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Japanese and Chinese cultures have many similarities owing to the fact that the latter has exerted a major cultural influence on the former. As is mentioned in the De Bary’s book on Japanese tradition, the Japanese started recording their after they had contact with the Chinese. In fact the earliest existence of Japan is in the Chinese Dynastic histories around the 1stCentury BCE, written by Chinese historians who were known to compile fairly reliable accounts of their present day world (p. 3, 4).
The native accounts of Japanese were written around the 8th century CE, by which time the Japanese were already heavily influenced by the Chinese traditions. Hence, there are a lot of cultural similarities between the two countries. This paper compares and contrasts the two cultures with respect to their religion, tradition, literature and philosophies.
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Traditions and Philosophies in China and Japan Chinese Chinese philosophy and religion seems to begin with Confucius and his teachings.
While there are certain records which are supposed to pre-date Confucius, according to De Bary in his book on Chinese Tradition these works are suspected to be compiled after the time of Confucius (p. 1). The traditional history consists of many semi-divine culture heroes who supposedly were responsible for bringing civilization among the people of China. These were followed by three rulers of exceptional wisdom – Yao, Shun and Yu, as is mentioned in the books by De Bary on Chinese Tradition (p. 2).
However, the most famous of the Chinese religion and Philosophy is of course the teaching of Confucius who adopted the teachings and examples of these rulers in his teachings. In fact according to De Bary the life of Chinese for the past 2000 years can be characterized in a word to be Confucian. The second most important and influential native philosophy of Chinese is more religious in nature and is known as Taoism. Many of the present day philosophers comment that the two philosophies complement each other.
While Confucianism concerns itself with the social responsibilities and human aspects of life, Taoism contends itself with a spiritual outlook towards life. De Bary mentions that these two philosophies give two different aspects of an individual – one that is related to his work and responsibilities and the other which is related to his spiritual side (p. 48). The work of Confucius was further refined to make it a more moralistic and righteous, such that people were honor bound to fulfill their duties and responsibilities.
These were other philosophies at work in China. One of these was Legalism which was proposed by Shang Yang and is considered to be yet another classical school of thought in China. The theory however was explained in detail by Han Fei, who is considered as the father of this philosophy. De Bary says that growth of this philosophy was due to a need for a more rational organization for society than the traditional feudalistic system, which had started to disintegrate even during the Confucian period (p. 122).
Legalism was inherent in the Han Empire and was made palatable by adopting Confucianism as the state ideology. As will be seen in the section below Legalism combined with Confucianism was one of the philosophies that was widely accepted and followed in Japan after they decided to abandon their clan-based society for a more rational one. Japanese Prior to Chinese influence, Japan consisted of a number of tribes ruled by individual kings. These tribes were supposedly from many different parts of Asia including Korea and proceeded to settle in the Japanese islands.
While the early traditional influences of Japanese people remain obscure, Chinese writings mention Japanese people as performing sun worship, which might account for the name of the country. These writings also mention the people as being honest, polite, displaying gentleness in peace and bravery in war, love for liquor and mountains and religious rites of purification and divination as is mentioned by De Bary in his book on Japanese tradition (p. 5). This type of nature worship was the oldest type of religion found in Japan and was known as Shintoism.
As the tribes began to exert their sphere of influence, they turned towards the Chinese philosophies and examples for both political and cultural guidance. Hence, the Japanese culture is very closely intertwined with the Chinese culture, and it is not the other way round. De Bary mentions that many of the imperial edicts issued during the Great Reform period which began in the 645 CE consisted of Chinese based administration systems (p. 63). For instance the old political system which was based on tribal clans was changed to the Chinese system of systematic territorial administration.
Also there was an attempt to abolish private property, nationalize the land and redistribute it based on the family size which was the system followed in China. De Bary says that these systems were so meticulously followed that the records that have been found of this period are almost identical to those found in China (p. 64). However, the influence exerted by the Chinese on Japanese traditions was not just political during this period. As is already mentioned above, Chinese life has been mostly influenced by the teachings of Confucius.
Needless to say these traditions were adopted by Japanese also and formed one of the integral parts of study for the scholars during the period. However, these teachings cannot be found in their original formed as debaryhas confirmed in his books (p. 69). There have been many changes because the people tended to imbibe their existing religion and philosophies with those of the new order proposed by the Chinese philosophers during that period. Buddhism in China and Japan Chinese Buddhism came to China via India in the first century AD, where the religion originated.
Buddhism came divided into a number of sects, said to be eighteen in number before it came to China. When Buddhism entered China some of these sects were introduced and assumed newer forms under the Chinese influence. In addition Chinese themselves developed many strong sects. Initially when it came to Japan Buddhism encountered stiff opposition and remained a foreign religion for over two centuries after which it started getting accepted. The problem as is told by De Bary was that the Chinese did not know about the sectarian nature of Buddhism, and considered whatever words were written to be the words of Buddha.
This resulted in confusion due to the many contradictory statements of various sects. Mahayana Buddhism or the Greater Vehicle took on a Chinese character and evolved into several schools such as Tien-Ttai, Hua-yuen, Pre Land and Chan Japanese Buddhism is one of the major religions practiced in both China and Japan. The religion was introduced to Japan in the 7thcentury AD. The most popular types of Buddhism followed here were Pure Land and Zen Buddhism, a offshoot of Chan Buddhism (p. 120). In Japan, Buddhism became closely intertwined with the principles of Shinto.
This was initially done to make the religion more acceptable to the local public. The first clear indication of a merger between Shinto principles and Buddhism according to De Bary was in the middle of Nara period which was more than 200 years after the religion was introduced in the country. De Bary further states that the mutual relationship of the Buddhism with the Shinto developed and by the Kamakura period there existed detailed explanations of Shinto gods as the concrete manifestations of Buddhist deities (p.
121). Here, the Buddhism and its various rites differ from the Chinese versions because there are no such deities present in the Chinese versions, where the Buddhism was based primarily on the Taoist principles of the beauty of nature and relation between Buddhism with the various environmental issues. Literature influence The influence of Chinese literature in Japanese culture is clearly evident by the fact that Japanese follow the Chinese pictographic script in writing.
The reason for this is mentioned by De Bary in his book where he says that the Chinese way of philosophy and political code was adopted directly by the Japanese rulers. An understanding of the corresponding script was hence considered to be necessary and such a script was considered to be a must for being considered as a scholar whether literal or political (p. 48). However, the Chinese script being very difficult to its pictographic nature had to be simplified when it was adopted by the common man. Hence, the Japanese also have sound based writing system which is not present in the Chinese script.
Political influence Chinese influence can be seen in almost every aspect of Japanese life. On the political side De Bary gives the example of the Imperial rule which is sometimes called Tennoism. This type of imperial rules gives the ruling family a divine status. In Japanese society, this translated to the ruling family having an unbroken tie with the Sun Goddess who was the primary deity worshiped by the Japanese people. The chief difference between the Chinese and Japanese ruling systems was that the former was merit based while the later was hereditary in nature.
The Chinese rulers were theoretically subjected to the criteria of merit and rulers or dynasties could forfeit the mandate to rule if they did not live up to them. This principle was absent in case of Japanese ruling family, which was primarily governed by the hereditary principle and the merit principle did not apply at all to the ruling family (p. 69) Conclusion As has been already mentioned above, the Chinese and Japanese traditions and cultures are closely inter related due to the strong influence the former had in the development of the latter.
The cultural vein has flowed from Chinese to the Japanese people, which included the spread of Buddhism in the country. The principles were no doubt changed according to the dictates of the society, but the binding ties can be clearly seen between the cultured of the two countries. Works Cited De Bary WT (2001), Sources of Japanese Tradition, 2nd Edition, Columbia University Press, West Sussex De Bary WT (1960), Sources of Japanese Tradition Vol. 1, Columbia University Press, West Sussex