Sick man of Asia

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The phrase "sick man of Asia" or "sick man of East Asia" originally referred to China in the late 19th and early 20th centuries when it was riven by internal divisions and forced by the great powers into a series of Unequal Treaties, culminating in the Japanese invasion of China during World War II. The phrase was intended as a parallel to "sick man of Europe", referring to the weakening Ottoman Empire during the same period.[1]

In 2014 at the Euromoney Philippines Investment Forum 2014, President Benigno Aquino III of the Philippines publicly defended his country from being labelled as the new "sick man of Asia", citing a Japan External Trade Organization survey that showed "the Philippines as the second most profitable among ASEAN-5 countries, next to Thailand."[2] Reasons for the perceptions Aquino was defending against include its unequal growth and massive poverty, in which from 2000 to 2006 its nominal income grew by 37% while its Gini coefficient only fell by 5%.[3] Another cause for the "Sick Man" label includes massive Filipino political corruption scandals such as the Priority Development Assistance Fund scam.

Also in 2014, Thailand was labelled by the Bloomberg news agency as a new "Sick Man of Asia" for its economic slowdown and the 2014 Thai coup d'état.[4]

Cultural References[edit]

Martial art legend, Bruce Lee, depicts racial oppression of the Japanese to the Chinese in his movie, Fist of Fury (1972). Chen is the main character of Fist of Fury, played by Bruce Lee. Chen returns home at the beginning of this film to mourn the death of martial arts master Huo Yuanjia, founder of the Jing Wu school in Shanghai. Upon Chen’s arrival he has gone completely mad, in utter disbelief that his master could have died from pneumonia, claiming he was in perfect health.

Shortly after, a group of Japanese men enter the school, lead by their Chinese interpreter Wu. As the men enter they begin to taunt the remaining Jing Wu students in their masters absence, giving them a sign that reads ‘Sick Men of Asia’.

Needless to say, Chen nearly loses it.

After being calmed by his fellow Jing Wu students, he refrains from getting violent, only to pushed just a little more. After they leave, Chen then makes a trip to the Japanese Bushido school (that the group came from) to ‘return’ their gift of the ‘Sick Men of Asia’ sign. He then picks a fight, and simply wipes the floor with the entire school, in awesome Bruce Lee fashion (punches, kicks, nunchaku, you get the idea). This causes him more trouble, and the Japanese then want to get a hold of Chen Zhen and make an example of him, all the while trashing the Jing Wu school.[5]

World renown Filipino tattoo artist, Aleks Figueroa, was dubbed "Sick Man of Asia" after completing an epic Filipino tribal tattoo sleeve on David Dolette in December 2014. Referenced after the Bruce Lee film, Fist of Fury, the 'sick' remark in this context is an urban adjective for something good, awesome, tight, or dope. [6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Scott, David (2008). China and the international system, 1840-1949: power, presence, and perceptions in a century of humiliation. State University of New York Press. p. 9. ISBN 978-0-7914-7627-7. 
  2. ^ Lopez, Ron (Feb 18, 2014). "Aquino: Philippines ‘Sick Man of Asia’ no more". Manila Bulletin. Retrieved 19 June 2014. 
  3. ^ NSO. Philippines in Figures 2010. Philippines: Republic of the Philippines National Statistics Office. 2010.
  4. ^ Yap, Karl Lester (May 28, 2014). "Thailand Risks Inheriting Asia’s Sick-Man Tag on Unrest". Bloomberg. Retrieved 19 June 2014. 
  5. ^ {Movie reference, brief synopsis and ‘Sick Man of Asia’ sign|url= December 2014|}
  6. ^ David Dolette and Manila Ryce at Dream Jungle Tattoo, Long Beach, California on 23 December 2014