Eastwards gung ho

December 15, 1995

Wang Gungwu (THES, December 8) confuses two different arguments. One is that Asian countries must develop an intellectual orientation, possibly through changes in the educational system, which releases them from the thrall of Western (American) domination. This is a laudable aim, but beside the point. Since the initial problem, according to him, is the unjustifiable American attitude that these countries are provincial, surely what is needed is a change in the content and value of American rather than Asian education.

The second argument is that it should be possible eventually to develop a coherent notion of Asian values. But this is not an edifying response. On the one hand, it is impossible to isolate and identify values which are Asian, no more no less. On the other hand, there is the question of whether in any case this is the way to escape a real or imaginary provincialism.

In the end, this seems nothing more than a reworking of the standard Asian values rhetoric, nuanced though it is. Its novel point of departure only makes the journey more problematic.

Chakravarthi Ram-Prasad Trinity College, Oxford

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