Why is Asia so impressive


Helmut Heinzlmeir

To person

Dr. phil., born 1938, publicist.

Address: Mäuselweg 35, 81375 Munich.

Numerous Publications on international politics (focus on: Asia and Africa); on colonial and cultural history; on ecology, demography and urbanization.

In the first half of the 1990s, Pacific Asia was particularly impressive with its high economic growth. The 21st century seemed to be a century for Asia.

I. section

The image that Europe has of Asia is subject to constant change. It was like that in history. This also applies to the present. However, one thing always remains the same in this change. The picture mostly has more to do with the European self-image than with Asia. In the 18th century it was leading European scholars, namely Leibniz, Montesquieu and Voltaire, who saw Asia - more precisely in China - as a model for the feudal Christian Occident. Mainly there they believed they saw an exemplary rule of reason realized. Hardly any contemporary Chinese would have recognized themselves in their idealized image of the distant empire, but knowledge of distant countries was sparse at that time. In the 19th century, the European image of Asia changed fundamentally. Europe was bursting with self-confidence and felt itself to be the ruler of the world. It was not only Hegel and Marx who considered Asia hopelessly backward.

Times changed. Who does not still remember 1968 and the time afterwards, when an entire academic generation with Mao Bibles in hand saw the exemplary society of the future in cultural revolutionary China. Not least because of inadequacies in their own society, people took to the streets. Who could, who wanted to know, that Communist China at that time was above all a country shaken by bloody power struggles? More precise knowledge would have damaged the vigor. And what the cultural revolutionary China was to some, India was to others. Fleeing from the pressures of local civilization, they traveled to India in the hope of learning from Far Eastern wisdom.

Times changed again. In the eighties and nineties mainly industrial bosses and bankers traveled to Asia; and not without reason. Asia - with its mostly authoritarian regimes - impressed with high economic growth, willing workers, low wages and a still largely unbroken belief in technology - things that, at least in Europe, were often sorely missed. Everywhere there was talk of an "Asian economic miracle". The World Bank presented a widely acclaimed study on this in autumn 1993 [1]. It is surprising that at that time many leaders in politics, business and science predicted that the 21st century would be a century of Asia [2]. But the century ended before it really began - or so it seems. On July 2, 1997, Thailand gave up the fixed link between its currency and the American dollar, thus triggering the so-called "Asian crisis". This not only led to problems in business and politics - many of which have not yet been resolved - in numerous Asian countries, it also had a lasting impact on the global economy and global financial markets. Since then, hardly anyone has spoken of an "Asian economic miracle" or even of an imminent "Asia-Pacific century" [3]. The abrupt changes in the local view of Asia could be cause for reflection on what the much-vaunted "Asian economic miracle" was all about and what the future of the continent is like today. First of all, however, the term Asia has to be differentiated - at least cursory.