Why bother imagining a new Asia?
Does it have any relevance to the youth today in view of globalisation?
These two questions alluded by Mr Tan Tarn How, a speaker at the New Asian Imaginations symposium, brought into question my curiosity and support for this search for a new Asian identity. Indeed, the symposium, organised by the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, seemed borne out of the desire of a group of old Asian men that built their premises from an outmoded context. Perhaps they hoped that their continued desire to shrug off the chains of colonialism could by taken to the next level by extending this discourse to lay the foundations of forging this elusive new Asian identity.
Yet, the younger generation today did not grow up in the same “waters” as Tarn How questioned, so what relevance is this call for a “New Asia” to them? More so, in this postmodern age, how dare one define Asia amidst its diverse cultures? Add on to the fact that the digital age has unleashed such fluidity in identity that even using Asia’s geography as an element of identity is severely challenged and one can start to see how desperate an attempt it might seem to imagine Asia, more so a new one.
So I asked myself, in this new world of endless possibilities, why still be interested in Asia and the concept of nationhood? Why not embrace a world where “anything goes”?
The answer, lies in my desire to stay rooted, to somewhere.
My yearning to be part of something larger and not just a floating individual, is why I am in search of new imaginations of Asia. The world’s geographical boundaries are increasingly being torn down and in place one finds the boundaries of global diversities. However, these are not led by my understanding or terms, but largely by the West. It is my hope, that in finding out more about Asia, where I can still see traces of roots, that I think a more complete direction can be forged through its rich cultures. If anything, I think Asia has not been heard enough in this debate on how the world should proceed for this to be settled once and for all.
Moreover, I cannot stand for a world where “anything goes” because it causes a huge dissonance on my sense of belonging. In such a nihilistic world, truth is a construct, and relative to everything and we would all be paralysed by inaction. If there is anything I strongly believe in, it is that we have to bring meaning to the world and social good is one of this imperative goals.
And it is with this frame of mind that we should seek new imaginations of Asia, not in opposition of the West, not to out-compete the West and definitely not to get back at the West for its colonialist past, but to draw on our own experiences and cultures to contribute to this larger conversation about the world and bring new meaning to it.