The Rise of Industrial East Asia: The Role of Confucian Values

  • Tu Wei-ming


The study of East Asia as an intriguing Problematik in the field of economic development and as a methodological challenge in comparative politics has fascinated academicians in North America and in Western Europe for a whole generation. Only recently has it become a major concern of policy makers and the general public in the so-called First World. Ironically, as government officials and the mass media begin to show great interest in the rise of industrial East Asia, cautious academicians feel compelled to make more differentiated observations about the region. As a result, the public demand for broad generalizations is often met with considerable qualifications from the academic community. Indeed, scholarly efforts have been made to show that the whole concept, "Industrial East Asia," may be inadvisable, that Japan is an anomaly on the world economic stage and that the rise of these states as the most dynamic region in international trade has very little to do with shared cultural orientations. As a student of East Asian culture, I am excited that interpreting East Asia in the light of conceptual resources learned from the West, originally the professional goal of a small coterie of like-minded researchers, is now shared by a widening network of concerned citizens of the world. I am also grateful that fascination with Japan and the Four "Mini-Dragons" has progressed from exclusively economic and political analyses to include social studies and cultural appreciation. I use the word "progressed" advisedly. Even though I emphasize the vital importance of culture in our understanding of East Asia, I am fully cognizant of factors such as international trade, the geopolitical situation and the institutional sector in formulating an explanation for the rise of industrial East Asia.