Harman Patil (Editor)

East Asian cultural sphere

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Simplified Chinese  东亚文化圈
Hanyu Pinyin  Dōngyà wénhuà quān
Romanization  dung a vun fa kien
Traditional Chinese  東亞文化圈
Romanization  ton-ia ven-ho-chioe
Jyutping  dung aa man faa hyun
East Asian cultural sphere

The "Sinosphere", or "East Asian cultural sphere", refers to a grouping of countries and regions in East Asia that were historically influenced by the culture of China. Other names for the concept include the Sinic world, the Confucian world, and the Chinese cultural sphere, though the last is also used to refer particularly to the Sinophone world: the areas which speak varieties of Chinese.


The East Asian cultural sphere shares a Confucian ethical philosophy, Buddhism, political and legal structures, and historically a common writing system. The core regions of the East Asian cultural sphere are Mainland China (PRC), Taiwan Island (ROC), North Korea, South Korea, Ryukyu Islands, Japan and Vietnam, although Mongolia and parts of Central Asia are sometimes included and perhaps more on an ethnic basis, and also from some ancient cultural connections.

The terms East Asian cultural sphere and Chinese character (Hànzì) cultural sphere are used interchangeably with "Sinosphere" but have different denotations.

Arnold J. Toynbee

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 Far Eastern civilization, and proposed that it 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. According to Toynbee, the Hellenic and Western civilizations had an "apparentation-affiliation" relationship, while the Far Eastern world was controlled by the "ghost" of the "Sinic universal state."

Nishijima Sadao

Japanese historian Nishijima Sadao (西嶋定生, 1919–1998) conceived a Chinese or East Asian cultural sphere largely isolated from other cultures. According to Sadao, 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, and areas between Mongolia and the Himalayas.

Edwin O. Reischauer

The American Sinologist and historian Edwin O. Reischauer 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 with 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.

Samuel P. Huntington

Political scientist Samuel P. Huntington considered the Sinic world as one of many civilizations in his 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." He comments that he originally used the term "Confucian," but "Sinic" is more accurate because it describes "the common culture of China and the Chinese communities in Southeast Asia and elsewhere outside of China as well as the related cultures of Vietnam and Korea."

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." He portrayed the cultural sphere's political culture as one with "little room for social or political pluralism and the division of power" with "international politics as hierarchical because their domestic policies are." Huntington argued that the Sinic world would eventually oppose the West's hegemony in Asia, likely through forming an alliance with the Islamic world.


Countries from the East Asian cultural sphere share a common architectural style stemming from the architecture of ancient China.


The countries of China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, 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), (义/義), and (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 India 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.

Literary culture

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 used by government printers in Korea, but seems not to have been extensively used in China, Vietnam or Japan. At the same time manuscript reproduction remained important until the late 19th century.

Business culture

The business cultures of East Asia remain heavily influenced by Confucianism. In Japan, companies are hierarchically organized and relationships are highly valued. (See Japanese work environment) Korean businesses also adhere to Confucian values, and are structured around a patriarchal family governed by filial piety between management and a company's employees. East Asia 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 Europe and the United States. Japan's early industrial economy reached its height in World War II when it expanded its empire and became a major world power. After its defeat and economic collapse after the war, Japan's economy recovered in the 1950s with the post-war economic miracle in which rapid growth in the Japanese economy propelled the country into the world's second largest economy by the 1980s. In the late 20th century and early 21st century, South Korea and China have become the 11th and 2nd largest economies in the world respectively according to nominal GDP.

The former British colony of Hong Kong became one of the Four Asian Tigers economies by 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 East Asia's developed economies. Present growth in East Asia has now shifted to China and the Tiger Cub Economies of the Southeast Asia.


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, 'rice' can embody the meaning of food in general (simplified Chinese: 饭; traditional Chinese: 飯; pinyin:  fàn).

Chinese Characters

Historically China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and Vietnam have used Chinese characters. Today they are mainly used in China, Taiwan, and Japan, albeit in different forms.

Although Chinese Characters have become almost obsolete in Vietnam and Korea, they still hold a special place in the cultures as their history and literature have been greatly influenced by Chinese characters; Chinese characters can be seen in temples, cemeteries, and monuments today, as well as serving as decorative motifs in art and design.

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" Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese languages translate English -sphere as Chinese quān 圈 "circle; ring; corral; pen", Japanese ken "sphere; circle; range; radius", Korean gwon and Vietnamese quyển.

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. The Japanese historian Nishijima Sadao (西嶋定生, 1919-1998), professor emeritus at the University of Tokyo, 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 Chinese later 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), "literary, educational circle(s)" (Lin Yutang 1972), and "intellectual/literary circles" (John DeFrancis 1996).

This cultural region closely corresponds to the ancient "Sinic civilization" and its descendants, the "Far Eastern civilizations" (the Mainland and the Japanese ones), which Arnold J. Toynbee presented in the 1930s in A Study of History, along with the Western, Islamic, Eastern Orthodox, Indic, etc. civilizations, among the major "units of study" of the world's history.


East Asian cultural sphere Wikipedia