Asian Studies Conference Japan

Saturday, June 19 - Sunday 20, 2004
Ichigaya Campus of Sophia University

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 Contact the organizers: Asian Studies Conference (ASCJ) c/o Institute of Asian Cultural Studies, International Christian University 3-10-2 Osawa, Mitaka-shi, Tokyo 181

Session 12: Room 207

East Asian Challenges to Western Democracy and Human Rights

Organizer and chair: Kurtis Hagen, Nihon University

With the globalization of ideas, questions regarding the applicability of Western human rights and democracy are pressed upon all peoples. Focusing on challenges from East Asian perspectives, this panel considers reasons to resist the wholesale adoption of these ideas and the worldviews that they assume. Kurtis Hagen's paper begins with a philosophical defense of the position of East Asian leaders who are skeptical of the appropriateness of Western conceptions of human rights in East Asian contexts. Arguing that these East Asian leaders are having a positive influence on international moral discourse, it outlines and defends a set of philosophical (largely Confucian) premises that may be seen as informing the East Asian position. Viren Murthy's essay examines the late Qing revolutionary Zhang Taiyan's critique of representative democracy. He shows that as Zhang responded to a different historical context, interpreting Western rights and democracy differently from his Western counterparts. In short, he affirmed some conception of rights but did not think that Western representative government would realize such rights in China.Yonglan Kim's presentation compares Korean and American conceptions of the right to privacy as revealed in court cases and the literature surrounding them. Together the papers combine philosophical, political, and practical challenges to the assumption of univocal and universal moral and political concepts

1) Kurtis Hagen, Nihon University
Philosophical Defense of the East Asian Challenge to Human Rights

After a decade of dialog, many reluctant East Asian leaders have now accepted, at least in word, the proposition that human rights can be regarded as universal. This acknowledgement marks a subtle but important turn in the debate, for it heightens the prominence of the questions "Which purported rights are truly universal?" and "In what sense are those rights universal?" Far from being an admission of philosophical defeat, I argue that it is a move which has enabled East Asians to adopt a more nuanced position with regard to human rights. This position has in turn helped to undermine both the moral realist perspective that is often assumed in assertions regarding human rights and the supposition that civil rights and "negative rights" (or freedoms) can be used to trump "mere aspirations" such as economic development and welfare. This new understanding, or "tempered universalism," constitutes a substantial concession from the West, both in terms of philosophical worldview, and in terms of actual policy implications. I argue that rather than wielding a "one size fits all" universal conception of rights, we do better to contextualize rights (even as we accept an appropriately qualified sense of universalism). This would facilitate constructive cross-cultural engagement, and thereby forward the effort to make meaningful progress on international moral causes. This strategy is not mere prudence. It respects the fundamental tenet that the application of any moral principle must be attuned with requirements of justice or yi (appropriateness).

2) Viren Murthy, University of Chicago
Zhang Taiyan's Critique of Democracy

In his famous 1907 essay, "On Whether We Should Implement a Representative System," Zhang Taiyan emphasized the historical particularity of China. Zhang argued that if China implemented a representative system, people would have fewer rights rather than more. In fact, Zhang opined that given existing power relations, it was quite likely that a representative system would actually institutionalize inequality. In Zhang's view, this would especially be a step backward in China, since unlike Europe and Japan, China had abolished feudalism upon Qin unification and, after the implementation of the Tang dynasty equal land system (jun tian zhi), China was relatively egalitarian. According to Zhang, a representative or constitutional system would destroy this. Hence, Zhang synthesized traditional ideals and concepts from modern political theory to posit an alternative to representative government. Although we may disagree with some of Zhang's political vision, his criticism of representative government remains pertinent. In particular, in contemporary capitalist countries, people do not have the means to ensure that elected officials represent the people's interests; bureaucrats usually support the interests of big business. The Chinese socialist project was an attempt to construct and alternative society, but it eventually reproduced the gap between governors and governed. Nonetheless, since the gap between the rulers and the ruled is a fundamental problem in modern capitalist democracy, Zhang's search for an alternative remains relevant. In addition, Zhang's writings shed light on the gap between political ideals and their institutional embodiment.

3) Yonglan Kim, University of Tokyo
The Right to Privacy: A Comparison of Perspectives Expressed in Korean and American Law

Beginning in the 1960s, liberal courts in America, wanting to extend the boundaries of liberty, read into the constitution a right to privacy. However, at that very time, it was argued in concurring opinions that at issue were liberty rights rather than privacy rights. To this day, a clear and broadly agreed upon account of exactly how a "liberty right" differs from a "privacy right" has not been established. As a result of this lack of clarity, a variety of legal decisions have been made on the bases of conflicting understandings of the concept of the right to privacy. Despite inconsistencies, however, it is possible to given an account of some general features of the concept of privacy in operation in American law. In Korea, unlike America, the right to privacy is specifically written into the constitution (added as an amendment in 1980), and there is also a specific article on liberty rights. Although in Korea as well, there is a lack of conceptual clarity on the distinction, we can give a general account. Comparing these general accounts I will argue that, despite the fact that the very concept of privacy was imported from the United States, the right to privacy has been interpreted in Korea in a significantly different way. In short, this paper offers a critical analysis of the different ways in which the concepts of "liberty rights" and "privacy rights" are understood in American law and Korean law.

Discussant: Masami, Tateno, Nihon University


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