Transmitting Chinese Cultural Values

Friday April 28, 2017

•  Asian studies •  eastern philosophy •  history • 

I’ve been learning a bit of Asian history, since it is something I know little about. One question is about the role of ancient Chinese culture across other East Asian societies. Buddhism played a role in transmitting Chinese cultural and social values to both Korea and Japan. This is because the Buddhism that went to Korea and Japan carried with it a more intensely Chinese form of the philosophy than the version originally developed in India.

Grigg’s entire thesis is the Buddhism of Japan, Zen, is derived from the Korean form (Seon), itself an import of the Chinese Chan form of Buddhism. But when the Chan form of Buddhism developed, it had adopted a number of the more interesting tenants of Daoism. This created a more spiritual form of Buddhism, away from the simpler Buddhism that was mostly agnostic and away from the more complex Buddhism that had (and still has) a lot of Hinduism grafted on.

Though I think some of this is the lens we use in the West to view the East. For instance, Zen is the dominant form of Buddhism in the West, having come to the United States initially through Japanese immigrants, but in the United States, it has become even more distilled and simplified. In Japan, it freely mixes with Shintoism, a religion that is itself native to Japan.

Based on this, I think it is fair to say Buddhism played a role in transmitting those values, but those values complemented and were assimilated by existing systems, rather than replaced them.

Image by Tom@HK / Wikimedia Commons.