Perspectives on schools and schooling in Asia are temporally, historically and contextually embedded, changing across time and contexts in tandem with other social and political conditions. Contemporary boundaries between Asia and elsewhere are increasingly amorphous, but historically, perspectives in the European world have shifted from the Orientalist disdain that marked the era of Western imperialism into Asia through to a contemporary desire to access and emulate the ‘secrets’ behind the success of schooling in East Asia in international longitudinal assessments of student achievement (IASA), such as PISA and TIMSS. Across the centuries, however, two dominant elements are evident. First, the driving force of national self-interest underpinned by three pervading emotions: desire, disdain and anxiety. Second, the shifting character but persistence of culturalism – the defining of all social phenomena in cultural terms – by education scholars across geographic and cultural boundaries as a knowledge system and political ideology for interpreting, describing and justifying the operation and achievements of Asia’s schools and schooling.