Schooling the World

November 2, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-11-01 at 22.49.21Schooling the World is not only a reflection on the role of education in colonialism, but it also an inspiration for us to rethink the very notion of education.

Education is often seen as a panacea for poverty in the developing world. A population with competence in math and science, usually supported by a good command in English, often translate to a more prosperous economy and better integration into the world’s economy. This equation seems logical and it is proven to work for a lot of developing countries – growth in monetary terms. But it ignores the fact this concept of education, largely funded by development agencies, voluntary organisations and goodhearted individuals, is at the core a western one, with a specific agenda to mould subjects to suits the needs of a capitalistic, urbanised and consumption-based economy.

Let’s just first put aside the fact that this economic model is not sustainable – it would take the resources of more than one planet earth if the whole world is to live the western way – an education system that serves this model often put the focus on technical competence over creativity, rationality over spirituality, conformity over diversity. With education and development, a farmer who used to live a perfectly happy life working in the fields could be forced to work in a sweatshop in the city. The farmer earns more, but is he happier?

“Education is a compulsory, forcible action of one person upon another. Culture is the free relation of people… The difference between education and culture lies only in the compulsion, which education deems itself in the right to exert. Education is culture under restraint. Culture is free.”
– Leo Tolstoy


East vs. West (cont’d)

April 10, 2011

A continuation of  the previous post.

Way of Life (Blue: west; Red: east)


At a party

2. Mobility

Mobility here refers to the easiness for one to move to another place to live. In both Hong Kong and mainland China, people tend to have lower mobility when compared with those in the west (the west here mostly means the English-speaking word: UK, US, Canada, Ausralia etc, due to my limited understanding of the rest of the west)

In Hong Kong and China, children live with their parents before they are married. In the west, that might not be the case. For those who are lucky enough to make it to uni/college, most of them would move out and start building their own homes after they graduate. For those who are not able to get into tertiary education, moving out is still the option for staying with the parents is a sign of weakness. The difference in what I’d like call the “parental distance” in the upbringing means that the coming-of-age process in the east is less adventurous than the west.

To add to that factor of family attachment, there are physical limitation to mobility in the east. In Hong Kong, a city having the highest housing prices in the world, it is impossible for anyone (except investment bankers, of course) to own a decent 500-sq-foot apartment before their thirties. In China, the hukou system (everyone is registered a hukou in certain city or province and he/she is only entitled to the social security from there) means that choice concerning where to live in is limited to one’s home city or province. Being free from the rocket-high house prices and restrictive population control measures, our western counterparts enjoy a higher degree of personal mobility.

I am not suggesting this is the case for every person in the east or west, however, I believe what I’ve described paints a general picture of what the majority in both sides of the world is doing.

The difference in mobility has profound consequences. The longer time it takes for people to “individualize” in the east means that they feel the constant need for solidarity. Parties tend to be more organized and people, in certain sense, are more connected. However, the lower mobility also means that people are less adventurous and less exposed to things that are out of the ordinary. Possible consequences: conservative personalities and low tolerance (not so much to different cultures/ethnicity/race, but to things that are out of one’s definition of “normal”).

I am not trying to say that the western way is better than the eastern one, or the other way round. I just want to keep the conversation going between the east and west so that people on both side of the aisle knows more about each other. For ignorance can sometimes hurt, even kill.

East vs. West

April 4, 2011

The following series of picture compares culture of the east and the west. They may look eurocentric to some, but the objectivity of these comparisons is substantiate by the background of the artist who created them – Yang Liu, born and raised in Beijing, moved to Germany and has been living their since her 20s.

Expressing Opinion (Blue: west; Red: east)


Problem Solving

(See the rest of the collection here)

There is no tendency in her works whatsoever about the superiority of either culture, and it is perfectly okay for not doing so. Nevertheless, for the audience, it is instinctive that we would fall for one (either the east or the west) over another, not necessarily because we think one is better than the other, but in doing so we give meaning to the art and ourselves, which, after all, it is ultimate purpose of art.

Being born and raised in Hong Kong, a city that takes pride in its east-meets-west cultural identity, I am instantly connected to Liu’s works as soon as soon as I laid eyes on them. But what I’m interested is not writing a “oh-yeah-this-is-so-true” kinda opinion about her art pieces. I am more into thinking about the “why” of her work. Why is there such a difference between between the east and the west? I have come up with several explanations.

To explain the difference in culture, one could never ignore the history of the people who embodied that culture, in this case – the Chinese people. However, due to my limited knowledge in history and the limited attention-span of blog readers (thank you for bearing with me), I am just gonna use my experience and understanding of the eastern society today to explain.

1. Personal space

Unlike in Europe and America, most cities in Asia are densely populated. While most of the people in the west live in spacious 2- to 10-storey houses or apartments, the majority of people in the east, most notably Hong Kong, live in apartments on 20th floor of crowded residential condos. This means that eastern people, in general, have less personal space compare to their western counterparts. The lack of personal space alone is responsible for many of the differences we saw in Liu’s work.

Having less personal space means that “me” often takes a back seat because “me” is constantly under surveillance. The expression of “me” that does not conform with the family’s values, tradition or culture is both consciously and subconsciously suppressed.  That’s why the eastern people tends to have small egos. This limitation in the modern living environment has also reinforced the preference for collectivism over individualism deeply rooted in eastern philosophy.

This lack of person space tend to spawn conflicts between family members, for obvious reasons. However, the concept of piety has long been preached by many Chinese philosophers and it is still considered as one of the most important features of the Chinese culture. Challenging your own family members, especially when they are your seniors (and even more especially when they are your mom and dad) is declared a taboo in the face of moral imperatives of piety and family integrity. Again, the thoughts and emotions of “me” take a back seat. Easterners will do everything they could to avoid confrontation with the family, and in doing so, undermines one’s ability to express him/herself. To extrapolate this philosophy into problem-solving ability in everyday life, we could easily explain why easterners tend to work around a problem but not face it head-on.

All these just because of the lack of personal space….

(to be continued)