Contrary to the prevailing view in the West that the 500-year dominance of Western civilization points to it being the only universal civilization, Can Asians Think? argues that other civilizations may yet make equal contributions to the development and growth of mankind. Hailed as “an Asian Toynbee” and “the Max Weber of the new Confucian ethic”, Mahbubani continues to illuminate his central arguments with new essays in this fourth edition.
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"After a highly entertaining evening in which the conversation centered on good governance in post colonial Asian societies and their various forms of democracy, we all ambled home to our hotels as we are wont to do at the Frankfurt book fair - a motley crew comprising Head of the BBC's English Language Service, a Professor of Philosophy (a Spaniard no less) and myself head of a fledgling publishing house based 1 degree north of the Equator attempting to publish in English, Spanish, French and Dutch - any tongue but my own native Chinese! When challenged to account for not just my views on colonialism and its attendant advantages and disadvantages but also for my superficial familiarity with their idiomatic language, my only defence (if you can call it that) was that I was colonised and a language foisted on me. Hence, early in my childhood I was given the wherewithal to reply in form and in substance and to give an account of myself! For me "Can Asians Think?" represents that very same never ending continuing discussion - long may it continue to the benefit of us all - for the betterment of the West and the rest." (Shirley Hew, Publisher, Times Editions, The Times Publishing Group).From the Author:
From childhood days, from the days when I used to sing "God Save The Queen" and waved the British flag as a British subject in Singapore, I have been schooled in Western thought. As a colonial subject, the sense of Western superiority quickly seeped into my mind through British textbooks. But it was a superiority that I also believed in firmly as a young man when I studied Anglo-Saxon philosophy in both Singapore and Canada. Intellectually, I grew up as a child of Western, not of Asian or Oriental, thought. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, I went through an intellectual transformation. For the first time in my life I lived in North America for an extended period of time, from 1982 to 1989 (followed by a year at Harvard in 1991-92). During this stay, I gradually began to realise the limits of the Western mind. Intellectually, it came as a great personal shock to me to learn that Western thinking, which prided itself on being "universalist", was also stuck in a mental box. Each time I tried to point this out, I met tremendous resistance in Western minds. What I found particularly shocking was that the greatest resistance came from the most liberal minds in the West, especially at the end of the Cold War. They could neither see nor accept simple truths that were obvious to any non-Western mind; such as the fact that the Western governments' advocacy of human rights had been riddled with double standards and self-serving interests; that the export of instant democracy to Third World societies could initially do more harm than good; that a free press could sometimes do more harm than good. When I studied Anglo-Saxon philosophy, I was told that one of the real strengths of the great liberal Western intellectual tradition was that it celebrated dissenting voices. My personal experience however taught me that such tolerance of dissent did not easily extend to challenges of the key assumptions of this liberal orthodoxy. Hence, I began writing, essay after essay. I have learnt a lot in writing these essays. Firstly, I have learnt that I have touched some really raw nerves in the Western mind with my writings. Hence, I was not surprised that when the Asian financial crisis began in July 1997 and when many Asian economies began to stumble, some Western writers began to gloat about these failures. Secondly, I have learnt that the thoughts that I had expressed hit a resonant chord with many Asian minds, from Tehran to Tokyo, from Bombay to Shanghai and from Singapore to Seoul. In the course of travelling throughout the region, I was heartened to learn that I was not a lone voice in the wilderness. What I said had resonated well with many Asians, who made up sixty percent of humanity in the 1990s. I was therefore very happy when Times Editions of Singapore agreed to publish my essays in a single volume in the summer of 1998. The environment then was not propitious. Asian societies were struggling, not thriving. Asian intellectuals were demoralised. To put out such bold essays in such an unpropitious environment was a big risk for Times Editions and for myself. Fortunately, the reaction so far to the release of these essays clearly shows that they do fill a real need for an alternative point of view. Very few contemporary books provide this.
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