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Western Influence on Chinese Culture and People

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#1 General_Zhaoyun


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Posted 18 November 2008 - 12:53 AM

I think the subject of "Western influence on Chinese Culture and People" has been an interesting area of studies. It is similar to the subject of "sinicization of nomads in China" or how China exerted influence on Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese culture.

When exactly did the western culture start to spread to China ? It probably began in the 16th century with the arrival of European Jesuits and spread of Christianity into China. Western inventions and technology also spreaded into China through the European Jesuits.

However, "westernization" probably began in late 19th century, when large number of Chinese went to the west to study. They then brought back to China western ideas, science, technology and reform. The large transformation was carried out in the 20th century. Chinese men no longer had the manchu queue (pigtails) and instead adopted western hairstyle and dressing. After closing its door for 30 years, China re-opened itself to the west in 1979. For the next 30 years, it had seen radical changes. Western style materialism and capitalism entered China once again. American movies, pop culture and even western modes of beauties (such as large eyes/sharp nose) started to influence chinese.

American-style Skyscrapers and Western-style modern architecture dominate city skyline of many chinese cities.

Today, most chinese go to hospitals which practise western medicine, instead of tradition chinese medicine. Traditional chinese culture is sometimes seen as 'old' or 'obsolete', while western culture is seen as hip, modern or cool.

Today, even the West continued to influence Chinese by trying to spread western political ideals such as democracy, human rights to China.

There is one good article on western influence on chinese culture at

So, is westernization equal to 'modernization' ?

Is westernization inevitable to China or chinese? What do you think ?
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#2 Yizheng


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Posted 18 November 2008 - 05:41 AM

I agree that this is a very interesting question. It seems to me that whichever culture is dominant at a given point in history is going to inevitably have an influence on other cultures, so, so long as Western culture is dominant, it will inevitably influence and exert fascination over Chinese too and have an impact on Chinese culture, just like Chinese culture in the past had a great impact on other cultures when it was dominant.

I suppose this kind of fascination and desire to copy is inevitable. People always want to be successful, progressive, keeping up with the times, whatever, especially younger people, and if a culture has gained dominance, in people's minds that suggests it is dynamic, modern, successful etc, the way to follow, even down to fashions, like the big eyes, or all the Chinese with dyed hair etc.

The students who would go abroad in late Qing and cut off their queue and adopt Western dress is an example too. In Russia, to give an exmple from a different time and culture, traditionally men wore a long beard, but when Peter the Great decided that Russia had to westernise, he thought the beard was a sign of 'old thinking' and not modern, and he decreed that men had to cut their long beards off, and if they didn't, they had to pay 'beard tax'.

I think Western ideals, values, fashions etc will have an influence on Chinese culture so long as it stays dominant. But there is no guarantee this particular set of ideals, values etc will stay dominant, and another culture could take its place, and the influence will work the other way.

Also, I think that though we call this model the Western model, Western culture, that is to simplify the whole process a lot, because in the countries part of the geographical and cultural West, much of the traditional cultures , traditions, values, fashions, architecture, food, etc has also been gradually eroded or abandoned or replaced by this new American-inspired model. I remember when I was a student in France I saw a lot of debate about precisely these issues, and it seemed to me that some French people really felt they were losing their country's and culture's uniqueness and identity.

Sometimes, there is a backlash too against this western model. Like here in Russia, in the 1990s everything Western was very fashionable, but now there is something of a baklash against that period and people are looking much more back into what is the Russian identity. If China keeps growing stronger and is able to continue playing an increasing part in world affairs, it will probably also start to reflect more on what is its own identity, I think.

It's hard to say exactly where it will all go. because with modern technology too, everyone in the world can share stuff so much more easily, and all around the world we can watch the same movies, listen to the same music, follow the same fashions etc, and its really hard to say, I think, if modern technology will eventually reduce cultural diversity, or on the contrary, will maybe help to preserve it.

#3 Borjigin Ayurbarwada

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Posted 20 November 2008 - 02:20 AM

China today is as much Korean-Japanizing as it is westernizing, in fact its difficult to say which has more influence on China now, the West or East Asia.
Japan's influence on China has generally been overlooked. But it is in no way less than those of the West since the early 20th century. Almost all of China's modern word compounds were borrowed from Japanese. Words such as "Science"(Ke xue), "research", (Yan Jiu), "telephone" (Dian Hua), all had Japanese origins: "Ka Gaku", "Ken Kiu", "Den Wa". China borrowed far more words from Japan than it did from the west. If we take Japanese components away from modern Chinese, it becomes almost unspeakable when talking about theoretical matter.

Edited by Borjigin Ayurbarwada, 20 November 2008 - 02:27 AM.

#4 Chen06


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Posted 20 November 2008 - 03:10 AM

Are you sure about the phone one being borrowed from Japan? To me, it just seems rather obvious that you would translate it into Dian Hua since it means electric words which is basically what a telephone is
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#5 Borjigin Ayurbarwada

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Posted 20 November 2008 - 07:13 AM

Yes, in fact originally, China tried to transliterate Telephone into "Tie li feng". But the Japanese translated telephone into Den Wa. The Chinese thought it was better so they adopted the Japanese kanji compound instead.

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