Creativeland Asia

Once regarded as the birthplace of creativity, Asia is beginning to rediscover its creative mojo.

Sajan Raj Kurup
Sajan Raj Kurup

Where does Asia stand when it comes to creativity in the past 200 years? One very simple way to assess this is to take a look at the number of Nobel Laureates that Asia has produced, compared with the rest of the world. Europe has more than 370, the US has more than 300, and Asia has about 40 or so.

In the past 200 years, most inventions, innovations and original thinking have originated in the Western world. From electricity to the devices and goods that run on it: cars, planes, phones, radio, television, computers. Asia has had little to do with any of this. A grim picture, one would say. But has it really always been like this?

Emphatically not! On the contrary, Asia was where man discovered creativity. Probably, where man discovered that he could think.

The three earliest civilisations (what historians refer to as "The Three Great Civilisations") were all born in Asia: the Mesopotamian, Indus Valley and Chinese civilisations.

Mesopotamia - the region that houses present-day Iraq, Iran, Turkey and Syria - is called the cradle of civilisation. Mesopotamia gave the world writing. Way back in BC 5600, it gave us the first urban society. It gave us astronomy and astrology. It even gave us the 12-month calendar. Mesopotamians were the first people to figure out that the earth rotated on its own axis and revolved around the sun. Even literature and art has its origins in Mesopotamia. Babylon, in fact, had libraries back then.

The Indus Valley civilisation that existed more than 5,000 years ago, in the area of present-day Pakistan and India, was another region where man developed his creative skills. In its heyday, the Indus Valley had more than five million people living peacefully - not ruled by a king, but governed by a council.

Such were the magnificence of cities here, that there were elaborate drainage systems and multi-storied buildings. An important part of modern-day branding developed in the Indus Valley. Traders there were the first to use logos to identify their wares.

Lothal, a city in the Indus Valley, also had the world's first dock, more than 4,500 years ago.

The Chinese civilisation gave the world the first prototype of some of the most widely used equipment today. Imagine life if the Chinese hadn't invented the magnetic compass. Columbus would never have set out on his expeditions.

Imagine if they hadn't invented gunpowder and rockets. The British Empire would not have even dreamt of colonising half the world. Imagine if they hadn't invented paper and printing. There's a good chance we would still have been carving on walls and tree bark. Shakespeare wouldn't have enjoyed it.

Asian creative thinking long, long ago transcended the physical. Asia was where philosophy was born. Every religion - Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism - can trace its roots back to Asia

With a rich creative foundation, we should have been ages ahead of the rest of the world when it came to creativity. So, what happened? Where did we go wrong?

Well, while Asia was busy inventing, early Europe started imitating. Every Greek and Roman thinker and philosopher worth his salt was inspired by Asian thinking. They built their nations on learnings from the East. They borrowed heavily, they imitated blatantly and, eventually, they got better at everything.

Europe was essentially the first of the tweakers. Europeans tweaked everything originating from Asia and adapted to suit themselves. And eventually, one day, they had become far better at it than the Asians.

America was next. Americans imitated everything European, from architecture to culture. And over the course of a couple of centuries, Americans became better at it than the Europeans. Industrial revolution separated the West farther from the East in leaps and bounds. The tweakers always become bigger than the inventors.

Meanwhile, Asia was in turmoil.

Wars among kingdoms, social inequality, suppression of freedom and anarchy removed the essence of creativity from Asia.

Colonisation came next. Art, culture and education were the last things on people's minds as Asia grappled with bigger issues.

All seemed lost. Until Japan slowly started turning it around for Asia over 50 years ago. Japan started imitating America when it came to industry. And the rest of Asia, freed from colonialism, slowly began to rebuild itself. Strife and chaos became less and less a feature of the region and creative freedom and culture started regaining their rightful place.

The past 20 years have been especially significant, with Asian countries imitating America and Europe. Urban societies in Asia have modelled themselves on those in the West. Asia became a part of the digital revolution that started in the West. But most importantly, in the past few years, Asia has started tweaking ideas and concepts borrowed from the West. In some cases, we've improved on them.

Big corporations are leaving America and Europe and setting down in Asian countries: China and other Asian countries are becoming the manufacturing hubs of the world. India is the backend hub of the world's IT requirements. Korea and Japan are becoming the automobile and consumer durable giants of the world. Indeed, Asia has come a long, long way.

In short, creativity is on the cusp of coming full circle to where it all began. The tweakers are due to become the inventors again. This is Asia's time in the spotlight. The 21st century has Asia written all over it. The world will look to Asia in order to show it the way forward. And we'd better be prepared. For it is but a cycle. And soon, our time will be over too. Africa is waiting.

Sajan RaJ Kurup is the founder and creative chairman of Creativeland Asia.






Sajan RaJ Kurup, founder and creative chairman




Dubai, London, Malaysia, Mumbai, Singapore, Thailand

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