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Why imitate the west?

March 26, 2008

An interesting day in Hong Kong, all good and brightened by some outstanding service from the duty manager at the I started the day having walked through a rain storm at the Yacht Club to give a presentation to CIO connect who are establishing themselves here and look to be an interesting organisation (presence in the UK, Germany, Italy and now Hong Kong). From there to the Foreign Correspondents Club to hear a provocative talk from Chandren Nair who said many wise things and one foolish one (more later on that). Thence to the Jockey Club for an interesting meeting on issues relating to the capture and use of knowledge in an IT workforce (part of the subject of my keynote tomorrow). That was followed in the evening by a great dinner with good company – old friends such as Leif Edvinsson and new ones. A fascinating conversation with some intelligent and well read people that ranged from the Troubles in Ireland, to Daoism, alternative histories and Deluze.

So that was a real tour of some the main icons of Hong Kong’s colonial past and good conversation. I will blog on my presentations tomorrow after the keynote. I am talking about the use of social computing for knowledge management and new forms of IT governance so it is a techie day for me!

However Chandren Nair made a strong impression. He argued against the hypocrisy of the west in many of its criticisms of China and elsewhere in the East. Pointing out legislative approaches to restrict the purchase of western companies by Sovereign Wealth Funds (mainly Asian) by countries who had previously demanded (often at the point of a bayonet) free access to Asian wealth for their own financial institutions; he legitimately labeled this as a form of Xenophobia. He also appealed to people in the audience to overcome an unwillingness to speak up. He cited four reasons for this which I share with you now:

  • A perceived educational inferiority against the graduates of Wharton and Harvard
  • The hangovers of colonialism and a lack of confidence
  • Seeking legitimacy through assciation with western institutions
  • The tyrrany of English – if you can’t speak it fluently you are at a disadvantage
  • Access to global platforms is hard in Asia

Now I think all of those have legitimacy. In a question I suggested to him that the desire of students in Singapore and Hong Kong to go to US Business Schools was the detriment of their ability to create an asian approach to business and government. Further than English had the power to be the new Latin in a liberating sense. If you go back to the middle agents the ability to speak latin, combined with fairly easy entry into clerical orders created huge social mobility. I suggested something similar could happen here with a throw away remark that English was too good for the English to establish my status as a representative of a minority culture! I also argued against stereotyping Singapore as a repressive regime which it is not. Either way debate and a lot of agreement ensued. Our only real difference is that he things the blogosphere is a dumbing down of knowledge while I don”t! However I think that is lack of experience so I worked on one his assistances to get him engaged!

This is however a serious debate that needs to take place in many circles. Imitating and copying the dominant imperial culture has never been a good thing. Rome, London and Washington all suffer over history as a result and create suffering in their own turn. Hopefully more will pick it up and will see Asian developed business schools in Singapore rather than outposts of European and American Universities.

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