China’s Cultural Influence on its Neighbors

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AP Theme

Cultural Developments and Interactions

Learning Objective 1

Explain the effects of Chinese cultural traditions on East Asia over time.

Historical Development 1

Chinese governing systems were adopted by several of China’s East Asian neighbors.

Historical Development 2

Chinese culture influenced the cultural development of China’s neighbors.

Historical Development 3

Chinese culture affected the status and rights of women in neighboring societies.

Contents

China's East Asian Neighbors

China was a dominant force in the East Asian world. As a result, China had a significant impact on its neighbors. While having strong cultural traditions of their own, its neighbors Japan, Korea, and Vietnam adopted various Chinese cultural traditions. In the case of independent Korea and Japan, this adoption was primarily voluntary. Under the direct control of China for nearly 1000 years, Vietnam experienced more forced adoption of certain Chinese cultural elements.

What Was China's Political Impact on East Asia?

China was the dominant political force in East Asia for much of early history.  Many of China’s neighbors adopted Chinese government practices. Many South and East Asian states joined China’s tribute system.

China's political impacts on Japan

China's political impacts on Korea

Korea grew up in the shadow of its powerful neighbor China. Despite periodic attempts to control its smaller neighbor, various Korean dynasties managed to retain their independence from China. Although, they did pay necessary tribute to China.

China's political impacts on Vietnam

What Was China's Cultural Impact on East Asia?

As a regional superpower, Chinese culture was also influential. Because Japan and Korea remained unconquered by China, their borrowing of Chinese culture was largely voluntary. Due to Chinese colonization, Vietnam often had Chinese culture imposed upon them.

  • The power of Chinese culture is primarily derived from its adoption by elites within East Asian nations. 
  • Written Chinese became the elite regional language across Eurasia. It was the language in which many governments and religious scholars composed official documents.  
  • Knowing how to speak, read, and write Chinese was a mark of elite status in East Asia until recent centuries. 

What Was China's Impact on East Asian women?

With China’s imposing cultural presence in the East Asia region, Confucian patriarchy placed pressure on women’s rights and status within China’s neighbors’ societies. While women were not equal to men in either Japan, Korea, or Vietnam, they traditionally held more social rights and status than women did in China. The effect of Chinese culture on women in these societies was not uniform. In Korea, women experienced restrictions that rivaled even the restrictions placed on women in China, while in Japan and Vietnam, women escaped the most repressive features of Confucian patriarchy.

Confucian patriarchy in Japan

Japanese women faired better than Korean women and largely escaped the worst aspects of Confucian patriarchy. 

  • Women were not completely secluded in their homes.
  • Widows could remarry.
  • Women did not have their feet bound. 
  • Women retained the right to divorce,
  • Women could inherit family property. 
  • Women could live away from their husbands, and sometimes families lived with the wife’s family, not the husbands.
  • Many elite women in the Heian period  (794-1195) were educated and could write in Japanese. Because most elite men were engaged with government business and wrote in Chinese, women wrote much of Japan’s most famous literary works from this period in their history. 

 

After the 12th-century, women in Japan did begin to lose status. This change had more to do with the reemergence of Japanese feudalism than Japan’s relationship with China.

Confucian patriarchy in Korea

As a result of Confucian patriarchy entering Korean culture, women saw a substantial decrease in their social status. 

  • Women lost the ability to choose their husbands as families began picking husbands for their daughters. 
  • Married women became the property of their husband’s families.  Married couples went from being buried with the wife’s family to being buried with the husband’s family.
  • Women were discouraged from singing and dancing in public. 
  • Remarriage rights for widows and female property ownership rights also eroded. 

 

Restrictions on elite Korean women surpassed restrictions placed on elite Chinese women. 

Confucian patriarchy in Vietnam

Like their Japanese counterparts, women in Vietnam retained a higher degree of freedom than women in Korea. It remained common for women to choose their husbands. Married couples also sometimes continued to live with the wife’s family. Traditional Vietnamese religion consisted of various female goddesses. After Buddhism’s adoption, traditional female goddesses retained their importance, and Vietnamese Buddhism adopted a female avatar of Buddha.

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