminder of how Asians are not all that different from the supposedly incorrigible Western individualists.

Let's take an example from everyday life--driving. So is there a Confucian way of driving? And if so, is it superior to the decadent Western way? As far as I can see, driving in Taipei, a "Confucian" city, does not fit my image of Confucian values. There is absolutely no thought given to pedestrians by drivers; pedestrians routinely run across the street, even when they have a green light, in order to get out of the way of oncoming cars. I have even seen mothers quickening their pace as they push a baby stroller just to avoid getting hit. On the other hand, in the U.S. pedestrians have the right of way, and this is generally honored by drivers. The rule of thumb is that if pedestrians have to break their stride, then the driver is in error. This rule seems to be unknown in Taiwan.

At least as far as driving goes, I prefer the decadent Western way to the supposedly Confucian way in Taipei. If Lee Kuan Yew or Dr Mahathir really believe in all their rhetoric about the Asian way of doing things, either of them might try crossing Taipei streets imagining that socially oriented drivers infused with Confucian values will take care not to hit him--I don't think either would survive one day.

My point isn't that Taiwanese are bad drivers or that Confucian values are not valuable. I just feel that it is very hard to pinpoint exactly what Confucian values are today and how they manifest themselves in people's daily behavior. Other than among academics and chauvinistic politicians such as Lee Kuan Yew, I don't think that for the average individual the Western or Confucian values uniquely regulate behavior, however much it may have done so in the past. The single exception may be the reluctance of Asians to express their opinions publicly. Then again, Lee Kuan Yew isn't exactly shy.

In fact, Lee Kuan Yew's creation, the strictly regulated city-state of Singapore should make anyone suspicious of the island's Confucian values. A nanny state is only required when people won't conform to the group oriented, self-sacrificing image of Confucianism espoused by Lee Kuan Yew. But Singapore's leaders know perfectly well that Singaporeans (76.8% of whom are ethnic Chinese according to the CIA Factbook) would not live up to this stereotypical image, hence, the strict regulations.
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