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What Living in the East Teaches Us About Living in the West

by T.R. Reid

Pub Date: March 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-679-45624-4
Publisher: Random House

A readable if superficial analysis of the moral basis of east Asian society. Over the course of a generation, the nations of east Asia have become, to varying degrees, prosperous industrial societies. And a social miracle has accompanied the economic miracle, notes Reid (former Tokyo bureau chief for the Washington Post), namely, social stability. Nations such as Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan all enjoy extremely low crime rates. Divorce is rare. Public education is superb; economic equality is more a fact than a goal. These societies work, and in comparison, ours doesn’t. Why? Reid holds east Asian values responsible. For the region’s people generally adhere to the tenets of Confucianism, and Confucianism preaches social harmony as an end in itself. Thus, to break or disregard social mores brings shame upon the self, one’s family, and one’s society. Reid writes knowingly about Confucian thought and shows, through sharply drawn anecdotes, how harmony is pursued and practiced on a daily basis in east Asia. Yet he doesn—t find Confucian moral values to differ all that much from those of the West and its Judeo-Christian tradition. The main difference, for Reid, lies in the fact that east Asian societies will go to extraordinary lengths to instill moral values in every member (and this, he claims, Americans don—t do, although they should). There are flaws in his logic, however. The author never questions, for instance, the psychic cost of socially mandated conformity, nor does he discuss the often highly unequal status of women in east Asia. And he doesn—t consider how differing social policies, rather than simply differing emphases on values, may account for east Asia’s success. Reid presents an interesting thesis but doesn—t quite convince. (Author tour)