East Asian cultural sphere
The East Asian cultural sphere, otherwise known as the Sinosphere, the Sinic world, the Sinitic world, or the Chinese cultural sphere, encompasses countries within the regions of East and Southeast Asia that were historically heavily influenced by Chinese culture. Some definitions may also include other territories as well, such as Mongolia, having received less influence from China.
|East Asian cultural sphere|
|Vietnamese alphabet||Vùng văn hóa Đông Á|
Vùng văn hóa chữ Hán
Đông Á văn hóa quyển
Hán tự văn hóa quyển
Chinese culture, Japanese culture, Korean culture (South Korea & North Korea) and Vietnamese culture are generally considered to be principal cultures in the East Asian cultural sphere. Hong Kong (Cantonese culture) and Taiwan (ROC), are part of Greater China and are considered to be Han Chinese. Taiwan and Korea were also once Japanese colonial states, whilst Hong Kong and the rest of Southeast Asia experienced brief Japanese occupation during historical Imperial Japan. Additionally, Japan (under Ashikaga Shogunate), Korea, and Vietnam were also at one point tributary states of Chinese dynasties following extensive prior interactions.
Common and historical features of countries within the East Asian cultural sphere include traditional medicine, science, historical and modern literature, art, cuisine & architecture, historical and modern philosophies, beliefs & religions, historical political structures, social institutions, laws, rituals, doctrines, and so on. Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism were influential disciplines within this sphere. Spiritual practices are highly diverse across the region (e.g. Shinto is an eminent component of spirituality and history in Japan). Although similar, the region is not to be confused with concepts such as Greater China (Mainland China, Macau, Taiwan, Hong Kong, etc) or the Sinophone world (Malaysia and Singapore).
Classical Chinese language, a logographic script originating from ancient China, became an early regional lingua franca in the written form and, as such, was a major facilitator of cultural exchange throughout the region. Chinese characters are respectively called Hanzi in China, Kanji in Japan, Hanja/Hancha in Korea, and Chữ Nho/Chữ Hán in Vietnam. For the Greater China sphere, both Traditional and Simplified Chinese are used amongst different kinds of Sinitic languages.
Meanwhile, other important language scripts of the region include Katakana and Hiragana from Japan, Hangul from Korea, and to a lesser extent, Chữ Nôm from Vietnam, which consisted of amalgamated Chinese characters made to represent vernacular Vietnamese. Together with Hán Tự, the script became Hán-Nôm in Vietnam. Chữ Nôm was widely in use between the 15th and 19th centuries until French Indochina made the Vietnamese Latin alphabet to become official script in Vietnam since later 19th century.
The concept of the East Asian cultural sphere is comparable to conceptions such as the Arab world, Greater India, Greater Iran, Latin world, Turkic world, Western world and so on, where a multitude of peoples or nations share similar cultural, linguistic and religious likeness.
China has been regarded as one of the centers of civilization, with the emergent cultures that arose from the migration of original Han settlers from the Yellow River generally regarded as the starting point of the East Asian world. Today, its population is approximately 1.43 billion.
Japanese historian Nishijima Sadao (1919–1998), professor emeritus at the University of Tokyo, originally coined the term Tōa bunka-ken (東亜文化圏, 'East Asian Cultural Area'), conceiving of a Chinese or East-Asian cultural sphere distinct from the cultures of the west. According to Nishijima, this cultural sphere—which includes China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam, stretching from areas between Mongolia and the Himalayas—shared the philosophy of Confucianism, the religion of Buddhism, and similar political and social structures.
Sometimes used as a synonym for the East-Asian cultural sphere, the term Sinosphere derives from Sino- ('China, Chinese') and -sphere, in the sense of a sphere of influence (i.e., an area influenced by a country). (cf. Sinophone.)
As cognates of each other, the "CJKV" languages—Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Vietnamese—translate the English term sphere as:
- Chinese: quān (圈, 'circle, ring, corral, pen')
- Japanese: ken (圏けん, 'sphere, circle, range, radius')
- Korean: gwon (권 from 圏)
- Vietnamese: quyển / khuyên from 圏 
Victor H. Mair discussed the origins of these "culture sphere" terms. The Chinese wénhuà quān (文化圈) dates back to a 1941 translation for the German term 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 provide similar translations of this keyword wénhuà quān (文化圈) as "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 West
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."
American Sinologist and historian Edwin O. Reischauer also grouped China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam into a cultural sphere that he called the Sinic world, a group of centralized states that share a Confucian ethical philosophy. Reischauer states that this culture originated in Northern China, comparing 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.
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 "[identifies] with cultural groups: tribes, ethnic groups, religious communities [and] at the broadest level, civilizations." Yet, Huntington considered Japan as a distinct civilization.
- Architecture: Countries from the East Asian cultural sphere share a common architectural style stemming from the architecture of ancient China.
- Calligraphy: Caoshu is a cursive script-style used in Chinese and East Asian calligraphy.
- Cinema: see, Hong Kong cinema, Taiwanese cinema, Chinese cinema, Japanese cinema, Korean cinema, Vietnamese cinema.
- Martial Arts: see, Gōngfu (kung fu), Kuntao, Karate, Taekwondo, Jūdō, Sumo, Nhất Nam, and Vovinam
- Music: Chinese musical instruments, such as erhu, have influenced those of Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and Vietnam.
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, which is made from fermenting soybeans, is also widespread in the region.
Rice is a main staple food in all of East Asia and is a major focus of food security. Moreover, in East Asian countries, the word for 'cooked rice' can embody the meaning of food in general.
- Fashion: see, Hanfu, Cheongsam (or Qipao), Áo dài, Việt phục, Hanbok, and Kimono,Wafuku.
- Dance: 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 Chinese New Year, religious and cultural celebrations.
- New Year: China (Zhōngguó Xīn Nián), Korea (Seollal), Vietnam (Tết), Japan (Koshōgatsu), and Taiwan traditionally observe the same Lunar New Year. However, Japan has moved its New Year (Shōgatsu) to fit the Western New Year since the Meiji Restoration. Although mainland Japan may not celebrate the Lunar New Year anymore, there are some indigenous minority ethnic groups in Japan that still do such as the Okinawan/Ryukyuan people. Okinawa has traditionally observed the Lunar New Year because of heavy Chinese influence in its past. Festivities nowadays aren't as elaborate as the Western new year but, Okinawans still celebrate and partake in many traditions for Lunar New Year.
East-Asian literary culture is 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 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 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.
Philosophy and religion
The countries of China, Korea, Vietnam and Japan have been influenced by Taoism.
The countries of China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam share a history of Mahayana Buddhism. It spread from India via the Silk Road through Pakistan, Xinjiang, eastward through Southeast Asia, Vietnam, then north through Guangzhou and Fujian. From China, it proliferated to Korea and Japan, especially during the Six Dynasties. 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, with the top five countries including China, Thailand, Myanmar, Japan, Vietnam—three of which falling 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 endeavor 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): an obligation of altruism and humaneness for other individuals;
- yì (义/義): the upholding of righteousness and the moral disposition to do good; and
- lǐ (礼/禮): 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 influential in its history:
- Hinduism, see Hinduism in Vietnam, Hinduism in China
- Islam, see Xinjiang, Islam in China, Islam in Hong Kong, Islam in Japan, Islam in Korea, Islam in Vietnam.
- Christianity, one of the most popular religions in after Buddhism. Significant Christian communities also found in China, Hong Kong, Japan, Macau, South Korea, Taiwan and Vietnam.
Various languages are thought to have originated in East Asia and have various degrees of influence on each other. These include:
- Sino-Tibetan: Spoken mainly in China, Myanmar, Bhutan, Northeast India and parts of Nepal. Major Sino-Tibetan languages include the varieties of Chinese, the Tibetic languages and Burmese. They are thought to have originated around the Yellow River north of the Yangzi.
- Turkic: Spoken mainly in China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Cyprus and Turkey. Major Turkic languages include Turkish, Kazakh, Kyrgyz and Uyghur.
- Austroasiatic: Spoken mainly in Vietnam and Cambodia. Major Austroasiatic languages include Vietnamese and Khmer.
- Kra-Dai: Spoken mainly in Thailand, Laos, and parts of Southern China. Major Kra-Dai languages include Zhuang, Thai, and Lao.
- Mongolic: Spoken mainly in Mongolia, China and Russia. Major Mongolian languages include Khitan, Mongolian, Monguor, Dongxiang and Buryat.
- Tungusic: Spoken mainly in Siberia and China. Major Tungusic languages include Evenki, Manchu, and Xibe.
- Koreanic: Spoken mainly in Korea. Major Korean languages include Korean, and Jeju.
- Japonic: Spoken mainly in Japan. Major Japonic languages include Japanese, Ryukyuan and Hachijo
The core Languages of the East Asian Cultural Sphere generally include the varieties of Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Vietnamese. All of these languages have a well-documented history of having historically used Chinese characters, Japanese, Korean, and Vietnamese all having 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.
Various hypotheses are 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), etc.
|Logograms (Hanzi and it’s variants)||China, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam*, Taiwan|
|Logograms (Dongba symbols)||China (Used by the Naxi ethic minorities in China)|
|Syllabary (Yi script)||China (Used by the Yi ethic minorities in China)|
|Alphabet (Latin)||Vietnam, China (Used by some ethic minority in China, such as the Miao people), Taiwan (Tâi-lô Latin script for Taiwanese Hokkien language)|
|Alphabet (Hangul)||Korea, China (Used by the Choson ethic minorities in Northeastern China)|
|Alphabet (Cyrillic)||Mongolia (though there is movement to switch back to Mongolian script)|
|Alphabet (Mongolian)||Mongolia*, China (Inner Mongolia)|
|Abugida (Brahmic scripts of Indian origin)||China (Tibet, Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture)|
|Abugida (Pollard script)||China (Used by the Hmong ethic minorities in China)|
|Abjad (Uyghur Arabic alphabet)||China (Xinjiang)|
|* Official usage historically. Currently used unofficially.|
Hanzi (漢字 or 汉字) is considered the common culture 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, and South Korea 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. Most 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 loanwords 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 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.
Economy and trade
Before European imperialism, East Asia has always been one of the largest economies in the world, whose output had mostly been driven by China and the Silk Road. 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.
The business cultures within the Sinosphere in some ways are heavily influenced by Chinese culture. Important in China is the social concept of guanxi (關係), which has influenced the societies of Korea, Vietnam and Japan as well. Japan often features hierarchically-organized companies, and Japanese work environments place a high value on interpersonal relationships. Korean businesses, adhering to Confucian values, are structured around a patriarchal family governed by filial piety (孝順) between management and a company's employees.
Post-WW2 (Tiger economies)
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 postwar economic miracle called the Miracle on the Han River, with the rise of global tech industry leaders like Samsung, LG, etc. As of 2019 its economy is the 4th largest in Asia and the 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 the textile industry. Following in the footsteps of Hong Kong and Korea, Taiwan and Singapore quickly industrialized through government policies. By 1997, all four of the Asian Tiger economies had joined Japan as economically developed nations.
As of 2019, South Korean and Japanese growth have stagnated (see also Lost Decade), and present growth in East Asia has now shifted to China and to the Tiger Cub Economies of Southeast Asia, particularly Vietnam.
Since the Chinese economic reform, China has become the 2nd and 1st-largest economy in the world respectively by nominal GDP and GDP (PPP). The Pearl River Delta is one of the top startup regions (comparable with Beijing and Shanghai) in East Asia, featuring some of the world's top drone companies, such as DJI.
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
- Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership
- Sinosphere (linguistics)
- Adoption of Chinese literary culture
- East Asia
- Sinophone world
- Sino-xenic vocabulary
- Culture of China
- Chinese influence on Korean culture
- Chinese influence on Japanese culture
- Culture of Hong Kong
- Culture of Japan
- Culture of Korea
- Culture of Macau
- Culture of Taiwan
- Culture of Vietnam
- List of tributary states of China
- List of Confucian states and dynasties
- Pax Sinica
- Four Asian Tigers
- Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere
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