East Asian Language and Thought

Like most countries in the world, literature, language, religion, and thought in East Asia are largely intertwined. The teaching from Buddhism, for example, has had a large impact on East Asian history and culture. In order to understand the thought process in East Asia, it is important to go back in time and find out how it was influenced by developments in its history.

Buddhism in China

In the 3rd Century BC, Buddhism was introduced in northwest India (present-day Afghanistan and Pakistan). When Central Asian merchants came into the region, they learned about Buddhism. This was when China came into contact with Buddhism. In the 1st Century BC, the Han Dynasty extended its kingdom to Central Asia. Because of this, trade and commerce in these areas increased as well.

As the popularity of Buddhism grew, the demand for Buddhist text flourished. However, the earliest translators of Buddhist text into Chinese encountered problem with finding the exact words to interpret the language. They used Taoist words as part of their language. Only later did the Chinese truly come to understand the teachings of Buddha.

It is also important to take note that East Asian thought was largely influenced by the establishment of Buddhist schools. As Buddhism reached more people, it had a great impact on Chinese literature, art, sculpture, philosophy, and architecture.

Buddhism in Korea

Historical records show that Korea was once divided into three kingdoms: the Koguryo, Packche, and Silla. Buddhism was first introduced in Koguryo before it reached the other two kingdoms. When Korea was unified under the powerful Silla in the sixth and seventh century, Buddhism became the widely accepted religion. It greatly influenced the life of an average Korean.

Through the years, Buddhism was suppressed and became replaced by Confucianism. But when Korea came under Japanese control, it once again flourished—though the Japanese introduced their own practices such as the practice of marrying clergy.

Buddhism in Japan

Japan is known as a Taoist country. Nevertheless, the impact of Buddhism still cannot be denied. Japan first came into contact with Buddhism when it received gifts from the king of Packche kingdom. The Japanese accommodated this religion together with their Shinto beliefs. For many years under different rules, Buddhism found favor with the rulers and the people. It flourished until the sixteenth century when the military rulers suppressed it for fear of its rising power and influence.

There are many available resources about East Asia in English. However, to fully access and appreciate the East Asian culture, it might be a good idea to consider studying its linguistics.

Sources that will help you find out more about East Asian language and thought include:


The Five Chinese Classics
East Asian Confucian-Buddhist Debate
Buddhist Confucian and Daoist


Electronic Buddhist Text Initiative
H-Buddhism Discussion Network
Yogacara Buddhism Research Association

Educational Resources

Hong Kong University
University of California, Berkeley
University of Wisconsin-Madison

Other Resources

Digital Directory of Buddhism
EJKV English Dictionary
Korean Buddhist Cannon