Sample Paper on Ancient Indian Civilization and East Asian societies

Ancient Indian Civilization and East Asian societies

The paper compares ancient Indian civilization (antiquity to 300 C. E.) with East Asia (Chinese) civilization (221 B.C.E-800 C. E) focusing on social organization. Since the two civilizations occurred within close proximity of each other geographically and historically (over 500 years of parallel existence), they are likely to have influenced each other directly or indirectly.

Ancient Indian and East Asian societies shared some general aspects of social organization but differed in specific areas. For instance, both societies consisted of four classes based on social roles. At the helm of the class system in ancient India were the Brahmins or the religious leaders.[1] Brahmins were highly revered in the society because of their advisory role on matters of worship. The warrior, kshatriya, occupied the second class. Their role was to defend the society against invaders. The vaisya were the merchants who earned their living by selling goods and animals. The majority of the Indian population belonged to the sudra, a social class consisting of manual workers, such as artisans and peasants.

For the Chinese society of East Asia, the nobles or the elite led by the ruling family occupied the topmost class.[2] Unlike the Brahmins who earned respect for their religious duties, the nobles of ancient China earned their status as political and intellectual leaders. Nevertheless, the citizens of ancient India and East Asia believed that the Brahmins and the nobles were god-sent.[3] Just below the ruling class of the Chinese society were the peasants, who worked on the farms to provide food to the society. Unlike the sudras, the peasants of ancient East Asia received high regard for their role as food producers. For this reason, they were more important than the artisans and the merchants unlike in ancient India where they were inferior to the merchants and of equal social status with the artisans. The artisans belonged in the third class in ancient China while the merchants fell into the lowest class.[4] While warriors enjoyed a high social status (second class) in the ancient Indian society, they did not receive meaningful respect in ancient china. It is worth recognizing that ancient Indians had a unique category of people, the untouchables or the outcasts.[5] They led miserable lives in isolated quarters because they had no right to mingle freely with the rest of the society. The untouchables included prisoners, slaves, and criminals.

Both ancient Indian and Chinese societies recognized family as an essential social institution. For Indians, the extended family was the typical social unit with the oldest male as the head of the family.[6] Although the concept of extended family existed in the Chinese society, most Chinese families were smaller and children were highly regarded because they provided labor for agricultural production.[7] Ancient Indians maintained a strong connection with their departed ancestors through family rituals and ceremonies. The male head of the family conducted the ceremonial rituals to remember the dead. Similarly, the Chinese venerated their ancestors but the tradition was more common among the nobility who desired long life for the ruling dynasty. In terms of structure, the Chinese family was highly streamlined with clear rules to govern relationships among family members, unlike the Indian family that depended on the male head for direction. In the Chinese family, each member belonged to a specific place in a hierarchical organization. The son had to submit to the father, the wife to her husband, the brother to his older brother, and all were subordinate to the king.[8] The Chinese also recognized friendships and friends were considered to belong to the same level in the hierarchy. While the Indian family primarily served as a unit of continuity and custody of the kin group or the clan, the family set up in China served as a socialization unit whose main purpose was to bring order in the society and instill loyalty to the ruling dynasty. In fact, kinship relations were considered a threat to patriotism. The Qin dynasty tried to introduce a new family system to destroy loyalty to the clan and assert stricter state control.[9]

Both the Indian and Chinese societies were patriarchal, with the male exercising all authority and property ownership rights. In both societies, men went out to the fields to do agricultural work while women spent most of their lives at home raising children.[10] Men in India took up all leadership positions even in the family setting where they led rituals in respect for the dead. In china, men became scholars, warriors, and powerful government officials while women lacked such opportunities. However, women in ancient India enjoyed some degree of liberty as symbols of fertility and sexual dominance although such freedom was limited in practice.[11]

Judging from the similarities between ancient Indian (antiquity to 300 CE) and the East Asian (227 BC to 800 CE) societies, especially the concept of social class, family and gender relations, one might think that the two societies influenced each other directly. However, a closer examination reveals striking differences that suggest independent evolution. Nevertheless, the spread of Buddhism from India to China suggests that avenues of cultural exchange might have existed between the two societies even in prehistoric times.



Backus, Maria. Ancient China. St. Louis: Milliken, 2002.

Challen, Paul. Life in Ancient China. New York: Crabtree Pub., 2005.

Duiker, William and Jackson Spielvogel. World History, Volume 1. Belmont, CA: Cengage Learning, 2007.

Ng, Tai. Chinese Culture, Western Culture. Bloomington, Indiana:  iUniverse, 2007.

[1] William Duiker and Jackson Spielvogel, World History, Volume 1(Belmont, CA: Cengage Learning, 2007), 45.

[2] Maria Backus, Ancient China (St. Louis: Milliken, 2002) 6.

[3] Paul Challen, Life in Ancient China (New York: Crabtree Pub., 2005) 19.

[4] Backus, Ancient China, 6.

[5] Duiker and Spielvogel, World History, 47.

[6] Duiker and Spielvogel, World History, 47.

[7] Duiker and Spielvogel, World History, 82.

[8] Tai Ng, Chinese Culture, Western Culture (Bloomington, Indiana: iUniverse, 2007) 130. .

[9] Duiker and Spielvogel, World History, 84.

[10] Duiker and Spielvogel, World History, 84.

[11] Duiker and Spielvogel, World History, 48.