‘Why I chose Changing Values as this year’s Literature Festival theme’

Adrienne Loftus Parkins

Adrienne Loftus Parkins

‘Why I chose Changing Values as this year’s Literature Festival theme’

06 May 2014

By Adrienne Loftus Parkins

In 1992, I made a life-changing move, from Canada to India.  My husband and I landed in the city then called Bombay to start our new life, just as the country was opening up to foreign investment.

Over the next few years, we felt like pioneers in a mad rush of multinational companies clamouring to open offices and production facilities in what they hoped would be a new financial frontier.

I can’t count the number of times we heard new colleagues and associates tell us that globalisation just wouldn’t work in Asia.

“We live our lives and conduct our businesses according to Asian values,” they said.  “Asian and Western values are just not compatible.”

They built their societies around working for the benefit of the family, holding true to tradition, and repressing the desires of the individual.

What they said made a lot of sense, and we too wondered if the companies who found breaking into the Asian market such a challenge would still be there and flourishing by the turn of the 21st century. After all, so many had tried to crack those markets before and had given up.

Fast-forward more than twenty years to 2014.  Those companies that we saw open throughout Asia in the ‘90’s are still there and they have been joined by so many more.  Some found their early efforts unrewarding, but most flourished.  The globalisation of business, manufacturing, retail and communications has reached unprecedented levels.  Financial growth gave birth to the term ‘Asian Tigers’ and those Asian friends who were so sceptical have thrived amidst the new realities that these businesses have brought with them.

With this growth has come a sea change in societal values.  To the outside observer there appears to be more emphasis on making money, on owning Western status symbols like cars, designer clothes, glamourous vacations and the latest electronics. Across the world, political upheavals have overthrown despotic regimes, giving a new confidence to citizens that want to overthrow governments and dictators that are holding them back.

Over the years that Asia House has been producing the literature festival,  the number of books addressing the conflict between traditional values and modern ideas has grown.

In 2013, two popular books addressed changing values in Asia head on.  Tash Aw’s Five Star Billionaire and Mohsin Hamid’s How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia focused on the drive to get rich at all costs that has overtaken this generation of young Asians in many countries. These are just two examples of a burgeoning literary trend that addresses what the globalisation of communications, retail and financial growth have wrought upon the traditional societies of Asian countries.

The authors at our recent on-going literature and pre-festival events have talked about the changes in their societies led by modernisation and economic growth.  Kyung-sook Shin (Please Look After Mother) told us that the clash between tradition and modernity in the family is more important than all other issues in South Korea. Yiyun Li (Kinder Than Solitude) said that despite a new obsession with celebrity, the Chinese did not aspire to be like the West. Instead they are attempting to blend the influence of the West with a modern version of Asian values.

In planning the 2014 Asia House Bagri Foundation Literature Festival we felt it was vital to examine, not only changing values, but how economic growth and a digitally interconnected world are affecting societies, families and individuals and at what traditional values are surviving the changes.

We hope our Festival events will stimulate discussion and lead to a deeper understanding of modern Asia.



The Asia House Bagri Foundation Literature Festival takes place from 6 May to 21 May 2014.

To see the full programme click here .

To see a PDF of the printed programme click here.

To read coverage of our Literature Festival so far click here.

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