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Comparing the Cultures of Japan and China: Three-Dimensional Approach


Understanding the distinct features of a given culture is essential for conducting a proper scientific study in a majority of disciplines. Applying historical, artistic, and religious knowledge when revealing traits inherent in a particular population is a vital part of a viable scholarly investigation. Cultural characteristics, present in one community and absent in another, provide a wide range of exploration possibilities aimed at establishing the attributes of the human condition (Dirlik 50). Historical changes, unique artistic movements, and religious doctrines are often a byproduct of a country’s culture, impacting its relationships with other states and present future developmental options.

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It is noteworthy that some cultures can advance differently even when possessing similar geographical and environmental characteristics, thus prompting a lucrative dimension for scientific exploits. A prominent example of such a scenario are the customary analogies and contrasts observed in Chinese and Japanese populations, the countries belonging to Asian culture. Although both Chinese and Japanese societies evolved during corresponding time periods and external influences, which resulted in the creation of resemblant cultural features, several drastic differences can also be observed. This paper compares the Chinese and Japanese populations’ heritage based on the insights from historical, artistic, and religious perspectives, highlighting the distinctions connected to their location, art evolution, and faith appropriation.

Historical Overview: The Development of Chinese and Japanese Societies

An analysis of memorable events that affected the cultural and technological advances of a specific nation is the first essential step towards proper comprehension of their achievements. Knowledge gathered through historical exploration bears significant importance for the scholars, allowing them to understand the country’s progress and factors crucial for this process. According to Zhang et al., China and Japan have several corresponding elements in their history that produce certain cultural similarities, namely their location, writing, family traditions, and Confucian values (108). Given the countries’ positioning in eastern Asia, the primary features of the two nations, such as racial and genetic roots, Asian traditions, and early civilization development, are mostly indistinguishable (Schirokauer et al. 187).

Over the course of the first millennia, these populations maintained similar methods of cultural expansion, upholding the traditional family structure and gender roles, as well as a strong patriarchal system (Schirokauer et al. 190). Even in the modern age, both Chinese and Japanese people demonstrate remarkable respect towards elders and their teachers, following their historical traditions (Zhang et al. 112). Altogether, the core features of the two countries discussed bear several corresponding features instilled during their early evolution.

The impact of Confucianism on the two nations is imperative to consider in this discussion. A tremendous emphasis on the values represented in this belief system can be observed in both cultures, especially the importance of family and the relationship between relatives (Zhang et al. 107). In addition, there is a certain tendency to save resources and avoid unnecessary spending evident in Chinese and Japanese customs (Meng and Altobello Nasco 507).

A historical reason for these occurrences might be the trade connections between these countries established during the 2nd and 1st century BC, which produced high levels of migration rates (Schirokauer et al. 134). Overall, Japan was largely influenced by Chinese people and their ways of life, only starting to evolve independently in the 8th century CE (Schirokauer et al. 134). Such analogous traits as linguistic development, family traditions, and effects of Confucianism can be linked to the events mentioned.

Contrasting features of the nations discussed are connected to the historical changes that transpired throughout the ages. Even though Japan appears to have copied the major linguistic and cultural attributes of China, the larger developmental factors, for instance, the model of the government and the country’s autonomy, remain highly distinctive. Japan supports constitutional monarchy, with the Japanese emperor being the descendant of one single family, which was established as a ruling power more than 2000 years ago (Schirokauer et al. 146). Over the course of the country’s growth, the leading dynasty was never interrupted, while the emperors of China represented more than ten different families (Tenney 101).

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The geographical location of the two states is an essential element of such outcomes, with Japan being an insulated country and China – a large continental power. Due to the size of the Chinese empire and its proximity to other nations, it was involved in numerous wars and disputes, from internal to external complications (Gann 502). In contrast, Japan remained unaffected by international conflicts until the Second World War, encapsulating cultural homogeneity and isolation.

The Evolution of Art in China and Japan

Artistic movements are regarded as a vital part of any country’s growth, providing a basis for cultural development. In Chinese and Japanese culture, fine arts, especially paintings, occupy a large amount of their artistic heritage. In the early ages, when Japanese culture was largely dominated by China, the Japanese artworks highly resembled the themes and issues portrayed by Chinese artists. The consequences of this influence can be observed in the remarkable similarity of materials and topics implemented in well-recognized paintings from both countries (Lee 8). As such, ink and paper, wooden, and silk resources were the primary mediums used in Chinese and Japanese art pieces, and traditional techniques of Chinese ink and brushwork were utilized by Japanese creators.

Although, at first sight, it seems that the majority of Japanese artworks highly resemble Chinese counterparts, there are remarkable contrasts between the two artistic movements. In addition to traditional Chinese materials, Japanese authors also implemented watercolors and velvet, as well as combined the techniques copied with novel advancement, for example, decorative patterns and bright colors (Fenollosa 199).

Contrastingly, the artists of China deliberately avoided including color and shading into their creations. Furthermore, the purposes of artistic expressions were highly distinct, with Chinese art attempting to commemorate both the author and the inner form, representing the essence of the subject painted (Fenollosa 168). Japanese creators, on the other hand, embraced notions of individuality and spontaneous impressions, as well as discussed the concepts of everyday life (Lee 9). Altogether, while the majority of the materials used are quite similar, the artistic methods and goals are highly different.

In the modern age, Japanese art has sustained several effects caused by the influence of westernized cultures, prompting a significant change in art movements. As Japan became a more open and internationally involved country, the ideas and artistic notions of the Western world have impacted Japanese creators, originating a variety of themes and additional philosophical and artistic complexity. In comparison with China, which decided to avoid external pressure, Japan produced larger numbers of distinct art pieces on a number of topics, from human nature to symbolism (Lee 11). Chinese creations, on the other hand, continued to uphold the traditional ideas of art, enveloping subjects of nature, soul, and distance from reality.

Religious Doctrines in Chinese and Japanese Culture

The impact of religion on social and cultural ways of life is indisputable. Beliefs and guidelines contained within religious testaments tremendously affect the country’s citizens, supplying them with necessary behavioral patterns or forcing them to adopt specific attitudes. Spiritual manifestations within Japan and China are exceptionally related to the belief system of Confucianism, which is often referred to as a major religion.

Both of these nations were influenced by these doctrines, which highlight the importance of the family institution (Zhang et al. 108). Additionally, large numbers of Chinese and Japanese community members follow the tenets of Buddhism and Shinto, visit Shinto and Buddhist shrines and temples, often relating themselves to various systems of religious beliefs (Lewis 30). The historical prevalence of Buddhism has dramatically impacted both of these countries, creating a suitable environment for spiritual prosperity. From a Christian perspective, such aptitude for upholding several religious beliefs could be deemed inappropriate.

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Another critical similarity connected to religion concerns the traditional Asian beliefs regarding ancestry worship. Both Chinese and Japanese populations are extremely devoted to praising their family predecessors, as well as particular gods and goddesses linked to their family line (Lewis 56). Commemorating deceased family members is a significant custom for these people, which is regarded as a sign of good future health and well-being for all the individuals related to the family.

A remarkable distinction between the religious habits of Japanese and Chinese citizens is the number of faithful people within the country. Although representatives of both cultures seem to follow similar belief systems, religious worship is much more common for Chinese community members, while Japanese individuals remain rather withdrawn from these practices (Lewis 59). Only a small portion of people in Japan consider themselves religious, while others are not invested in traditional church endeavors. Nevertheless, it is essential to note that the concept of religion in Japanese culture is remarkably different from a western understanding.

While Japanese people do not separate religion from their everyday activities, thus not labeling themselves as religious, they also continue to participate in ancestry devotion and shrine traditions (Lewis 59). A dramatically distinct environment is present in Chinese culture, where the prevalence of communist ideology determines the population’s choice of atheism. Some minorities continue to practice traditional Buddhism and Chinese folklore but remain vastly outnumbered by atheistic individuals.


To conclude, three perspectives on the distinct features of Chinese and Japanese cultures were discussed in detail in this paper. Historical, artistic, and religious accounts of these countries’ developments portray a complicated picture of the nations’ customs and beliefs, presenting multiple similarities and distinctions. From a historical perspective, the two states possessed several corresponding traits for a significant amount of time due to their geographical and racial characteristics. The establishment of trade between Japan and China in the early ages of their development appears to have greatly influenced the growth of Japanese culture, causing the population to adopt multiple linguistic and artistic attributes.

Nonetheless, Japan still maintained its unique qualities, manifested in a different approach to governmental policies, later artistic choices, and religious doctrines. As the countries adapted to the effects of international agendas, Japan evolved from an encapsulated, insular state to a more westernized culture. Alternatively, Chinese authorities decided to implement a more secluded and withdrawn strategy, following specific traditional ideas in their artistic expressions and developing an atheistic attitude.

Works Cited

Dirlik, Arif. “‘Past Experience, If Not Forgotten, Is a Guide to the Future’; Or, What Is in a Text? The Politics of History in Chinese-Japanese Relations.” Boundary 2, vol. 18, no. 3, 1991, pp. 29–58.

Fenollosa, Ernest. Epochs of Chinese and Japanese Art: An Outline History of East Asiatic Design. Stone Bridge Press, 2009.

Gann, Lewis. “Western and Japanese Colonialism: Some Preliminary Comparisons.” The Japanese Colonial Empire, 1895-1945, edited by Ramon Myers and Mark Peattie, Princeton University Press, 2020, pp. 497–525.

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Lee, Sherman. “Contrasts in Chinese and Japanese Art.” The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, vol. 21, no. 1. 1962, pp. 3–12. Web.

Lewis, David. Religion in Japanese Daily Life. Routledge, 2017.

Meng, Juan, and Suzanne Altobello Nasco. “Cross‐cultural Equivalence of Price Perceptions across American, Chinese, and Japanese Consumers.” Journal of Product & Brand Management, vol. 18, no. 7, 2009, pp. 506–16. Web.

Schirokauer, Conrad, et al. A Brief History of Chinese and Japanese Civilizations. Cengage Learning, 2012.

Tenney, Charles. “Chinese History.” The Washington Historical Quarterly, vol. 2, no. 2, 1908, pp. 99–104.

Zhang, Yan Bing, et al. “Harmony, Hierarchy and Conservatism: A Cross-Cultural Comparison of Confucian Values in China, Korea, Japan, and Taiwan.” Communication Research Reports, vol. 22, no. 2, 2005, pp. 107–15.

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