Look after yourself, cultivate yourself and do everything to make yourself useful


I don’t think there is an Asian model as such. But Asian societies are unlike Western ones. The fundamental difference between Western concepts of society and government and East Asian concepts — when I say East Asians, I mean South Korea, Japan, China, Vietnam, as distinct from Southeast Asia, which is a mix between the Sinic and the Indian, though Indian culture also emphasises similar values — is that Eastern societies believe that the individual exists in the context of his family.


He is not pristine and separate. The family is part of the extended family, and then friends and the wider society.… In the West, especially after World War II, the government came to be seen as fulfilling all the obligations that in less modern societies are fulfilled by the family.

This approach encouraged alternative families, single mothers, for instance, believing that government could provide the support to make up for the absent father. It’s not that we don’t have single mothers here.… But there is disquiet when we break away from tested norms, and the tested norm is the family unit.

A Chinese aphorism encapsulates this idea, “Xiushen qijia zhiguo pingtianxia.” Xiushen means look after yourself, cultivate yourself, do everything to make yourself useful; Qijia, look after the family; Zhiguo, look after your country; Pingtianxia, all is peaceful under heaven. We have a whole people immersed in these beliefs.

From “Culture Is Destiny: A Conversation with Lee Kuan Yew”

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