Can Asians think?


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Senior officials sometimes resemble the powerful palace eunuchs of past dynasties: imperial, unaccountable, incompetent. Questioning authority, especially in public, is disrespectful, un-Asian, un-Confucian.

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It is time to deconstruct Confucius. He said many things. Some emphasized order above all: on filial piety, never disobey.

Others were democratic: without the trust of the people, no government can stand. Past emperors manipulated his work to justify a static order while they themselves rarely abided by the same rules. Japan became Asia's most advanced nation largely because it dared to change its own values during the Meiji Restoration in though it now needs a similar impetus to regain its creative energy. The conventional wisdom that Asians cherish learning is misleading. In the past, learning meant passing imperial exams that led to well-paid jobs in the civil service.

It's not altogether different in modern Asia. Learning for its own sake is considered a luxury, if not a financial waste, unless it also leads to an attractive income stream.

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Can Asians Think? (4th Edition)

The twisted Confucian philosophy passed on by generations has played a damnable role in denting Asian creative thinking. All important advances in knowledge involve substantial revision or rejection of an existing framework. Scientists call that a paradigm shift. Order for the sake of order is the opposite of creative thinking. Which Asian society, informed by home-grown precepts, is most likely to nurture and keep at home a future generation able to write better software than Microsoft, find a cure for cancer and replace quantum mechanics with a Theory of Everything, now the Holy Grail of physics?

The odds are not good, but the best bet is Taiwan. Alone among Asian societies it possesses the right combination of institutions that allow talent to blossom. Institutionalized disputes and a respect for opposing viewpoints, publicly aired, are not just about political democracy, they are fundamental to creative thinking. They act as a filter so that a rare gem may be found among the intellectual garbage. It takes only a few powerful ideas to change the world.

Well, you may want to read the book yourself, but it seems to me that Mr. Mahbubani bases the rise of Asia by and large on the failings of the West.

‎20 Years of Can Asians Think? on Apple Books

There's a lot of talk about wake-up-calls, warnings, dangers, and decadence. Mahbubani believes that certain Asian values like hard-working, filial piety, love for learning, patriarchy, and Confucian family values may have been ill-advised in the past but - judging from the success of quasi- Confucian societies like Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and China - might be just the right, winning formula to global success in the 21st century, and with it a revival of China - with India and the global south in tow.

Having said all that, despite Asia's rise little has been reported on what Asian intellectuals truly think when they are not just thinking about the West. Mahbubani's education, career, and intellectual output he studied in Canada and writes in English are but the products of his own westernization.

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Can Asians think? Can Asians think?
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Can Asians think? Can Asians think?
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Can Asians think? Can Asians think?

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