China and India’s Resistance to Cultural Change

Posted: September 6th, 2013

China and India’s Resistance to Cultural Change







            Culture refers to a society’s way of life. Despite the fact that this changes over time, people defined by a unique culture are often resistant to change. In the past centuries, the Europeans were determined to conquer various territories in relation to trade and culture. They believed that their culture was necessary for civilization and, therefore, dominated China and India among other colonies with their tradition and culture. The encounter Europeans had with China and India in the late 16th century to the end of the 17th century, provoked cultural resistance from the communities (Gluck & Embree, 1997). What was termed as modernity by the westerners was deemed by China and India, as the dilution of the basic values that were already inculcated in the communities prior to the arrival of Europeans. To determine the legacy that resulted from the encounter, it is important to explore the historical cultural factors that caused the differences in outcomes.


            The aim of Europeans in the encounter was to instill their traditions in the belief system of the Chinese and Indians. Trade was a major factor that linked Spain with China and India. According to Butler (2007), people from China and India exchanged fine silk with American Silver from Spaniards. The Europeans explored Africa in search of trade routes that linked Africa and Asia to establish their power through trade for silver and gold. Unlike Africans, China and India did not give in to the European power (Booth et al, 2000). Nevertheless, Europeans practiced and allowed for syncretism in a bid to get better results from the blended cultures. China and India resisted cultural change because their belief system was already deeply rooted in their own cultural values. Hence, the degree of cultural change caused by the westerners in the countries was minimal (AUK, n.d). Cultural syncretism occurred in the Americas and Africa but not in China and India.

People in China and India assumed that they should maintain their culture indefinitely because it had been static for a long time. Their ethnocentrism played a crucial role in the resistance to change with their beliefs embedded in their past traditions and rituals. The religions of these countries differed with that of the westerners, which encouraged capitalism. Their religions were mainly Hinduism, Buddhism and Judaism, which showed capitalism to be centered on materialistic attitudes rather than esteemed societal values. The European culture was achievement oriented, valued work, education and religious pluralism. On the other hand, in the Chinese and Indian culture, literacy was only for some people, promoted religious monopoly and people found satisfaction and pleasure away from work. According to Gluck & Embree (1997), China viewed trade as a crucial aspect.

Most of the Europeans who targeted China and India were Christian missionaries. According to Gluck & Embree (1997), individual westerners who were more culturally aggressive were successful in gaining access to Asia through imperialism. The Christian missionaries from Europe faced extreme hostility from the Chinese who were against the western culture. “Both in India and elsewhere, people of an Islamic tradition would prove singularly resistant to Western cultural influence, whatever their ethnicity. The reasons for this are uncertain, but probably relate to the unique linkage of religious with secular life in the Islamic religion (Gluck & Embree, 1997). China was dominated by a cohesive Confucian worldview showed by the elites acquiring extraordinary power and this culture created resistance to cultural change planned by the Europeans.

The Confucian worldview in China was prestigious because it allowed for the articulation of ethical, social and political values. Gluck & Embree (1997) further explain that the Chinese only accepted the most superficial western values, which would benefit China. The country embraced the education reform later past the 19th century when modern forms of knowledge were introduced among students. In the 16th century, the significance of Europeans in Asia was shown by the influence of Jesuit savants in Peking. The Asian communities did not take the ideas of the Jesuit savants seriously. The Europeans only left an indirect impact on them such as the introduction of American food crops. This led to an influx in population growth, in China’s Manchu (Qing), after Asians incorporated the food crops in their diet. From 1498 to the 1750s, Asia had western empires, which controlled small areas in small-scale units. In India, the fall of the Mughal Empire made the small-scale units of the Europeans significant among the Indians.

The differences in the types of European encounters and degrees of cultural change have left legacies in the post-modern times. Countries such as Japan, that embraced the European concepts of civilization, had strong economies and developed technology. In China, the Manchu rulers from the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912) integrated an activist approach into Confucian school of thought and modernized the state-society relationship (Gluck & Embree, 1997). China began encouraging the market economy. “Fiscal reform during the reign of the Yongzheng emperor (1723-35) helped address the chronic problem of local government revenue shortages in the late imperial period and enhanced the ability of local government to fund road, bridge and ferry projects and assist in land reclamation and flood control (Gluck & Embree, 1997).” The traditional bureaucracy was challenged by China’s population growth that resulted from the revamped economy. India maintained social harmony but became attached to specific British ideas and political processes so that it could attain freedom.


            Cultural change in a society is gradual and is determined by various factors. India and China resisted the cultural change introduced by Europeans because both communities had established a strong belief system prior to the arrival of the westerners. However, in the 19th and 20th century, both countries adopted some form of European civilization even though it was minimal. Because of the change, their economies and welfare were boosted leading to notable legacies.


















AUK (n.d). Legacy: West 7 the World. Chapter 9. Imperialism, Colonialism & Resistance in the 19th Century. Retrieved from

Butler, C. (2007). Early voyages of Exploration (c. 1400-1550). Retrieved from

Disney, A. R., Booth, E., & Vasco Da Gama Quincentenary Conference. (2000). Vasco da Gama and the linking of Europe and Asia. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

Gluck, C. & Embree, T. A. (1997). Asia and Western and World History: A Guide for Teaching. M. E Sharpe.

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