Culture is one of these double-edged swords. Certain aspects of a culture might help a country during one period of economic and political development. The same traits will hinder development, if not outright self-destruction, during another period.
I enter Japan as exhibit number one.
On the heels of Japan’s latest prime ministerial resignation, the following seems especially relevant.
Dogged resignation to the status quo is inculcated from an early age here. There is next to no education in civics and no attempt to make children aware of their democratic rights. Children are not encouraged to express an opinion at school, where classes are large and taught by rote. The energies of pushy children are channeled into sports clubs where they learn how to fit into a hierarchy, first learning how to stoically endure discipline from older members, and then, as they get older, learning how to discipline their juniors. Less pushy children, meanwhile, can sleep in class and go unnoticed.
There is also great emphasis placed on the individual’s ability to gaman (put up stoically with suffering), rather than on problem-solving skills, and children are taught to fear the censure or ridicule of others, which makes them unwilling to stand out. In fact, the education system, with its songs, uniforms, rituals and group-focused activities, has achieved an almost perfectly Foucauldian model of passive citizenship. It’s an achievement, of sorts.
What helped to propel Japan to economic stardom post WWII is now dogging both its political and economic systems. A lesson for China perhaps?