It’s a good thing we can’t design a singular Asian identity

Apr 28, 2011 | News & Updates

The year 2011 marks the point where China finally overtook Japan as the 2nd largest economy in the world. As Asia rises, international commentators tend to look at how the regional giants are faring against each other and try to predict who will dictate the future. Most of the time, the commentators depict the landscape as either a battle between Japan and China or between India and China. But this kind of perspective oversimplifies Asia’s identity. Unlike other regions where a single country can have a profound economic impact on an entire region, such as the United States for North America or Germany for Europe, Asia’s sub-regions possess their own distinct cultural and sociological influences. What is Chinese cannot simply be applied to the rest of Asia, and the outlook of many countries in Southeast Asia is influenced by the unique religious dynamics of the Middle-east. Moreover, while some countries in Asia certainly have more economic clout, there is a lot exchange going on where soft power is concerned, and it does not necessarily need to produce a winner.

Asia as a continent is magical because of its ability to adapt to and absorb new beliefs and trends. For example, while Europe has largely been shaped by Greek philosophy and then Christianity, Asia has gone through epochs of different belief systems. It was Hinduism, then Buddhism, and later, Islam and Christianity. Every nation in the region continues to be marked by a variety of beliefs and practices. Therefore Asia is far more welcoming to foreign talent than Europe for example. This extraordinary assimilation of new beliefs can at times make Asia more susceptible to losing its ability to define a unique sense of identity. More homogenous identities such as European or American ones have had an easier time defining themselves, and set the standards for much of the postwar era. But that is also precisely why this is the moment for Asia’s version of identity. In a globalized world, variety is the cornerstone of our current and future identity. It is the ability to engage in different levels of dialogue, from beliefs to expressions, that will ultimately shape our world.

As I write this article, Volvo is launching a new concept car called Tiandi in the hope of capturing more market share in the East. It is a classic example of how the West can create whole new experiences when it welcomes the ideals of the East.

This turning of the tide where the inclusiveness, pluralism and adaptability of the East is beginning to influence the West will have significant impact on the future of design. I long for the day when Asian designers are comfortable building their careers in Asia, setting trends here and feeling that the heartbeat of the world is right where they are. We definitely have a lot to be grateful for to the West but we still need to do much more to improve on our craft in our own way. If we only listen out for the winds of change, all of us multi-disciplinary designers will have a lot of influence expressing that change in a variety of ways. This is what the APD book is all about; it aims to capture the winds of change and show how Asia is becoming a major influencer in the world. It is not about the East beating the West, because as we grow more and more comfortable with each other, we can begin to drop the references to the East or West altogether. When that moment comes, Asia would have helped to make the world a better place, a more united one. My sincere congratulations to the APD team for coming up with another fine collection of amazing works.

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