Asian Values, Filipino Values, Superior Values?


In one of my earlier articles, “Is the solution to Filipino Dysfunction being more ‘UnFilipino,’” the discussion shifted to Asian Values and whether I was saying Filipino values were inferior – which was not my point. Perhaps I have not written the earlier article well enough and need to clarify my stance, with more references to support my claims.

Asian Values

The term “Asian Values” was coined in the 1990s by then-Singaporean prime minister Lee Kwan Yew and supported by Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad. They trumpeted that the success of their countries at the time was due to particular indigenous values held by Asians. They implied that Asian Values are superior to western values.

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Though Lee and Mahathir may be considered good leaders for their times, this parroting of Asian Values may actually be one of their “Oops” moments. There is evidence to show that Asian Values had been debunked since then, and it was nothing more than propaganda. It actually seems similar to our own Pinoy Pride, because it implied a sentiment of ethnic superiority. May critics and commentators went against it, and the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis is considered to have hammered the final nail into the coffin of the vaunted concept of Asian Values.

Many now say Asian Values was only a justification for authoritarian rule and undermining of human rights. But one another score, some the “values” used by Lee and Mahathir were not really Asian. Lee was thought to have looked in western countries, such as Germany and Israel, for ideas on governance. The parliamentary form of government they use is from the west. Use of foreign investment and the origin of investors themselves: from the west. Good governance and anti-corruption measures work the same basic way in both east and west. There is actually little to support “Asian Values” as a special success ingredient.

The term however now seems to be used for another thing, namely the values of Asians and Asian-American success in the United States.

Asian Values in America

A recent report, discussed by a commenter in the “UnFilipino” article, and highlighted in mass media, talks about Asians and Asian-Americans relatively doing better than White-dominated America. This had been the observation for many years already, that more Asians tend to be notably affluent and “more successful,” giving rise to the “model minority” myth. The usual claim is that the Asians’ own indigenous values are to be credited for it, and this again gives the notion that their culture is superior.

The Brown University study actually surveys certain Asian groups, and lists affluence levels per group. But nowhere does it attribute such affluence to “Asian values.” It just mentions a possibility that segregation as opposed to assimilation into mainstream American culture may have been a factor in this relative affluence. But it says nothing about Asian Values.

Another report by the PEW Research group, in its fifth chapter, surveyed Asian-Americans on their most commonly held values. This includes being a good parent, having a successful marriage, owning a home, helping others in need, and being successful in a high-paying career. This is can be identified as the closest one can get to “Asian values,” a preference set by a certain ethnic group. But are these Asian values? They are values even Americans hold. The study says that a bigger percentage of Asians embrace these values compared to white people, and may constitute a possible factor for their success. Certainly, they are doing something right. But can that be credited to Asian cultural values? The study does not say that.

The Asian Nation website describes the realities of some ethnic Asian groups. While Vietnamese according to the PEW study are among the highest to value owning a home, they have the highest poverty rates among the ethnic Asian groups according to Asian Nation. Another is that Southeast Asians in America tend to have the highest high school dropout rates, which would dispel the “Asians are superior” notion. Asian Nation warns against attributing relative success to being Asian. Asian Values does not even seem to be recognized by the Asian Nation website, because there is seemingly no mention of the term at all. This can more likely be explained by relatively more individual cases embracing and practicing the values that even Americans hold dear. Thus, Asian Values is not what you call it. It may be called Asians living the American Dream.

So what Values are they?

This is what I meant by saying the right values that work can be “UnFilipino.” This is because they may even be un-American, un-Asian or un-put-in-your-nationality-or-region. The only thing that it cannot be is un-human. You cannot attach nationality or ethinic origin to real working values because, ultimately, they are universal.

How would right values work? For example, pakikisama on something that you know is wrong is itself wrong. For example, if a group of drunkards insist that you get drunk with them, you should refuse (because, universally, drunkenness is recognized to be harmful). Another is when someone through utang-ng-loob asks you to do something that you feel is wrong. You are not obliged to comply, but you should refuse. Also, if you are a personnel officer in a company, and one of the bosses tells you to bump off a qualified applicant in favor of their relative who is comparatively unfit, it would be better to stick to principles and go for the qualified one. I use Filipino terms for these situations, but I believe they can be encountered in any culture.

A picture lampooning the controversial tiger mom image (courtesy Pedro De Bruyckere)

A picture lampooning the controversial tiger mom image (courtesy Pedro De Bruyckere)

When a nation or culture puts its name to a set of values, as Lee Kwan Yew and Mahathir did, the apparent purpose is propaganda (and misplaced pride). Perhaps the same can be said of controversial Amy Chua, whose ‘Tiger Mom’ ideal has itself been debunked (having a chapter title like “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior” can smack of misplaced pride). If values are universal, no culture or region can own them. This includes concepts like Filipino values, Asian values, American values, etc. The PEW study identifies preference sets, and perhaps we can study these, they certainly seem effective and we need good examples to learn from. But nowhere does it say an ethnic group can claim it as exclusively their values.

In the end, it may be the best policy to drop any attachment of name or culture to values. No values are unique to any ethnicity or culture, because it seems every culture is actually practicing them. If values are universal, then we Filipinos should look for those that work in any culture, not in any particular one. We may discuss our own cultural values with our children for historical and informational purposes, but ultimately, we may have to depart from them sometime and look for the universal perspective that works better.


AFP. “In US, Asian immigrants ‘better off than whites.’” Bangkok Post. June 2013. (Accessed July 2013)

“Article 30: Repression in the name of rights is unacceptable.” BBC World Service. Available from (Accessed July 2013)

Cynthia. “The Myth of the Tiger Mom.” East Coast Asian American Student Union blog. June 19, 2013. (Accessed July 2013)

De Bruyckere, Pedro. “Study debunks ‘tiger mom’- myth: children worse grades, are more depressed and more alienated from their parents.” The Economy of Meaning. May 2013. (Accessed July 2013)

Delizo, Dannuel Mayye, & Juania, Faye Nicole M. “Filipino Core Values, Characteristics and Citizenship Morals.” Slideshare. 2012. (Accessed July 2013)

Elgin, Molly. “Asian Values? A New Model for Development?” University of Houston. 2010. Available from (Accessed July 2013)

Kim, So Young. “Do Asian Values Exist? Empirical Tests of the Four Dimensions of Asian Values.” Questia. (Accessed July 2013)

Koh, Gilbert (aka Mr Wang). “The Meaninglessness of Asian Values.” Little Stories. 2009. Available from: (Accessed July 2013)

Kotter, John. “The Key to Changing Organizational Culture.” Forbes Magazine, 2012. (Accessed July 2013)

Le, C.N. “The Model Minority Image” Asian-Nation: The Landscape of Asian America. 2013. (Accessed July 7, 2013).

Logan, John R. & Zhang, Weiwei. “Separate but Equal: Asian Nationalities in the U.S.” Brown University. June 2013. (Accessed July 2013)

Mead, Walter Russell. “The Real Asian Miracle: Asia Devalued.” The New York Times. 1998. (Accessed July 2013)

“The Rise of Asian Americans.” Pew Research, Social and Demographic Trends. 2012. (Accessed July 2013)

Thompson, Mark. R. Whatever Happened to “Asian Values”? (brief excerpt) Journal of Democracy, Volume 12, Number 4, October 2001, pp. 154-165 | 10.1353/jod.2001.0083 (Accessed July 2013)

Thorniley, Tessa. “The Tiger Mother is a myth in China.” The Telegraph. 2012. (Accessed July 2013)

Veraluza, Liza. “The Core Filipino Values.” Slideshare. (Accessed July 2013)

Zakaria, Fareed. The Dustbin of History: Asian Values. Foreign Policy. 2002. (Accessed July 2013)

25 Replies to “Asian Values, Filipino Values, Superior Values?”

    1. Here’s a link in Quora on the stories of “tiger mom” and the effect on children (you have to log in Quora to see other replies).

      Here’s one of the reply that got my attention.

      My big sister was what I used to jealously call “every Asian parent’s wet dream come true” (excuse the crassness, but it really does sum up the resentment I used to feel towards her). She got straight As. Skipped 5th grade. Perfect SAT score. Varsity swim team. Student council. Advanced level piano. Harvard early admission. An international post with the Boston Consulting Group in Hong Kong before returning to the U.S. for her Harvard MBA. Six figure salary. Oracle. Peoplesoft. Got engaged to a PhD. Bought a home. Got married.

      Her life summed up in one paragraph above.

      Her death summed up in one paragraph below.

      Committed suicide a month after her wedding at the age of 30 after hiding her depression for 2 years. She ran a plastic tube from the tailpipe of her car into the window. Sat there and died of carbon monoxide poisoning in the garage of her new home in San Francisco. Her husband found her after coming home from work. A post-it note stuck on the dashboard as her suicide note saying sorry and that she loved everyone.

      Mine is an extreme example of course. But 6 years since her passing, I can tell you that the notion of the “superior Chinese mother” that my mom carried with her also died with my sister on October 28, 2004. If you were to ask my mom today if this style of parenting worked for her, she’ll point to a few boxes of report cards, trophies, piano books, photo albums and Harvard degrees and gladly trade it all to have my sister back.

      1. I’m sure there are more of this, perhaps people who didn’t commit suicide, but thought of it just the same. Still a sad thing.

  1. A-ha. Based on this study, Lee Kwan Yew was accused by President Kim Dae Jung of Korea and President Lee Teng-hui of Taiwan of taking Confucian values and (mis)labeling them “Asian values.”

  2. For me there is nothing wrong if we hold our filipino values for us to have identity…but there’s a catch filipino or should I say for my own understanding should select the right one to hold to, should chose to follow or to ignore the values that can or will affect your life…like what the author says I value the pakikisama but I chose on whom I want to mingle with. also the utang na loob i do believe that but in some instances and not all the time…it is matter I think on how the people comprehend the filipino value….and being a believer of the filipino values I dont think that this value is superior to others…

  3. I can roughly define Asian values to be the common beliefs and practices that Asians have. I agree that there are many different kinds of Asians but they do have common beliefs and practices that lead to their success or detriment in certain areas or aspects. Yes, there are good and bad sides of it but I believe and in my experience it is more for the good. If one picks the “bad” and magnifies it and chooses to ignore the good then one can erroneously conclude that it is “bad”.

    I think Confucian values are a subset of Asian values but the former is dominant when describer the latter. Of course there are “Universal values” like it is bad to kill, steal or lie and all should share those values. It’s common sense. There is really no dichotomy between Universal values and Asian values as the latter is merely a subset of the former.

    Asian Values a distinct set of beliefs and practices that sets Asians apart from non-Asians. Of course the Filipino, the Chinese, The Thai etc will differ in varying degrees but there are commonalities too. Whenever people say “Asian values” they focus on those commonalities. The ethic of hard work, respect for elders and high aspirations mark these (although the “high aspirations” thing applies more to Filipino Americans than Filipinos in the good old Pinas).

    In the Filipino context though it is quite interesting to note that Filipino migrants (particularly Filipino Americans) practice more of Asian culture than the ones left in Da Pinas. You can see Asian culture in The Philippines clearly with the Tsinoys, but not in the majority of local Pinoys. But when you look at the Pinoys in the USA their behavior closely resembles those of the Chinese-American, Korean-American or Japanese-American families. High expectations of children, value for education, aspiration for success more than the general White, Hispanic or Black population. Of course there are exceptions too like those Filipino-American youth who try (stupidly) to act and dress ghetto but those are a minority.

    Behavior of Filipinos in The Philippines more closely resemble the Hispanics in the USA which is very far from Asian. In fact, Filipinos are described as the Mexicans or “Niggers” of Asia. This is my theory. Perhaps the Filipino migrants to the USA saw a resemblance to the Hispanic culture to the culture they left behind and do not want the results for themselves to be like the life they left back home. There must have been a conscious effort to deviate from that so they do not end up like their former neighbor Pedro from Guadalajara who has 8 kids and those 8 kids never finished college, got pregnant at 16, also have multiple kids and all live in their tiny rental in a crime infested neighborhood. Then they see and befriend Mr. Chang, witness his family behave similar to the Tsinoys back home, succeed in life and he says “That’s the direction we should go”.

      1. It’s whatever works for you. I find that Asian culture works for me and I practice it. You practice what culture you think leads to your success. I can imagine what you have works very well for you now so carry on I guess.

      1. African American and African Canadian uses n-word as most common word… They said that to me “Awesome, that’s my n****.” They don’t intend to insult me. But I’m not allow to use the word because I’m western Filipino. You shouldn’t use that word if you’re not African. They would get offended easily after they hear non-African say it.

      2. Do you know where the word “nigger” comes from? It originated as a neutral term referring to black/dark skinned people, as a variation of the Spanish/Portuguese noun “negro,” a descendant of the Latin adjective “niger” (“color black”). It wasn’t until later that its usage became unambiguously pejorative and a racial slur, especially by the mid-20th century in the United States.

  4. Humans: a social animal who likes putting up fences and putting other people into small boxes (read: typecasting). It’s the sad truth, really.

  5. One ethnic group I would like to examine in the US is the Jews. They seem to be among the most successful groups in the US, even over Asian-Americans. They’ve also been through oppression, like the Holocaust. Yet they don’t shout “Jewish pride” or boast “Jewish values.” They seem to be a great example to learn from.

    1. I have worked with Jewish people for more than a decade now and from what I have observed, if you think “Tiger Mom” and “Asian Values” are tough, then the Jews have what can be called “Asian Values on Steroids”. They also have very high expectations of their children (if the kids become any less than the level of a doctor, lawyer, dentist or highly paid business executive, they will not be happy). They are also very entrepreneurial and thrifty.

      They are also very proud of their heritage and roots. A lot hold on to the idea that they are the “Chosen People” (sure would give Pinoy Pride and AZN Pride a run for their money).

      They are a great example to learn from, as are the Asian-Americans and the declining number of White people practicing the protestant work ethic.

      1. You know, I’m beginning to doubt these “high expectations” that you claim. So you are saying being very strict and tiger in parenting is more likely to breed successful children. But there are studies saying many children are exasperated and mentally worn-out by such methods. I bet you’ve heard of the recent case of Jennifer Pan, who was also brought up by strict parents, but ended up having them murdered. With regard to Jews, note that there are also successful comedians among them, since their values include being able to laugh at oneself. I doubt they’re that strict as you claim.

        That you, Alvin Diesta/Charles?

  6. I think this “asian values” as a whole of asia is nonexistent. Asia is a very big continent with lots of culture from region to region. I think its more appropriate to coined their values by region.

    1. Maybe the more correct term is Confucian Values. It can also be the common values of Asians that intersect with each other and are distinct from the non-Asians.

  7. Hey! I know this is somewhat off topic but I was wondering if you knew where I could locate a captcha plugin
    for my comment form? I’m using the same blog platform as yours and I’m having difficulty finding one?
    Thanks a lot!

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