In This Review

East Meets West: Human Rights and Democracy in East Asia
East Meets West: Human Rights and Democracy in East Asia
By Daniel A. Bell
Princeton University Press, 2000, 369 pp.

An American professor at Hong Kong University, Bell has hit upon a clever method for critiquing East Asian views of human rights and democracy-the contentious subjects of the "Asian values" debates-by developing long Platonic dialogues between fictional characters. His main protagonist is the American "Sam Demo," an officer for a fictitious, U.S.-based nongovernmental organization called the National Endowment for Human Rights and Democracy. Demo first engages in rigorous discussions with a Hong Kong business executive and a human-rights activist before debating the pros and cons of democracy in Singapore with Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew. His investigation concludes with a dialogue set in 2007 with a political philosophy professor at Beijing University on the possibility of Confucian-style democracy. By using this superb method for exploring philosophical issues, Bell has produced a tour de force of great depth. Fortunately for the author, Lee Kuan Yew has spoken his mind enough about the subject that Bell has no trouble using Lee's own words. Demo, however, forces Lee to examine more closely certain points that he is prone to slip over. The sum effect is a solid philosophical work, respectful but tough-minded, that illuminates East Asian political perspectives and forces Americans to reexamine their own assumptions.