Would you like to know a justifiable reason behind the Asian squat?

This odd topic of article arises from an interesting finding from “Where Stuffs Come From” by Harvey Molotch. In short, the book is about how some commonly found product came about, focusing in the field of design and history.

In the book, Molotch talks about several everyday things that we might do better without, such as beds, clothings and chairs. However, what caught my interest was when he talks about the chair.

I’ll mostly quote straightaway from the book because he explains them in an already efficient way which any further summarisation will result in a lack of information.

Before the invention of the chair, people squat or sit cross-legged or flat on the ground. Islamic peoples traditionally do without furniture, making both home and public life on elaborate rugs. Chairs existed as early as the Neolithic Age but as an expression of authority rather than relief from standing.

It appeared in the West during the medieval period for no other reason than to display high status. It was used by a tiny segment of the population at the time. Chairs were a part of the methodology of respect and rectitude.

Today, chair has become a necessity. However, it is ironic that it is dangerous to posture, bone development, and healthy defecation. Something other than inherent functionality lies behind it.

Use of chairs is actively enforced, starting with the hard work of training children to sit. Eventually, to go without a chair would do so at the expense of a breach of ordinary social life. Imagine standing as you are having dinner in a restaurant. Unconsciously, it’s symbolic value and the physical necessity now reinforce one another.

As a result of years, Europeans and North Americans have lost the technique and muscle power to squat. This reminded me of the “Asian squat”, a squat that is quite unnatural to perform physically by non-Asians.

After a quick search on the Asian squat, all writings and articles seem to attribute the reason of it to squatting toilet. So I’d say it’s a reasonable theory but certainly not a well thought explanation.

A man doing the Asian squat in South Korea. Photo was taken by Aran Modesto

This is not to say that chairs, clothing, etc., should not exist. On the contrary, as time passes, they have evolved into something which we truly cannot live without. What I find interesting is how such everyday things have such unexpected history. Makes me think twice about how so many simple things around us may have come about and that me sitting in the chair would make me as important as a king just a few centuries ago.

Other than the chair, Molotch’s thought on clothing is equally interesting. Clothing, as with chairs, do little for the body. It is another necessity we could often do without. Clothing supposedly helps ward off a cold even though bacteria and viruses cause disease. It does incubate and help spread vermin and dangerous microbes, especially when adequate laundering is not feasible.

A man doing the asian squat in South Korea. Photo taken by Aran Modesto