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India vs. China

So, about that sparking claim that people study India or China but not both, which is from just one guy and might be BS for all I know, but anyway: I was thinking that people who visit India might fall in love with it, but if you do some superficial reading about the two, China may seem more attractive to learn about.

Distinctive social features: both are undemocratic autocracies, but what comes to mind about them? China: the civil service examinations. Charmingly meritocratic, and if you're the sort to read lots of history, you can imagine you'd do well in them; I can totally see myself as a magistrate by now, with a couple of concubines in the garden. India's feature... the caste system, where people care what you're born to, not what your talents and intelligence are, and with a whole lot of robust racism. Which do you want to learn more about, or write an RPG about? (A fair number of Chinese or pseudo-Chinese or influenced RPGs exist: Exalted, Weapons of the Gods, Qin, Oriental Adventures, probably more; there's some Indian influence in Exalted, but not so definitive, and no other RPGs.) One is a feature we could envision importing to our own society, or even already have, the other is a feature even native reformers want to burn to the ground.

Inventions: China has paper, the compass, gunpowder, Go, and lots of other things. India has zero and chess. Advantage China, especially with gunpowder. Boom! Though I wonder who first tamed war-elephants. Those are cool too, but I think less mentally prominent.

(Note that all this doesn't have to be entirely accurate, just the perceptions one quickly picks up. Also, it may seem like offensive generalizations, but that's exactly what might underlie gut decisions to study one thing over another.)

Religion: China is charmingly exotic yet seemingly understandable, with a Celestial Bureaucracy of distinct gods, plus some ancestor worship (and burning paper money for the dead!) And people think they get Daoism and Buddhism, kind of. Hinduism just seems more confusing, and so far more so the more I learn. And the core afterlife concept is karma + reincarnation, which provokes "this is totally unfair" and "why should I care?" in a lot of people. My fate depends on a bunch of stuff someone else did with my soul that I don't remember? Gee, thanks. My actions determine a future life conscious-me will never experience? Whoop. Give me my paper money.

Spirituality: the highest achievement of native Chinese mysticism is to become immortal as an individual, elixir of life and all. The highest achievement of Indian mysticism is to stop being an individual, merging with Godhead.

Women: neither looks good here, but it's foot-binding vs. widow-burning.

Prestige: China was the Middle Kingdom, influencing all of East Asia. India seems un-unified and passive. Buddhism, that most hip of non-European religions in Western eyes, did influence Asia but got rejected by India itself; doesn't speak well for India.

ETA:
Pop culture: China has wuxia and Hong Kong flicks and martial arts. India has nothing similar that's hit the Western consciousness. Wording chosen deliberately because India *does* have Bollywood, and the Ramayana, and reportedly lots of cinematically amazing stuff that would make the Iliad seem like a bunch of ignorant barbarians scrabbling in the dust. The flashy "anime" Charms in Exalted allegedly owe more to what gods and heroes were doing in the Ramayana than to anime. OTOH, the fact that almost everyone ascribes them to anime rather than the Ramayana says something about relative awareness.


Feel free to rant and tear this to shreds. :)

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( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
heron61
Aug. 24th, 2011 09:10 pm (UTC)
there's some Indian influence in Exalted, but not so definitive, and no other RPGs.

Actually, India has one of the oldest RPGs patterned on it - EPT. Barker is a professor of South Asian languages, and Tekumel is a mixture of science-fantasy India & a bit of science fantasy S.E. Asia.

That said, China and Japan both have inspired considerably more RPGs (including a number of dubious ones that mash China and Japan together).
mindstalk
Aug. 24th, 2011 09:15 pm (UTC)
EPT = Empire of the Petal Throne, for the laymen. And right, thanks, that was totally off my recall radar.

As it happens, there was that thread recently about "You too can play Tekumel!", and the little I was able to infer about the society made it sound like the sort you'd send a high-Compassion Solar Exalt in to burn to the ground. :) People saying "why yes, it is somewhat rigid and alien". So I think you've supported my point...
heron61
Aug. 25th, 2011 03:40 am (UTC)
Except that in all of the material written about Tekumel, it is clearly depicted as an alien world and an alien society, but not as a horrific one (except in the ways that all pre-modern societies were horrific), heck, it even included an option for women to choose not to be chattel.

As for differences from Creation, both are post-apocalyptic cultures, but Tekumel fell a lot further a lot longer ago. Much of the reason it's less pleasant is that there's so much less access to powerful useful technologies (or the equivalent) and thus its effectively a whole lot poorer.
februaryfour
Aug. 25th, 2011 04:44 am (UTC)
Re: women, Chinese women are now more or less on parity (even with the whole favoring men thing, it's becoming more and more equal, especially as the older generation dies out and the younger ones don't care.) India, unfortunately, still has much to learn there.
mindstalk
Aug. 25th, 2011 04:50 am (UTC)
Good to hear. Yay for Communism and its effects, perhaps. Doesn't change the historical bias, though. :)
februaryfour
Aug. 25th, 2011 04:52 am (UTC)
Meh, sometimes the ends almost justify forgiving the means. ^_^;;;;;; Almost.
richardthinks
Aug. 26th, 2011 05:37 am (UTC)
addendum to my other comment on another post: there's also the dismal reason that the US was economically scared of Japan in the 80s and is currently same of China (and the Brits were scared of China before 1850) but the US has not yet become scared of India. It's something about top predators and charismatic megafauna: China has the Qans and the Triads, which impress us because they've caused us trouble. Indians have mostly been dangerous to othor people (except the Dacoits and Thugs, who therefore smeak into RPGs and other pop culture).
erich_schneider
Sep. 27th, 2011 10:57 pm (UTC)
I think you may be overestimating the meritocratic nature of Imperial China - the examinations involved writing highly stylized essays on Confucian topics and as such required very expensive tutoring to be able to pass, so as I understand it they tended to reinforce existing wealth-based class divisions. And as far as racism goes, the Chinese had plenty of that...

India had as large a cultural influence on the Indochinese peninsula and Indonesia as China did on Korea, Japan, and Vietnam.

Buddhism is a "hip" religion among Westerners because most Westerners know about a largely theoretical Buddhism that is almost nothing like the actual Buddhism practiced in Asia. Also, Buddhism largely died out in India because later Hindu thinkers, like Adi Shankara, came along and buttressed the Hindu philosophical framework so as to successfully (in local people's minds) address the critique presented by Buddhism.

India's influence on Western pop culture was huge in the '60s. For my money traditional Indian music absolutely trumps traditional Chinese music. Chinese vs. Indian food is a draw in my mind (I like both but eat Indian more). China gave us martial arts but India gave us yoga; I would be curious to know which had more practicioners in the West.

If you want spiritual superpowers, chapter 3 of Patanjali's Yogasutra has a bunch of them. In fact, the psionics section in Original D&D's Eldritch Wizardy says that the various powers come from yogic practices.

And finally, India gave us the Kamasutra. China has equivalents but none nearly as famous.
mindstalk
Sep. 27th, 2011 11:16 pm (UTC)
I'm sure you're at least partially right about the examinations, but in a way that's irrelevant for what I was getting at, which is less about how reality shapes perceptions and more about how superficial perceptions shape desire to learn more. "Civil service exams vs. caste! China!" "Actually in practice the exams were rather stratified and the castes somewhat flexible." "Oh... well, too late." Or cf. my parenthesis after Inventions.

Influence on SE Asia: yep. But I think people are less aware of that. I wasn't thinking about it, and I sort of knew it from art museums, though I know it more now. Maybe it's because Japan is currently also cooler than Thailand or Indonesia?

I might agree with you on the music, and may prefer Indian food, or at least the average Indian restaurant to the average Chinese one. I hadn't thought about yoga, or 1960s Indophilia. Or the Kamasutra, heh.
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )

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