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Asian Values and Human Rights

Asian Values and Human Rights

A Confucian Communitarian Perspective

Wm. Theodore de Bary

ISBN 9780674001961

Publication date: 03/01/2000

Since the horrific Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989, the debate on human rights in China has raged on with increasing volume and shifting context, but little real progress. In this provocative book, one of our most learned scholars of China moves beyond the political shouting match, informing and contextualizing this debate from a Confucian and a historical perspective.

"Asian Values" is a concept advanced by some authoritarian regimes to differentiate an Asian model of development, supposedly based on Confucianism, from a Western model identified with individualism, liberal democracy, and human rights. Highlighting the philosophical development of Confucianism as well as the Chinese historical experience with community organization, constitutionalism, education, and women's rights, Wm. Theodore de Bary argues that while the Confucian sense of personhood differs in some respects from Western libertarian concepts of the individual, it is not incompatible with human rights, but could, rather, enhance them.

De Bary also demonstrates that Confucian communitarianism has historically resisted state domination, and that human rights in China could be furthered by a genuine Confucian communitarianism that incorporates elements of Western civil society. With clarity and elegance, Asian Values and Human Rights broadens our perspective on the Chinese human rights debate.


  • The book is fascinating...Asian Values and Human Rights is an attempt to present and defend an interpretation of Confucianism that may be relevant for Confucian-influenced societies in East Asia, especially China...Too often, this kind of debate involves recovering obscure and long-forgotten references, and 'proving' that Asian societies profess this or that political value. This only serves to reinforce pre-existing political viewpoints. De Bary, however, supports his account of Confuscianism with compelling evidence that a communitarian ethic of participatory, non-coercive community life also had historical importance.

    —Daniel A. Bell, Times Literary Supplement [UK]


  • William Theodore de Bary was John Mitchell Mason Professor of the University, Emeritus, and Provost Emeritus at Columbia University.

Book Details

  • 208 pages
  • 0-1/2 x 6 x 9 inches
  • Harvard University Press

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