Monday, September 22, 2003

Asian Values and My Stones


The Marmot gets the Hominid's attention by linking to a paper by UCLA prof Randall Peerenboom. Over at PRC, Prince Roy has this to say:

Beyond Universalism and Relativism: The Evolving Debates about 'Values in Asia' is a soon-to-be published academic article by one of the world's foremost authorities on Chinese Law, Randall Peerenboom. A professor at the UCLA School of Law, he also teaches courses in International Human Rights Law.

He's a brilliant professor and scholar, and I'm very fortunate to have taken his classes on Chinese law while at UCLA. I'm currently auditing his International Human Rights Law course, and I found the above paper of his online here (click on 'Download Document'). If you have any interest at all in China's human rights situation, you owe it to yourself to read this paper.

Roy also provides the article's abstract, which I reprint here in full (with thanks):

The growing power of the international human rights movement has unsurprisingly led to a backlash both in Asia and the West. Perhaps the most serious threat to the movement to date came when increasingly assertive Asian governments, buoyed by years of economic growth, issued the 1993 Bangkok Declaration challenging the universalism of human rights and criticizing the international human rights movement for being Western-biased. This article advances three main theses. First and foremost, it is time to move beyond universalism and relativism. The debate, often engaged in at an exceedingly abstract level, is no longer fruitful, in Asia or elsewhere. Most of the contested issues concerning human rights are too specific to be resolved by falling back on claims of universalism or relativism.

Second, the 'Asian values' debate was not a single debate, not only about values in Asia, and not only about universalism versus relativism. Rather it was a series of debates about a range of issues. It is a mistake to reduce the many complex debates to the politically charged and easily resolved issue of whether authoritarian governments (sometimes) have invoked culture to deny citizens in their countries their rights. It does a disservice to the difficulty of the issues and the increasingly sophisticated and nuanced views of those who are trying to take diversity seriously to simply dismiss them as apologists for dictators.

Third, the Asian values debates have evolved, and will continue to evolve. We are now in the second round, with no indication that many of the issues will go away any time soon. It is now time to assess where we are and where we are going. While the Bangkok declaration led to a flurry of books and articles, there has been no systematic attempt to assess the second round of debates or where the debates are likely to head in the future. This article assesses the key issues in the first two rounds of debates and then in the third and concluding section considers where the debates are likely to head next, with some suggestions as to what is needed to advance the discussion and help resolve some of the persisting impasses.

Since I owe it to myself to read this paper, I've emailed the .pdf file to myself.

I also recommend an article I saw a year ago from the Journal of Buddhist Ethics, which deals with a very similar subject. The article is titled "Why the Dalai Lama Should Read Aristotle." The link for it is here. This article is written at a certain "level of abstraction," however, so I don't know if it's for everybody. If you're into philo and axiological questions, or if you like exploring cross-cultural issues on a philosophical level, you'll have a ball.


Went to Insa-dong today and found The Man, Mr. Seon (can't be older than 40; I was surprised), over at the tiny Dol Sarang shop. He was busy carving away at a stone dojang, and I asked him if he had a minute to spare. We ended up talking for a while about the three dojang with which an artist normally "signs" his works. My main goal was to solve the mystery of the du-in stamp, the one that usually appears in the upper right-hand corner (the other two, the myeong and ho stamps, generally appear at the lower left). I knew, from flipping through a Korean-Korean dictionary, that du-in comes from the Chinese words for "head/first" and "seal/stamp/print." If your eye is tracking leftward, i.e., beginning at the right side of the work, then the first red stamp you encounter will of course be the "head stamp."

The selection of what content appears on my du-in, as with ho, is something I'm supposed to think deeply about, but at the same time it doesn't have to be anything specific. If ho is like a nom de plume, the du-in can be thought of as a thematic extension of that, so it's actually quite similar in intent to the ho.

Mr. Seon has given me the assignment of reflecting on what I want my du-in to be. My tentative ho, I told him, is "Chua-su," which is from the Chinese characters for "left" and "hand," since I'm left-handed. He seemed OK with that. I was thinking about something deeper for the du-in, but everything I've come up with, related in some way to religious studies, sounds awfully pretentious, and I've even been tempted to replace "Chua-su" with something like "Yong T'o" (dragon vomit) and make the du-in something equally silly. I didn't tell Mr. Seon that, however.

The "silly" option poses problems, though, since I'm planning on making and selling respectable artwork along with dick-related Roman proverbs. The name I've chosen for my myeong (the actual name stamp) is Kim Dae Gye, or "Kim Great Precepts," which I chose partly for the phonetic resemblance to the first syllable of "Kevin." If my other stamps say things like "dragon vomit," it's unlikely that most serious Koreans will hang my work up in their houses, however serious the calligraphy. Mr. Seon, unlike many other dojang makers, is a pro at crafting names for people, not just at carving stones; he's offered to provide me with names for both ho and du-in if I come up dry. This (along with the superb quality of his craftsmanship) is what ratchets his prices up higher than your typical dojang maker. I'll be paying 150,000 won for the set of three stamps, and have requested that one of the three be a "natural" stone, i.e., a rock that will leave an unevenly elliptical print on the page, which adds a bit of naturalism to the work.

A quick remark about my chosen name, Kim Dae Gye. As Brian the Vulture pointed out a while back, there's a naming rule involving dollim-ja, in which same-sex siblings all share one Chinese character in their names. I remarked on this many posts ago (here) without using the Korean term (because, to be frank, I didn't know it! Thanks, Brian).

I gave my two little brothers, David and Sean, Korean names. Sean was named first: Kim Dae San, "Kim Big Mountain," because san sounds like "Sean" and Sean's big, like a mountain (though ever since he started that Atkins Diet, he's more like an eroding hill these days). David was named only recently, when I had a dojang crafted just for him. He's Kim Dae Bi, literally, Kim Big Wings/Flight. The guy who made David's dojang a couple weeks ago said that dae bi can be read non-literally as "great success," and since David's an aspiring actor, I thought this might help his future take flight. Also, dae bi sounds a bit like "David."

So the dollim-ja is dae, big/great. All three brothers have to share this. That's why, with two out of three characters in my own name already decided for me, I only had to worry about the third character. Gye means a bunch of things, including "precepts" (as understood in Buddhism), but also "commandments" (as understood by Korean Christians; the Heston movie "Ten Commandments" is called "Ship Gye" in Sino-Korean) . So with this Buddhist-Christian notional link, and a phonetic resemblance to the first syllable of "Kevin," gye seemed like the right character to stick in the blank space.

I'm not completely settled on "Chua-su" as my ho/nom de plume. I might make that the du-in, or I might just chuck it completely. Korean artists are allowed to show a great deal of individuality in their stamps, and I'd like to remain in keeping with this tradition. So I'm open to suggestions from friends and family, from people who've been following this blog a while and think they have some insight into my personality-- if you think you know some nouns and/or adjectives (in English, I mean) that might make for interesting two- or three-character combinations, feel free to email me (, "Hairy Chasms" in the subject line!). Silly/vulgar submissions also welcome.

I couldn't leave Insa-dong without grabbing another brush. Bought a tiny one for 6000 won. That'll be mainly for signatures, but also for fine detail as I branch out into drawing tigers, dragons, and more Bodhidharmas.

In other news...

An acquaintance from Beliefnet has written me a few emails and started me thinking about writing another long religious post. More on this as the mental juices burble.

NB: If you read this post earlier and you know Chinese, you'll have noted that I wrote "Usu" for "left hand," which is wrong. "U" is the character for the direction "right." "Chua" is "left." Yes, when it comes to hanja, I still don't know my left from my right. It occurs to me that I did in fact show the "U" character to Mr. Seon earlier... damn, what must he have been thinking? After all, I told him I'm left-handed. Heh. Oops.

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