According to Westerners, Chinese culture is based on Japanese culture. How accurate a statement is this?

To answer this question, loads of details are needed. Unfortunately, the answer will consist of numerous Chinese characters and phrases, readable guaranteed for Chinese and Japanese speakers, sorry for English native speakers if you don’t understand these two languages.

I will spare the ancient or medieval era, as it is universally acknowledged that Japanese based their culture on Chinese one during these times.

Things starts to change when history opened the page of 19th century.

There is only one way for modernization, to westernize. All the major contribution of science, philosophy come from western civilization, especially the renaissance era. All existing country today westernize to a certain degree.

In 19th century, China was still ruled by Qing dynasty, ignorant of the forthcoming social revolution. After several defeated wars by Britain, France, change started. Western thoughts were introduced to China by translators at a high pace. The difficulty is obvious, how to express these thoughts in Chinese language.

Many famous figures contribute in the cause, all of whom are today recognized as masters in the field. There are Chinese scholars as well as western ones.

Now comes the myth that Chinese language got these newly invented phrases from Japan.

It is NOT the case.

Japan also started to learn from western civilization at that time, and history proved they have done much better than Chinese. Japan scholars also faced the same difficulty of inventing new phrases.

When two persons are facing the same problem, it is obvious they will cooperate and learn from each other.

Japan and Chinese scholars both use ancient Chinese characters that are originally of other meaning to form new phrases. They also took what the other one invented and incorporate them into their own language.

Basically, there are several categories of source of these newly invented phrases written in Chinese characters.

  1. China invent, Japan borrow:電氣、電報、電信、鐵道、工業、銀行、保險、醫學、化學、直徑、風琴 “使徒”、“鉛筆”、“消化”、“交換”、“審判”、“法律”、“水準”、“醫學”、“自然的”、“必要”、“新聞”、“風琴”、“演習”、“半徑線”、“精神”、“單位”、“行為 遺產、慣行、關涉、管制、限定、權利、交戰、固辭、國權、遵守、臣民、專管、宣戰、大局、追求、通知、特派、法院、民主、友誼、維持、異邦、會議、管轄、議定、權威、權利、公法、國政、國法、國民、戰時、戰爭、法院、and all mathematical phrases,
  2. Existed phrases in Chinese, Japan put new meaning, China re-introduce:演說、主義、經濟、社會、文學、文明、教育、藝術、思想、自由、交通、流行、革命
  3. Japan invent, China borrow:電話、商業、情報、象徵、科學、美學、美術、哲學、心理學、地理學、天文學、客觀

The reason for the myth is that, many of these phrases in Chinese language coined by earlier translators and missionaries like Matteo Ricci, are not wide spread and popular in China. These phrases later were introduced to Japan, gained influence and then re-discovered in China, mistaken as Japan invention.

According to Westerners, Chinese culture is based on Japanese culture. How accurate a statement is this?
According to Westerners, Chinese culture is based on Japanese culture. How accurate a statement is this?

picture, statistics of the sources

But one has to admit, Japan lead the way on the long journey of learning from west. In fact, the contemporary history of China, the history of China learning from west, is an image through a lens called Japan. Qing dynasty sent 50k students to Japan before most of them joined the cause of revolution to overthrow the dynasty. China got it’s idea for modernization from Japan. It’s another story and topic of tons of academic study, which is far beyond my web of knowledge.

So far it is about language and abstract social advancement. When it comes to popular culture within recent 50 years, the culture after WWII, Japan was and still is the master.

What today we call China’s embracement of capitalism in 1978, happened after Mr. Deng visited Japan, bringing back their shock of realizing what is really going on in the world while Chinese busy with communist social experiment.

This time, China still mould Japan as a model, at least at the beginning. Japanese Coporation and their products flooded into Chinese market, which had a profound impact on the aesthetic of Chinese. Modern Chinese pop culture absorbed tremendous influence from HK, TW and Japanese counterparts. What need to mention is that HK and TW also got their pop culture from Japan. By the way, this is also true for K-Pop. Japan was the first to revitalize itself and achieved economic miracle after WWII in East Asia. To some extent, Japan defined the fundamentals of pop culture in post-war east Asian aesthetics. It was the blaze-runner in terms of almost every social aspect.

Yet tides turns again. As Japan crushed itself into 30 years depression, other countries began to rediscover their own taste for popular culture. The phenomenon of the game Genshin is widely seen across the world. This game advertised itself as a Japanese one, even the name uses Japanese language. But it is Chinese studio made. What is your comment on this?

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