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Source Exercise – Asian Values and Human Rights

This quiz is part of the formal assessment for this grading period. You have 40 minutes to
answer both questions.

Source A – Michael Jacobsen, Ole Bruun - Human Rights and Asian Values:
Contesting National Identities and Cultural Representations in Asia (Curzon Press,
Human rights are both a crucial concern for and a rising challenge to national identities. Asian
values are clearly expressive of a growing need to explicitize [identify] own culture in the face
of rapidly modernizing and globalizing forces outside the control of national elites. At a very
general level, too, we can sense a crisis of values in many Asian societies as conventional
institutions such as kinship organization cease to play a dominant part in maintaining social
morality. Some Asian nations are perhaps rediscovering their cultural traditions—or
rediscovering a sense of self—to meet the challenges that their unique transformation to
industrial societies in recent decades has posed (...)The fact that the Asian criticism of
universal human rights has been put forward by a number of state leaders has added to our
sense of urgency. Today, states and systems are the prime enemies of human rights and by far
their most serious violators. When the state is both the spokesman on human rights and the
prime violator, its credibility in human rights debates must be scrutinized. Asian values were
envisioned as a counter-discourse to a perceived threat from the outside in the form of Western
human rights diplomacy as well as to counterbalance a massive internal push for greater
freedoms and protections.

Source B – William Twining – Human Rights, Southern Voices (Cambridge University

Press, 2009)
A particular challenge to human rights lies in the diversity and sometimes the fragmentation of
the political and social community, the co-existence and sometimes the competition between
diferent values and life styles within each state. In situations where the state is still the
principal means to accumulation of infuence and wealth, ethnic diversities often become
salient and politicized, raising complex problems of state and nation building, with very specifc
consequences for human rights. (...) Certainly a number of Asian governments and leaders
think that human rights are dependent on culture and development, and some of them have
posed an alternative to the theory or premise of human rights in the form of Asian Values. At
one time much attention was paid to Asian Values as a counter argument to the hegemony of
rights discourse and practice. The most common way to challenge the validity or at least the
universality of rights is the invocation of cultural relativism – and no continent has done this as
vigorously as Asia. According to this line of attack, notions of rights or particular kinds of rights
are dependent on and a refection of culture. Since cultures vary so greatly, it is claimed, each
group must be allowed its own understanding of rights, and no one may criticize the standards
of a group by reference to external norms. It is then argued that the international regime of
rights draws upon Western philosophy or ideas, and therefore they are alien to non-Western

Source C – Cartoon by a Finnish cartoonist Juho Maurinen,

1. Contrast the reasons for the development of Asian Values as an alternative to the universalist perception
of human rights, as presented in sources A and B. (8 points)
2. With explicit reference to source C, explain the author’s views toward Western criticism of human rights
in Asia (4 points).

Total: 12 points

Good luck!