Evolution of Asian Culture

As Tagore put it very clearly, speaking about education, “that all elements in our own culture have to be strengthened not to resist Western culture, but truly to accept it and assimilate it: to use it for our food and not as your burden; to get mastery over this culture, and not to live at its outskirts as the hewer of texts and the drawers of book-learning.” With this, many people in Asia, then and now, totally concur — and you only have to see the damage inflicted on some very creative individuals in India by rote-learning and a poor grasp of English.

And this remains the fundamental task — how to adopt new knowledge and techniques from elsewhere without creating new hierarchies within our societies, without disempowering great majorities. The arrival of capitalism in its late stage in Asia complicates this task because it brings its innate problems of uneven growth and inequality — those that the U.S. and Europe are now facing — to places like India, which already suffer greatly from uneven growth and older forms of social inequality.

– Pankaj Mishra, in an interview with Asia Society

I agree and disagree about this statement. On one hand, telling someone to assimilate is detrimental to one’s sense of identity and pride in their culture. A more welcome term is “acculturate,” which means participating in another culture without disregarding your own.

As someone of Asian heritage, who was also born in Asia, I think there should be a movement to export our culture and showing the world the vastness and nuances of such a large continent spanning many countries. Much like the U.S. exports “soft power” in terms of culture (language, food, music, literature, media content, etc), which people across the world so willingly adopt, it would be interesting to see if we can export Asian culture to share our customs and traditions (ie. food, clothing, music, etc) and to inform people that there is no single Asia. It is not a monolithic region, culture or group of people.

It has been the blessing and the curse of this continent that it is made up of distinct cultures, some of which are closely related, which makes it even more confounding because differences that exist are more latent. I would love to see us owning this distinctness by expressing it to the world.

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