Posted: March 6th, 2023

Why and how did Vietnam, Korea, and Japan emulate Chinese ideas and institutions? How did they adapt these ideas and institutions to fit their own cultures?





The countries of Vietnam, Korea and Japan are as closely linked with one another culturally as they are geographically. This is largely due to the fact that China acted as a cultural ‘middle-man’ between them; each nation was heavily influenced by Chinese ideas and institutions throughout their formative years. As such, these nations were strongly motivated to emulate Chinese culture, adapting it in order to fit their own unique circumstances.

The emulation of Chinese ideas and institutions first began in Vietnam during the Han Dynasty (206B.C-220 A.D). During this period, Vietnamese rulers began to integrate Chinese governmental structures into existing indigenous systems as part of an attempt to reduce regional instability (Le Thanh Khoi et al., 2010). This included the introduction of Confucianism—a philosophy which stressed morality and obedience—into Việt society. In addition, many aspects of traditional military organization were adopted from China[1], including their hierarchical structure which divided armies into ranks based on seniority rather than ability (Lee & DeFrancis 2000). Over time these structures became so firmly entrenched that they effectively defined what it meant to be Vietnamese; even today much of Vietnamese culture finds its roots in the teachings of Confucius[2].

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In Korea, emulation of Chinese culture began shortly after its unification under Silla rule in 668 AD. Shortly thereafter various aspects of organised government were adopted from China – including centralised bureaucracy – whilst also promoting Confucian studies amongst the elites (Seth 2014). Buddhism too appears to have gained strength during this period due largely to support from Silla kings who saw its potential for unifying disparate elements within Korean society (Paterson 2015).  Finally, a system referred to as Kimchi or ‘Korean Law’ emerged towards the end 900s AD; this combined both native customs with those introduced by China in order that justice might be better administered across all social classes within Korean society[3].

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Why and how did Vietnam, Korea, and Japan emulate Chinese ideas and institutions? How did they adapt these ideas and institutions to fit their own cultures?

In Japan meanwhile attempts at emulating certain aspects of Chinese civilisation had been made almost since earliest times: Buddhist traditions arrived via immigration routes sometime around 400AD whilst a writing system known as kanji was developed soon afterwards.[4] By 800AD Japanese societies had begun emulating not only certain facets political governance but also aspects religious authority found elsewhere in East Asia [5]. To facilitate such emulation efforts feudal lords created landowning warrior class called samurai who sought inspiration from neighbouring kingdoms — particularly China — regarding matters relating warfare tactics military organisation etc.[6] It appears that through these activities Japan managed create something distinctly different yet still recognisably related larger body East Asian cultural tradition .

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Over time then Vietnam , Korea , Japan each appropriated particular elements Chinese culture assimilated them local customs thus creating something new entirely . Whilst there are certainly differences modern day cultures these three nations there is no doubt that strong connection lingers between them remnants past influences . Ultimately , it would seem then ,\that without input ancient powers like Han dynasty none would exist how we know today .




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