chapter  2
18 Pages

A broad history: from Meiji to ‘East Asian Miracle’

Although ‘Asian values’ is a term of recent vintage, it has a pre-history stretching back to the late nineteenth century. Among its earliest prefigurations were the early Japanese and Chinese efforts to rationalise the manifest technical and military superiority of the West. Even as Meiji Japan was catching up with the West in these fields, Japanese intellectuals such as Okakura Tenshun were developing counter-hegemonic mythologies of a superior pan-Asian culture of peace, beauty and refinement. This neo-‘Asian values’ mythology reached a high watermark when Okakura urged Asian nations to look within their common traditions to produce a cultured and refined alternative to the rude Western culture of war and conflict.1 China’s revolutionary leader Dr Sun Yat-Sen in his turn was utterly convinced of the superiority of pan-Asian values over Western values, which had been laid bare in his mind by the Great War in Europe. By the 1920s, he was lecturing on the superiority of wangdao (the way of the ethical monarch and peaceful ruleship) over badao (the unethical and violent way).2