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To simplify: in South Asia it is traditional to have arranged, early marriages, in which men are dominant and the extended family is important.

East Asia also has a male-dominated system, but one that stresses the nuclear family more; nowadays it has abandoned arranged marriages.

In South-East Asia, women have somewhat more autonomy.

“Western societies”, Dr Mahathir claimed, “are riddled with single-parent families…

with homosexuality, with cohabitation.” He might well have concluded that the absence of traditional family virtues from the streets of London recently showed the continued superiority of Asia.

Asians, in fact, have several distinct family systems.

In an interview in 1994 Lee Kuan Yew, a former prime minister of Singapore, argued that after thousands of years of dynastic upheaval, the family is the only institution left to sustain Chinese culture.

It embodies a set of virtues—“learning and scholarship and hard work and thrift and deferment of present enjoyment for future gain”—which, he said, underpins Asia's economic success.

He feared that the collapse of the family, if it ever happened, would be the main threat to Singapore's success.

His Malaysian contemporary, Mahathir Mohamad, went further.

WITH her filmy polka-dot dress, huge sunglasses and career as a psychologist, Yi Zoe Hou of Taiwan might seem likely to be besieged by suitors.

Yet, at 35, she is well past Taiwan's unspoken marriage deadline. “If I can't find a Taiwanese guy that accepts my age, I can find another man somewhere else.” Maybe—but since she still wants children, Ms Hou is also wondering whether to use a sperm bank or ask a male friend to be a sperm donor.

She represents a new world of family life for Asians.

Conservatives in the West are fond of saying that the traditional family is the bedrock of society. The family is the focus of Confucian ethics, which holds that a basic moral principle, (self-improvement), can be pursued only within the confines of the family.

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