EAST MEETS WEST–AND FINDS ‘DECADENCE’

Ronald E. Yates is an author of award-winning historical fiction and action/adventure novels, including the popular and highly-acclaimed Finding Billy Battles trilogy.

Occasionally I reprint stories I wrote while working as a foreign correspondent. Here is one I wrote from Bangkok, Thailand in 1985. It examines the attitudes some Asian countries have toward Western (read “American”) culture—specifically, its music, its films and what some consider its promiscuous lifestyle. Not much has changed since I filed this story thirty-two years ago.

By Ronald E. Yates

BANGKOK, Thailand–Two months ago, at the peak of its popularity, the hit song “One Night in Bangkok” (see link at end of story) was banned by the government here. The reason: It was seen as a Western perversion of Thai culture.

Last week in an impassioned speech, Singapore’s deputy prime minister deplored the influx of “Western decadence” and warned his nation’s parliament that Asia was being “engulfed and overwhelmed by dangerous waves of undesirable external influences.”

Even in Japan, which more than any other Asian nation has embraced and emulated Western culture, Japanese politicians and sociologists have lamented the erosion of traditional Japanese values under a “mushroom cloud of American music, movies, and adolescent mayhem.”

Other Asian nations–from South Korea, which has in the past banned American rock music, to Taiwan, which has refused to allow controversial American and European films and books to be circulated–have begun looking more critically at imported Western ideas, culture and even fashion as their traditional societies are altered by high technology and cross-cultural communication.

Everything from declining family and human relations to rising divorce and crime rates is being blamed on unhealthy Western “permissiveness” in an increasingly shrill denunciation of the West.

Ironically, this is happening at a time when economic and cultural contact between Asia and the rest of the world has never been greater.

Critics of American and European influences are calling for a return to something they call “Asian values”–a