Amidst a rather morbidly morose topic, albeit candidly true, the author of this article dug deeper and excavated our East Asian roots and its Confucian influence — this is a selected excerpt:
But why is education so deeply ingrained in the Confucian culture?
Long before America existed, something of the American dream already had taken root in East Asia through the scholarship and examination system of the Mandarins. Villages and towns pooled their resources and sent their best and brightest to compete in the imperial court, hoping that one of their own would make it to the center of power.
Mandarins of various ranks were selected by how well they fared on extremely rigorous examinations. The brilliant few who passed ran the day-to-day operations of imperial China and Vietnam. A Mandarin could become a governor, a judge, or even marry into the royal family. A peasant thus could rise high above his station, elevating the status of his entire clan and honor his ancestors in the process. It all hinged on his ability to pass the difficult exams.
Of all the temples in Hanoi, Vietnam’s capital, the most beautiful is arguably the Temple of Literature, dedicated to all the laureates who passed the extremely rigorous imperial exams… Dedicated to Confucius and founded in 1070, it was Vietnam’s first university. It eventually became a temple, as if only befitting a trajectory in a world where education is literally worshiped.
So worshiped that not getting good grades often means failing to achieve your destiny and thereby failing your own and your family’s expectations. Many of us consequently learned to measure the world and ourselves solely through a pedagogic lens. You are how well you do in school. Indeed, many are being caught in the Asian educational pressure cooker and, with little time for anything else, also robbed of much-needed social skills and independent thinking that could give them a different way of looking at themselves.
An old mythology follows many of us across the sea: Only perfection matters and, by logic, its opposite, failure is rooted in shame. In his analects, Confucius recommended this philosophy when it comes to ruling people: “Lead the people with excellence and put them in their place through roles and ritual practices, and in addition to developing a sense of shame, they will order themselves harmoniously.” Even if much of the Confucian ethos have eroded, many old rites and ritual practices long forgotten since communism takeover and modernization began, the one thing that remains in operation is that sense of shame, and how it still profoundly grips the East Asian psyche. To lose face may still cause many an Asian to commit suicide.
Asian Americans have excelled higher education in the last few decades. Less than 5 percent of the country’s population, Asian Americans typically make up 10 to 30 percent of the best colleges. What’s barely explored, sadly, is the darker narrative, that subterraneous stream that runs parallel to this shining path to academic success: stress, disappointment, depression, and, when failing to make the grade, a profound if not deadly identity crisis.
It’s been said that if you build your identity on anything other than God, that’s idolatry. If the ethnic Asian church doesn’t call it idolatry, who will?