06 November 2014
Asia's renaissance

Asia's renaissance

Miao Yang, a summer student at Tokyo's Sophia University in 2014, has shared with us her analysis of Asia's "renaissance".

Miao Yang, a summer student at Tokyo's Sophia University in 2014, has shared with us her analysis of Asia's "renaissance".

There are three milestones in human history that accelerate both economic development and social progress in the western world: Industrial Revolution in England, Political Revolution in France and Ideological Revolution in North America. None of these happened in Asia, which has removed Asia from its once dominant position on the world stage and Asia lags behind. Having struggled with western imperialism and regained independence, Asia endeavors to recover with its thriving growth in recent decades.

Hegel justified History as “the progress of the consciousness of freedom”(Hegel,1900). Correspondingly, Amartya Sen defines development as the expansion of individual freedom to manage his or her life. While both interpretations bestow philosophical essence on the word “development”, in this paper I will consider economic growth, social advancement and political progress as the pragmatic measurement of Asia’s development. China as a rising power with its size and population will be applied as the main example to clarify my perspective.

Economic development in Asia

Most Asian countries underwent western colonialism and their fast economic expansion since 1950s has startled the world. Within the past decades, 13 countries have periods of 20 years for over 7% growth rate, among which Asian countries take 8 seats (China, Hongkong, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand). China’s developmental history demonstrates one Asian nation’s progressive story and how the country climbs up on the global ladder.

The early development of China after its foundation in 1949 was intensified by the pressure of encroaching foreign imperialism. After expelling Japanese intrusion and the subsequent civil war, Mao Zedong advocated China’s self-sufficient natural economy, which emphasizes the state planned economy resulting in the accentuation of China’s domestic economy. He also emphasized the importance of industrial progress necessary for the military and encouraged national enthusiasm in the construction of heavy industry. Having been inspired by the Theory of Productive Force, Mao aspired to use China's vast population to accomplish rapid transformation of an agrarian country into a modern communist society through the process of hasty industrialization and collectivization. The Great Leap as a national movement in agriculture and industry reflects the communist government’s reckless emulation of western countries.

This policy further aggravated the economic situation in China with the outcome of the agricultural crisis of 1959-61. During Mao’s reign, China was not truly involved in the global economy. Domestic demand of labor was manipulated by the command economy of the government rather than by market forces. People were aware that their material and social well-being depended upon their compliance with the party’s demands. Deng Xiaoping induced new dynamism in the reform. Mao’s over dependence on Marxist economic theory and the consequential poverty of Chinese society arouse people’s doubt about planned economy. While the ideologies of communism and capitalism disconfirm each other, Deng expressed his perspective on economic development by the simple implication: Black cat or white cat, the one that catches rats is a good cat. Since his New Open Door Policy, China has been through a transition from planned economy to a socialist market economy. Distinctive from the precedent strategy in which the role of government as the instrument of the central control extends into all administrative and economic units of the country, Deng’s policy introduces foreign investment to spur internal productivity and tolerates the invisible hand of the market to dominate economy mechanism.

The three decades since Deng’s reform have stimulated China’s development and China joined World Trade Organization in 2001, being authentically drawn into the dynamics of globalization. Various statistics have illustrated to the world that China progresses greatly and comes back again to the global economic game.

“Along the way, China has enjoyed the fastest sustained real GDP growth rate of any economy over the past 25 years, averaging 10.3 per cent (1980–1990) and 9.8 per cent (1990–2005). By 2006, China’s real GDP was over 12 times that of 1978 (its nominal GDP was 50 times greater), the country had become the world’s fourth largest economy and third largest trader, and it was driving much of the growth in world GDP: 15 per cent (2003), 25 per cent (2004), 40 per cent (2005), 33 per cent (2006) (World Bank 2007, US–China 2007). Inflation over the past decade has been low with periods of deflation that have helped keep up real growth. Unemployment has been consistently low, and China now enjoys the world’s largest current account surplus”(Dwyer).

Aside from China’s case, other Asian countries also proceed remarkably. GDP per capita in Japan, Hongkong, Taiwan, Singapore and Korea are already far above world average. Less developed countries such as Bangladesh and Cambodia also have more opportunities to participate in global chain supply and encourage their domestic economies, since globalization enhances economic integration and cooperation. Asian countries are undergoing a transitional process from agricultural sector with low productivity, to industrial or service sector with high productivity. Each of them strives to catch up with economically more advanced countries and does step closer towards the goal.

Social Development in Asia

Economic growth would trigger social progress, considering that sufficient capital guarantees the provision of infrastructure and public welfare. The percentage of total population that has access to improved water sources in Asia rises remarkably, exemplified by the some facts that China increases 25% and India increases 22%. While other Asian nations are progressing toward improved sanitation, countries like Japan and Singapore already satisfy the standards of advanced nations.

Maternal mortality and reproductive health reflect a country’s medical system. Although most Asian countries reduce the number of maternal deaths per 100,000 live birth, the rates are still high in Asia compared to that in the developed nations. Only Japan and Singapore do exceptionally well by keeping their rates low to 5 and 3. Similarly, while infant mortality rate is 5 in Europe and 6 in North America, statistics indicate Asia’s inferior situation: 12 in East Asia, 24 in South-East Asia, 46 in South-West Asia, 24 in North and Central Asia.

Education manifests itself as the human capital that inspires new impetus to the social wealth. Both Japan and Korean went through the successful economic transformation by spending on education and technology. The observation of adult literacy rate in Asia is a favorable validation of the region’s improvement, with the evidence that the rates for male and female in most Asian area surpass 90% and even 95%. Nevertheless, South and South-West Asia stands as an exception, for adult literacy rate in that area is only 54% for female and 75% for male.

The longer life expectancy also affirms health promotion in Asia and indicates the region’s social development.

The radical economic changes in Asia within decades can induce both anticipated and unanticipated consequence. While improvement in infrastructure, health care and education are benign social products of economic condition, I am concerned with other disadvantageous phenomena emerging from such expansion. There always exists unavoidable conflict between economic development and previous social model.

Take China as an example. A series of social conflicts triggered by the acceleration of Chinese growth begin to emerge as the unanticipated products of radical economic changes. Current tensions in China include environmental pollution, income inequality and etc. They are also parts of social development and the government’s action will influence a country’s future direction. China is not an exception. It is vital for all the Asian countries which strive for national development.

Political development in Asia

While political development takes democracy, freedom of press, human rights and rule of law into consideration, political advancement in Asia is not that optimistic. There are four types of political maturity, including mature democracy, fragile democracy, hybrid and authoritarian. Contrast with mature democracy in countries like Japan and Korea, democracy in India and Philippine is fragile, given that political unrest often happens there. Although Singapore has hybrid regime, it indeed becomes prominent for its strong rule of law. Countries like China and North Korea are referred as authoritarian.

China is the biggest communist country in the world and no wonder its political development grabs international attention. Although what happened in 1989 shocked the world, I believe that under globalization China will soon face its second protest for reform in the future. Economic rules established on the free-market capitalism within globalization outline that the efficiency and flourishing of economy are proportional to the openness of the nation. By dwindling the limitation of movement and reach, globalization aggrandizes individual influences on both markets and nation-states as never before. Information arbitrage would diminish traditional boundaries between politics, culture, technology, finance, national security and ecology, with homogenization as one of its products (Friedman, 2012). While Asia may make some progress, globalization will further stimulate political development in Asia. Just as Alexis de Tocqueville claims that democracy is the final stage of human society, we just wait to see how and when it will come to Asia.


- Dwyer, W. (2008). CURRENT DEVELOPMENTS IN THE CHINESE ECONOMY. Ecodate, 22(1), 1-4.

- Friedman, T. L. (2012). The Lexus and the olive tree: Understanding globalization. New York: Picador.

- Hegel, G. W., & Sibree, J. T. (1900). Philosophy of history. New York: Colonial Press.

- UNESCAP. Statistical Yearbook for Asia and the Pacific 2013

Tags: asia, economic development, amartya sen, social development, political development, mao, deng xiaoping

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