A Note on Chinese Individualism, Human Rights, and the Asian Values Debate
This postscript presents some comments about the use of the term “individualism.” It explains that using the term in the analysis of intellectual developments related to the self shows readers that certain early Chinese views can justifiably be compared with, or translated as, “individualism.” By granting Chinese history its own idealistic notions of the self and analyzing such notions according to how they dignify and empower the individual, the study refutes the well-worn accusation that Chinese cultures lack a concept of individual prerogatives. The chapter further argues that individualism has been a powerful ideal throughout Chinese history, and thus should be regarded as a crucial element of Asian values. While it is unclear that “rights”—in the sense of inalienable claims or moral entitlements to certain political and social goods—are endorsed in early Chinese texts, the very fact that individuals, their thoughts, judgments, potentials, wills, and cosmic powers do matter and were greatly valued should be reason enough to reconsider the human rights debate in such a light.
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