East Asian cultural sphere
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The East Asian cultural sphere, or the Sinosphere, consists of nations in East Asia that were historically influenced by the Chinese culture, including literary traditions and religions. Other names for the concept include the Sinic world, the Confucian world, the Taoist world, and the ancient Chinese cultural sphere, though the last name is also used to refer particularly to the Sinophone community (any place or neighbourhood inhabited by a significant minority of people who speak varieties of Chinese).
|East Asian Cultural Sphere (Sinosphere)|
|Vietnamese alphabet||Vùng văn hóa Đông Á|
However, the historical influence of ancient China has not just been confined to this narrow definition, because it has also spread to Southeast Asian countries like Thailand, Myanmar, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines, through the establishment of significant overseas Chinese populations and diaspora communities.
The East Asian cultural sphere shares a Confucian ethical philosophy, Buddhism, Taoism, and it historically has shared a 8,000 year old ancient Han Chinese writing system. The core regions of the East Asian cultural sphere are China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam (CJKV, these are highlighted in dark blue in the image).
The terms "East Asian cultural sphere" and "Chinese character (Hànzì) cultural sphere" (see Chinese wikipedia) are used interchangeably with "Sinosphere" but they have different denotations and connotations.
China has been regarded as one of the centers of civilization. The emergent cultures that arose from the migration of original Han settlers from the Yellow River is sometimes regarded as the starting point of the East Asian world. Nowadays, its population is around 2-2.5 billion (see Demographics of the world).
The Japanese historian Nishijima Sadao (西嶋定生, 1919–1998), professor emeritus at the University of Tokyo, originally coined the term 东亚文化圈 (later borrowed into Chinese, see Etymology). He conceived of a Chinese or East Asian cultural sphere distinct from cultures of the west. According to Nishijima, this cultural sphere shared the philosophy of Confucianism, the religion of Buddhism, and similar political and social structures. His cultural sphere includes China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, stretching from areas between Mongolia and the Himalayas.
East Asian CultureEdit
Countries from the East Asian cultural sphere share a common architectural style stemming from the architecture of ancient China.
See Hong Kong cinema, Korean dramas, Korean pop, Japanese anime, pokemon, etc. (all of which are more modern compared to the more traditional aspects of these other categories).
The cuisine of East Asia shares many of the same ingredients and techniques. Chopsticks are used as an eating utensil in all of the core East Asian countries. The use of soy sauce, a sauce made from fermenting soy beans, is also widespread in East Asia. Rice is a main staple food in all of East Asia and is a major focus of food security. In East Asian countries, the word for 'cooked rice' can embody the meaning of food in general (simplified Chinese: 饭; traditional Chinese: 飯; pinyin: fàn).
The Lion Dance, is a form of traditional dance in Chinese culture and other culturally East Asian countries in which performers mimic a lion's movements in a lion costume to bring good luck and fortune. Aside from China, versions of the lion dance are found in Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Tibet, and Taiwan. Lion Dances are usually performed during New Year, religious and cultural celebrations.
Greater China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam traditionally observe the same lunar new year. However, Japan has moved its New Year to fit the Western New Year since the Meiji Restoration while Korea later also moved to Western New Year since the 1970s.
Philosophy and religionEdit
The countries of China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam have been influenced by Taoism. Also called Onmyōdō in Japan.
Shintoism is the ethnic religion of Japan. Shinto literally means "Way of the Gods". Shinto practitioners commonly affirm tradition, family, nature, cleanliness and ritual observation as core values.
Taoist influence is significant in their beliefs about nature and self-mastery. Ritual cleanliness is a central part of Shinto life. Shrines have a significant place in Shinto, being places for the veneration of the kami (gods or spirits). "Folk", or "popular", Shinto features an emphasis on shamanism, particularly divination, spirit possession and faith healing. "Sect" Shinto is a diverse group including mountain-worshippers and Confucian Shinto schools.
The countries of China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam share a history of Mahayana Buddhism. It is thought to have spread from India (perhaps Northeast India) via the Silk Road through Pakistan, Xinjiang, east as well as through SEA, Vietnam, then north through Guangzhou and Fujian. From China it proliferated to Korea and Japan, especially during the Tang dynasty (see Kukai). It could have also re-spread from China south to Vietnam. East Asia is now home to the largest Buddhist population in the world at around 200-400 million (see Buddhism by country; the top five are China, Thailand, Myanmar, Japan, Vietnam—three countries within the East Asian Cultural Sphere).
The countries of China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam share a Confucian philosophical worldview. Confucianism is a humanistic philosophy that believes that human beings are teachable, improvable and perfectible through personal and communal endeavour especially including self-cultivation and self-creation. Confucianism focuses on the cultivation of virtue and maintenance of ethics, the most basic of which are rén (仁), yì (义/義), and lǐ (礼/禮). Ren is an obligation of altruism and humaneness for other individuals, yi is the upholding of righteousness and the moral disposition to do good, and li is a system of norms and propriety that determines how a person should properly act in everyday life.
Mid-Imperial Chinese philosophy is primarily defined by the development of Neo-Confucianism. During the Tang dynasty, Buddhism from Nepal also became a prominent philosophical and religious discipline. Neo-Confucianism has its origins in the Tang dynasty; the Confucianist scholar Han Yu is seen as a forebear of the Neo-Confucianists of the Song dynasty. The Song dynasty philosopher Zhou Dunyi is seen as the first true "pioneer" of Neo-Confucianism, using Daoist metaphysics as a framework for his ethical philosophy.
Elsewhere in East Asia, Japanese philosophy began to develop as indigenous Shinto beliefs fused with Buddhism, Confucianism and other schools of Chinese philosophy. Similar to Japan, in Korean philosophy elements of Shamanism were integrated into the Neo-Confucianism imported from China. In Vietnam, neo-Confucianism was developed into Vietnamese own Tam giáo as well, along with indigenous Vietnamese beliefs and Mahayana Buddhism.
Though not commonly identified with that of East Asia, the following religions have been just as popular or influential in its history:
- Hinduism, see Hinduism in Vietnam, Hinduism in China
- Islam, see Xinjiang, Muslims in China, Islam in Hong Kong, Islam in Japan, Islam in Korea, Islam in Vietnam.
- Christianity, one of the most popular religions in Hong Kong, Korea etc.
Various languages are thought to have originated in East Asia and have various degrees of influence on each other. These include:
- Altaic: proposed to include the Turkic, Mongolian, and Tungusic language families; and possibly also the Japonic and Koreanic families, and the Ainu language. thought to have originated around Xinjiang or in the Eurasian steppe.
- Sino-Tibetan: thought to have originated around the Yellow River north of the Yangzi. These include the Chinese languages, Tibetan, Burmese, etc. and are thought to have spread from north China to the southwest.
- Austronesian: from Southern China then to Taiwan then throughout SEA, Madagascar, and Polynesia
- Austroasiatic: also from Southern China to Vietnam and Cambodia
- Kra-Dai: from Southern China to Thailand and Laos
The core Languages of the East Asian Cultural Sphere generally include the Chinese languages, Japanese, Korean, and Vietnamese. All of these languages have a well documented history of having historically used Chinese characters and Japanese, Korean, and Vietnamese all have roughly 60% of their vocabulary stemming from Chinese. There is a small set of minor languages that are comparable to the core East Asian languages such as Zhuang and Hmong-Mien. They are often overlooked since neither have their own country or heavily export their culture, but Zhuang has been written in hanzi inspired characters called Sawndip for over 1000 years. Hmong while having supposedly lacked a writing system until modern history is also suggested to have a similar percentage of Chinese loans to the core CJKV languages as well.
While other languages have been impacted by the Sinosphere such as the Thai with its Thai numeral system and Mongolian with its historical use of hanzi: the amount of Chinese vocabulary overall is not nearly as expansive in these languages as the core CJKV, or even Zhuang and Hmong.
There are various hypotheses trying to unify various subsets of the above languages, including the Sino-Austronesian and Austric language groupings. An overview of these various language groups is discussed in Jared Diamond's Germs, Guns, and Steel, among other places.
East Asia is quite diverse in writing systems, from the Brahmic inspired abugidas of SEA, the logographic hanzi of China, the syllabaries of Japan, and various alphabets and abjads used in Korea (Hangul), Mongolia (Cyrillic), Vietnam (Latin), Indonesia (Latin / Arabic), etc.
|Logograms 汉字||China, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea*, Vietnam*, Singapore, Taiwan|
|Syllabary||Japan (kana かな)|
|Alphabet (Hangul, 한글)||Korea|
|Abugidas (spread from India)||China (Tibet), Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Malays*|
|Alphabet (Latin)||Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Philippines, Brunei|
|Alphabet (Cyrillic)||Mongolia (though there is movement to switch back to Mongolian script)|
Kazakhstan (will switch to Latin by 2025)
|Alphabet (Mongolian)||Mongolia*, China (Inner Mongolia)|
|Abjad (Arabic)||China (Xinjiang), Malays*|
Hanzi (漢字 or 汉字) is considered the cultural glue that unifies the languages and cultures of many East Asian nations. Historically, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam have used Chinese characters. Today, they are mainly used in China, Japan, South Korea, and Singapore albeit in different forms.
Korea used to write in hanja but has invented an alphabetic system called hangul (also inspired by Chinese and phags-pa during the Mongol Empire) that is nowadays the majority script. However hanja is a required subject in South Korea. Names are also written in hanja. Hanja is also studied and used in academia, newspapers, and law; areas where a lot of scholarly terms and Sino-Korean cognates are used and necessary to distinguish between otherwise ambiguous homonyms.
Vietnam used to write in chữ Hán or Classical Chinese. Since the 8th century they began inventing many of their own chữ Nôm. Since French colonization, they have switched to using a modified version of the Latin alphabet called chữ Quốc ngữ. However, Chinese characters still hold a special place in the cultures as their history and literature have been greatly influenced by Chinese characters. In Vietnam (and North Korea), hanzi can be seen in temples, cemeteries, and monuments today, as well as serving as decorative motifs in art and design. And there are movements to restore Hán Nôm in Vietnam. (Also see History of writing in Vietnam.)
Zhuang are similar to the Vietnamese in that they used to write in Sawgun (Chinese characters) and have invented many of their own characters called Sawndip (Immature characters or native characters). Sawndip is still used informally and in traditional settings, but in 1957, the People's Republic of China introduced an alphabetical script for the language, which is what it officially promotes.
East Asian literary culture was based on the use of Literary Chinese, which became the medium of scholarship and government across the region. Although each of these countries developed vernacular writing systems and used them for popular literature, they continued to use Chinese for all formal writing until it was swept away by rising nationalism around the end of the 19th century.
Throughout East Asia, Literary Chinese was the language of administration and scholarship. Although Vietnam, Korea and Japan each developed writing systems for their own languages, these were limited to popular literature. Chinese remained the medium of formal writing until it was displaced by vernacular writing in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Though they did not use Chinese for spoken communication, each country had its own tradition of reading texts aloud, the so-called Sino-Xenic pronunciations, which provide clues to the pronunciation of Middle Chinese. Chinese words with these pronunciations were also borrowed extensively into the local vernaculars, and today comprise over half their vocabularies.
Books in Literary Chinese were widely distributed. By the 7th century and possibly earlier, woodblock printing had been developed in China. At first, it was used only to copy the Buddhist scriptures, but later secular works were also printed. By the 13th century, metal movable type was used by government printers in Korea, but seems to have not been extensively used in China, Vietnam, or Japan. At the same time manuscript reproduction remained important until the late 19th century.
Some ancient literature include:
List of Chinese inventions, including gunpowder, the printing press, paper, silk
confucian imperial exam system
Geopolitics and international relationsEdit
Italy became the first G7 country to sign a BRI mou with China.
Economy and tradeEdit
Japan features hierarchically-organized companies and the Japanese place a high value on relationships (see Japanese work environment). Korean businesses also adhere to Confucian values, and are structured around a patriarchal family governed by filial piety (孝顺) between management and a company's employees.
During the Industrial Revolution, East Asia modernized and became an area of economic power starting with the Meiji Restoration in the late 19th century when Japan rapidly transformed itself into the only industrial power outside the North Atlantic area. Japan's early industrial economy reached its height in World War II (1939-1945) when it expanded its empire and became a major world power.
Post WW2 (Tiger economies)Edit
Following Japanese defeat, economic collapse after the war, and US military occupation, Japan's economy recovered in the 1950s with the post-war economic miracle in which rapid growth propelled the country to become the world's second largest economy by the 1980s.
Since the Korean War and again under US military occupation, South Korea has experienced its own postwar economic miracle called the Miracle on the Han River, with the rise of global tech industrial leaders like Samsung, LG, etc. As of 2019 its economy is 4th largest in Asia and 11th largest in the world.
Hong Kong became one of the Four Asian Tiger economies, developing strong textile and manufacturing economies. South Korea followed a similar route, developing a textile industry. Following in the footsteps of Hong Kong and Korea, Taiwan and Singapore quickly industrialized through government policies. By 1997 the four Asian Tiger economies joined Japan as among East Asia's developed economies.
As of 2019, South Korean and Japanese growth have stagnated (also see Lost Decade), and present growth in East Asia has now shifted to China and to the Tiger Cub Economies of Southeast Asia.
Modern era (China and SEA)Edit
Nowadays the Pearl River Delta along with nearby Hong Kong and Macau, is one of the top startup regions (comparable with Beijing and Shanghai) in East Asia, featuring some of the world's top drone companies like DJI, among other things.
Up until the early 2010s, Vietnamese trade was heavily dependent on China, and many Chinese-Vietnamese speak both Cantonese and Vietnamese, which share many linguistic similarities. Vietnam, one of Next Eleven countries as of 2005[update], is regarded as a rising economic power in Southeast Asia.
East Asia participates in numerous global economic organizations including:
- Belt and Road Initiative
- Shanghai Cooperation Organization
- Bamboo Network
- ASEAN, ASEAN Plus Three, AFTA
- East Asia Summit
- East Asian Community (proposed)
History of East AsiaEdit
The History of East Asia is also important in understanding the mutual interactions between various East Asian people and can also better point to what it means to be "East Asian."
See Silk Road
Etymology of 'Sinosphere'Edit
The term Sinosphere is sometimes used as a synonym for the East Asian cultural sphere. The etymology of Sinosphere is from Sino- "China; Chinese" (cf. Sinophone) and -sphere in the sense of "sphere of influence", "area influenced by a country".
The "CJKV" languages—Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese—translate the English -sphere as Chinese quān 圈 "circle; ring; corral; pen", Japanese ken 圏けん "sphere; circle; range; radius", Korean gwon 권 and Vietnamese quyển, all of which are cognates.
Victor H. Mair discussed the origins of these "culture sphere" terms. Chinese wénhuà quān 文化圈 dates back to a 1941 translation for German Kulturkreis "culture circle/field", which the Austrian ethnologists Fritz Graebner and Wilhelm Schmidt proposed. Japanese historian Nishijima Sadao coined the expressions Kanji bunka ken (漢字文化圏, "Chinese-character culture sphere") and Chuka bunka ken (中華文化圏, "Chinese culture sphere"), which China later re-borrowed as loanwords. Nishijima devised these Sinitic "cultural spheres" within his "Theory of an East Asian World" (東アジア世界論 Higashi Ajia sekai-ron).
Chinese-English dictionaries give similar translations of this keyword wénhuà quān 文化圈: "the intellectual or literary circles" (Liang Shiqiu 1975) and "literary, educational circles" (Lin Yutang 1972).
The Sinosphere may be taken to be synonymous to Ancient China and its descendant civilizations as well as the "Far Eastern civilizations" (the Mainland and the Japanese ones). In the 1930s in A Study of History, the Sinosphere along with the Western, Islamic, Eastern Orthodox, Indic, etc. civilizations is presented as among the major "units of study."
Comparisons with the WestEdit
The British historian Arnold J. Toynbee listed the Far Eastern civilization as one of the main civilizations outlined in his book, A Study of History. He included Japan and Korea in his definition of "Far Eastern civilization" and proposed that they grew out of the "Sinic civilization" that originated in the Yellow River basin. Toynbee compared the relationship between the Sinic and Far Eastern civilization with that of the Hellenic and Western civilizations, which had an "apparentation-affiliation."
The American Sinologist and historian Edwin O. Reischauer also grouped China, Korea, and Japan together into a cultural sphere that he called the Sinic world. These countries are centralized states that share a Confucian ethical philosophy. Reischauer states that this culture originated in Northern China, and compared the relationship between Northern China and East Asia to that of Greco-Roman civilization and Europe. The elites of East Asia were tied together through a common written language based on Chinese characters, much in the way that Latin had functioned in Europe.
The American political scientist Samuel P. Huntington considered the Sinic world as one of many civilizations in his book The Clash of Civilizations. He notes that "all scholars recognize the existence of either a single distinct Chinese civilization dating back to at least 1500 B.C. and perhaps a thousand years earlier, or of two Chinese civilizations one succeeding the other in the early centuries of the Christian epoch." Huntington's Sinic civilization includes China, North Korea, South Korea, Mongolia, Vietnam, and Chinese communities in Southeast Asia. Of the many civilizations that Huntington discusses, the Sinic world is the only one that is based on a cultural, rather than religious, identity. Huntington's theory was that in a post-Cold War world, humanity "identify with cultural groups: tribes, ethnic groups, religious communities, and at the broadest level, civilizations."
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