Have Asians lost a millennium?
Some years ago right into my own world of stray readings entered the
author of Can Asians think? Implicit in this as far as my small brain
could elicit is the query, ''How is it that the large Asian states got
themselves to be conquered by much smaller European states?" Was it that
the Asians had stopped thinking? The author,Kishore Mahbubani, a
Singaporean; is well equipped intellectually to ask such million dollar
questions though somewhat riddled and rattled by Master's degree, and as
No less a person than Henry Kissinger had raved over the book,
"interesting, provocative and intellectually engaging." The author's
credentials in addition to the above are just awesome. And they are too
long to be narrated in full in a short essay. Ultimately, he is
Singapore's ambassador to the United Nations and concurrently
Singapore's High Commissioner to Canada.(since the book has been written
some time ago perhaps the posts are now changed)
Maybe advancing age is making me parochial but like little children
trying to find unseen things, I first began to hunt for the name of my
country or the name of its great denizens I.e. Sri Lanka or Sri Lankan
(not the airways). The author with all his connections to the UN acts as
though this resplendent island or its citizens were never heard of. One
positive aspect of this is that it leaves us out of those whose thinking
power is doubted. I mean if negligence can be misconstrued as doubt. In
a negative way, the deliberate "ignoring" can be taken as insulting as
the Channel 4 program.
However, there is something familiar in the book, the Miracle Part,
that makes its rounds in our contemporary conversations. Here is a
piece, however on the miracles that happened not here, but in Europe.
"Something almost magical happened to European minds, wave after wave
of progress and advance of civilisations from the Renaissance to the
Enlightenment, from the scientific evolution to the industrial
revolution. "The author goes on to narrate how when Asian societies got
subject to degeneration and ossification European societies just
What could be described as blatant bullheadedness on the part of the
first Euro colonisers, the author sees as a brazen heroic adventure. And
what could be described as a passive role on the part of Asians,
tempered with the Maitree concept of its religions the author sees as a
phenomenon gone awry due to the exit of the thinking process.
"To me, coming from Singapore, with a population of three million it
is a source of great wonder that a small state such as Portugal could
carve out territories such as Goa, Macau and Malacca (again Sri Lanka
forgotten). Throughout this period. Asian societies lay prostrate and
allowed themselves to be surpassed and colonised by far smaller
Has he purposely omitted the conquest of the great sub-continent of
India by a land much smaller and using as a paw, a mere trading company
such as the British East India company? He has also omitted the conquest
of the ancient Sri Vijaya Empire said to have been an extended colony of
India and went on to comprise a large component of Asia, by adventurous
and ambitious races such as the Dutch and the French, partners in the
thinking process if anybody can embroil thinking with bulldozing
territorially. The deliberate ignoring of our country can lead an
unobservant reader to conclude that the book was written in ancient
times as when the Greek and Roman civilisations were flourishing.
Even then Pliny went on to write one whole chapter on us inclusive of
our thinking powers. No. The book seemingly has made its debut in the
1990 s and the preface to the third edition has been written as late as
The Buddha whom Buddhists all over the world always eulogise as the
Greatest thinker in the world too (and no doubt about it) is debarred
mention in this book on thinking! Maybe it is an ultra modern book on
thinkers that do not pause by eminent thinkers of old times.
Then how is that Confucius, a contemporary of the Buddha has earned
mention several times? But this is childish play or what can be termed
as negative evaluation of a book.
Surely the author had his own approach. I begin to look at the book
positively and really find good pieces of gems as those recently found
in the thesis written by the Norwegian who murdered some 76 in "One
shot" or 76 shots. (That is the Ultimate in the European Miracle) These
gems too had been found by a prominent politician. World is not only
close to ending but going mad!
But before it ends or goes completely mad that it cannot understand
the mad things writers such as me put out, here I present some of the
gem statements discovered in the book. Here is a very pertinent question
asked in the survey of world history that runs in and out of the book.
In the chapter on "Asia's lost millennium" where Europe runs fast to
the winning post the author argues that it was lost by Asia since it
stopped "Learning"."To avoid losing the next century Asians must resume
the learning process they had aborted for centuries. They have to
ruthlessly analyse their past. They have to understand why so many
Asians allowed themselves to be colonised by so few Europeans . They
must further determine what went right in the west."
The author seems to endow only one Asian country that retained its
learning and thinking power and that is Japan. But the author strikes a
hopeful note too.
"One of the key goals of my writings is to alert Asians that they
have had no better historical moment than the current one to develop
their true potential and at the same time, prod them to be bolder in
their aspirations and ambitions. If they get their act together Asian
societies could once again outperform other societies."
But the author sounds a note of warning when he states that it is not
easy to walk out of a 1000 years of stupor. Asians have to start asking
questions from themselves.
How is it that they lost a millennium? Will they lose the next one
too? What challenges have they to face and overcome to make a success of
the coming millennium?One could leave aside the pursuit of showy glitter
and get back to Asia's ancient habit of learning!