Written by Travis Duong
Asian culture is extremely diverse and can differ from region to region. A misconception which has been taken to the extreme of labeling all Asian Cultures as Chinese. But in reality, each culture is extremely different.
China is one of the largest countries and has one of the world’s largest populations and a diverse culture to match. This large population makes China one of the more diverse countries in Asia, which contains fifty-five different ethnic groups within its borders such as the Zhuang (the largest minority group). Each minority group has its customs and traditions such as the Tibetan new year or Nadaam (which is a Mongolian celebration) making them completely different from the Mandarin-speaking majority who live in the larger urban areas. Chinese people celebrate several traditional holidays such as Chinese New Year (which is celebrated with a host of fireworks shows, dragon and lion dances, family reunion dinners, red decorations at home for luck, and the gift exchange of red envelopes which contain money and symbolize good luck and prosperity), the mid-autumn festival (which is celebrated on October 1st, and celebrated by coming together as a family to eat, displaying lanterns, and worshipping the moon with gifts), etc. The Hanfu, the Tangzhuang, and the Cheongsam are all examples of Chinese traditional clothing. These garments of clothing resemble long silk dresses, even in styles for males. In addition, China, like many Asian cultures, has its own form of martial arts called kung fu, which is commonly seen in movies such as IP man. Kung fu, like its country, is extremely diverse with many different sub-styles such as Tai-chi, and Shaolin. China is also known for its many different religions. China’s native religions include Taoism, Confucianism, and many other folk religions; however, China also hosts many foreign religions such as Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism.
Japan is a culturally unique country because it is an island nation with strong connections to their past. The Japanese people have their own host of ethnic groups within their borders, such as the Ryukyuan people of southern Okinawa. The Japanese have also colonized many other indigenous people in addition to their large number of immigrants that they have received from different countries such as Korea, China, and Brazil, which comprise a large percentage of the minorities in Japan with their subculture. The Japanese people celebrate many holidays such as Children’s Day (which is celebrated on May 5th and March 3rd to pray for the good health and prosperity of their children) and The Star Festival (celebrated because two stars Altair and Vega which were previously separated by the milky way “meet”). Other holidays involve the importance of their environment and previous emperors. These holidays are celebrated by gathering together with family to pray and eat. Japanese traditional clothing includes the Yukata (which both men and women wear), Hakama (Worn by men to formal or cultural events), the Happi (worn by Japanese male performers usually dancing), the Tsukesage (a more casual dress for women that is defined by the designs and images on the back, sleeves, and bottom of the dress), and Susohiki (a formal dress associated with geisha women who perform traditional dances or performances and defined by its length which can be over 6 and a half feet and by its bright colors and expensive materials). Japanese traditional clothing for both men and women resemble a long cotton dress with long sleeves (except for the happi) with a belt that ties to the waist with bright colors. Black or grey colors are usually worn by men, while women tend to wear darker colors. Japan also has its own martial arts such as Karate, Kendo, Aikido, Sumo (which has its roots in martial arts but was turned into a sport as entertainment), and Judo. Karate is one of the most common martial arts though its origins are dispersed. Its styles originate from China, the Ryukyu people of southern Okinawa, and even reaches as far as the Indian Subcontinent and remains a staple of Japanese culture and history, while Kendo, Judo, and Aikido have a more local origin as both originate from Japan and have roots in the fighting style of the samurai (i.e the swiftness in the movements and emphasis on that came before). The only religions that have a major following in Japan are Shintoism and Buddhism.
South Korea is a rather small nation compared to the previous two nations and has a more unified culture with less of a cultural divide between regions. Holidays celebrated by Korea’s people include New Year’s Day (celebrated on the second full moon after the winter solstice traditionally, or January 1st in recent years with a gathering of family and watching the first sunrise of the year), Seollal/Lunar New Years (celebrated on varied days per year but primarily on January 24-27 and hold traditional importance as it is a holiday where people go home and reunite with family and eat traditional food such as mandu guk/dumpling soup), Children’s Day (celebrated on May 5th and is a holiday that holds less traditional value but is a day dedicated to strengthening the bond of families with families going to amusement parks, zoos, etc), and Chuseok (celebrated on October 30 - September 2 to give thanks for a bountiful harvest and perform memorial rituals to commemorate and wish for the prosperity of their ancestors in the afterlife). Korean Traditional clothing includes Chogori, Ch'ima, Durumagi, Gat-chogori, Changot, and Ssukae Ch'ima for women; Cheogori, Paji, Dop'o, Hakch'angui, Shimui, T'eol Magoja, and Jignyeongp'o for men and dangui, dol, saekdong jeogori, sagusam, benet jeogori, teol baeja, bokkeon, embroidered socks, and tosu for children. These types of clothing are only allowed to be worn on special occasions. Korean martial arts stretch back centuries, similar to the other Asian nations with their own form of martial arts. The most common form of Korean Martial Arts is Taekwondo which was originally used as a self-defense technique has now turned into a sport, whereas Taekkyeon holds more traditional value as it is practiced almost exclusively in Korea, was initially used for self-defense by nobles, and can be dated back to the 5th century. South Korea does not have an official religion but maintains some of its Confucius ideas and ancestral rituals, and its most common religions are Christianity and Buddhism.
India is a very large country in southern Asia and rivals the population of China, with the diverse history and culture to match. Holidays celebrated in India include Republic Day (celebrated on January 26, commemorating the ratification of the Constitution of India, and is celebrated with parades, cultural dances, and speeches), Indian Independence Day (celebrated on August 15, commemorates the separation of India from the UK, and celebrated with a parade, flag raising, and singing), and Diwali/Festival of lights (celebrated November 14 2020 but the date changes every year and is celebrated by lighting candles, lanterns, and diyas which would decorate homes, taking oil baths at the dawn of each day and decorating the floors of homes with rangoli designs). Traditional Indian clothing commonly includes Sarees (for women) and Kurtas (for men). The Saree is a long elegant dress commonly designed in bright colors and embroidered with different types of designs, ranging from flowers to butterflies. The Kurtas resembles an elongated shirt that can be designed in a wide range of colors and can be embroidered. Martial arts are not commonly practiced in India but sports are more commonplace. In India, one of the most popular sports is cricket which is a sport somewhat similar to baseball but works slightly differently. It is similar to baseball in the way where a person (bowler in cricket) throws the ball to be hit by the striker (person with the bat) as far as they can and to prevent the other team from bringing the ball back. The way to score points is that the two batters (striker and non-striker) run to the opposite side of the pitch which is a sand rectangle in the middle of the field.
Vietnam is a coastal nation that is directly south of China. While its culture has been heavily influenced by China, it is still different from China and has a history that is almost as long as China’s. Vietnamese holidays include Tet (Lunar New years is celebrated usually on January 24 - January 27 by gathering with family and singing karaoke), The Bai Dinh Pagoda festival (A spring festival that starts after the first day of the lunar year and ends on the third lunar month and is used as a way to worship multiple beliefs/religions such as Buddhism or Confucianism), and Vu Lan Festival (which is considered the Vietnamese mother’s day is celebrated on the 15th day of the seventh lunar month and traditionally celebrates the returning of souls to their families from the afterlife and is used to express gratitude and love to parents and ancestors). Other holidays celebrated in Vietnam commemorate the freedom Vietnam received after rebelling from their multiple colonizers, religious holidays, the celebration of past rulers, and celebrating one’s ancestors and family. Vietnamese traditional clothing includes the Áo Giao lĩnh, the Áo Tứ Thân, the Áo dài, and the Áo bà ba. Vietnamese traditional clothing is usually made with bright colors, made with silk or cotton, and usually worn by women. Each being different styles of formal clothing worn usually to holidays or festivals and in modern times primarily worn by women but can be worn by men. The Vietnamese martial arts, Viet Vo Dao, was heavily influenced by Chinese martial arts and emphasizes spirituality. However, it only is taught in Vietnam and has not gained much footing internationally. Religions commonly found in Vietnam are Buddhism and Catholicism whereas more traditional religions include Taoism and Confucianism.
Asian cultures share many different aspects such as being heavily family-centric, similar holidays, and honoring one’s lineage, but each culture has its special myriad of different and unique features that can have rich histories to them. The misconception that most Asian ethnicities can be categorized as Chinese is common among places with diverse populations. While it is true that China had a hand in shaping and influencing these cultures, each became significantly different from China’s own. For example, the Vietnamese were a Chinese colony but celebrate different holidays, have an almost completely different language from the Chinese, and their specialized and original martial arts share very little similarities with China’s Kung fu. The cultures listed are only a small portion of Asian cultures, but there are still many other cultures that have their specific customs and beliefs. Even within the cultures listed, there is much more such as history, literature, music, and dances, which most people barely even notice, but with the advent of the internet, these resources are readily available and open for anyone to educate themselves and prevent another unique Asian culture from being labeled as Chinese.