Culture is defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group. A stereotype is a standardized mental picture that is held in common towards members of a group and that represents an oversimplified opinion, prejudiced attitude, or uncritical judgment. Both “culture” and “stereotype” are two words often used without consciously differentiating distinctions and because of Canada’s multiculturalism, our society is always facing these challenges. Re-think Asia aims to elevate the discussion on diversity in Canada through a dialogue between Taiwan and Korea; these conversations not only provide an opportunity for Canadians to learn about the complex evolution of arts and cultures in Taiwan and Korea but also encourage Taiwanese and Koreans to further examine the articulations of their own arts and cultures.
While democracy plays an important role in forming contemporary Taiwan and South Korea today, it is not the norm for most Asian nations. Without freedom of expression, political influence often dictates how Asian cultures are known and appreciated. In Taiwan and South Korea, democratization has unleashed the creativity of the people and created a new phenomenon in arts that Asia has never seen. What has changed? How has this evolution been influenced by Western ideologies? How do some fundamental Asian values differ from the West? There are many stories of struggles in Taiwan and Korea trying to break free from the burden of traditions or dogmas; there are also many artistic expressions based on confusion derived from conflicting ideologies. Neither is often presented in Asia or around the world.
No one wants to be seen or known through stereotypes as they are often the root cause of misunderstanding or hatred. People don’t often examine their own perspectives to avoid stereotypes that make people feel uncomfortable or unhappy. Similarly, people who have been stereotyped often contribute to the problem because it is always more convenient to accept stereotypes instead of going through the complexities of changing others’ perspectives. If we Re-Think Asia through the lens of Taiwan and Korea, perhaps we can give Canadians a fresh viewpoint on the future of this country.