Why didn’t an Indian culture emerge as the dominant culture like Han did in China due to Sinicization
I’m aware of how China became an almost homogenous nation of 1.2 bn people through Sinicization, but why didn’t India who in many ways shares similar geography produce an equivalent to Han?
I get why in Europe and the Middle East one super culture didnt form to dominate the west, mainly due to The Mediterranean sea, Sahara desert, and Syrian desert. But the Indian subcontinent, like China, isn’t broken up by a massive sea or desert like the west is. As well it had one of the few river valley civilizations and is one of the most fertile places in the world
[–]RuinEleint 1650 points 19 hours ago
Hi. I am an Indian, and am currently studying Indian history. You address a rather complex issue.
The main thing about Indian history is that there is a very significant amount of linguistic, cultural and geographical diversity.
Now, the periods between empires saw long-intense periods of regional autonomy, local conflict and the further emphasis on local identities. India is very good at adopting new norms, while maintaining old ones. Thus, in Bengal, in the 16th to 18th century, while Persian was the acknowledged language of court and administration, the ordinary people used Bengali, and that too was fragmented into many local dialects that literally changed from district to district.
There was never a ruler who actually tried to impose one culture, one language and one code of laws. No empire had the stability and the power. The regional diversity was too much.
This is not very different to the situation in India during its early years.
I would argue the main reason that China stayed unified was the lack of foreign influences, as you also pointed out. Foreign powers created lasting imprints that exacerbated geographic differences, especially with religion, and made regional rivalries flare up and make any empire which unified the continent difficult to maintain. Overall, India's proximity to other centers of civilizations destabilized the country enough that it could never fully unify.
The history of both modern nations are fairly short compared to the cultural history of the regions respectively. They're wasn't anything like "all Indians belong together" or "all Chinese belong together" before their recent nation-forming. If either region reached modern era in a more divisive period, there could very well be multiple modern nations in their place today. For India it is the Mughal and then British who "forced" all the different peoples into a same superstate, whereas if not for the Manchurian conquest and acquisition of Mongolia, Tibet etc., these regions would likely belong to their own independent states instead of China. Had Ottoman empire survived to this day, it would be comparable to India or China but somewhere in between - with strongly culturally related peoples (through history and religion) that are also very distinct from region to region, and we would be asking similar questions about them.
[–]RuinEleint 3 points 10 hours ago
Asoka actually chose peaceful consolidation and tried to use Buddhism to unify India. He sent missionaries to Sri Lanka, Tibet, China, and I think Greece.
The issue was never simply invaders through the North West, but also repeated weakness and fragmentation of the indigenous kingdoms. The Guptas actually successfully fought the Huns and this was after their golden age. Chandragupta Maurya defeated Alexander's general Seleucus when he tried to regain Alexander's conquests in India. But at other times, there was simply no united powerful Indian political entity to resist invasion.
[–]hammersklavier 16 points 11 hours ago*
It occurs to me this might actually be -- ironically -- because the middle Ganges valley is too optimal for the development of a centralized state.
See, the Chinese heartland in antiquity was the North China Plain, which is one of the world's largest alluvial plains. This means it is incredibly fertile but also incredibly flat and prone to flooding. The Yellow River has, in fact, changed course between 18 and 26 times in recorded history -- and has reached the sea, at various times, on either side of the Shandong Peninsula. In fact, its mouth changed most recently in the 20th century!
Because of this, centralized states developed early on the North China Plain as an extension of the hydraulic engineering needed to keep the river where it was "supposed" to go and not wreck people's fields after every big rain. These coalesced into the Shang and early Zhou dynasties, fragmented in the Warring States period, and were more-or-less permanently unified by the Qin Dynasty ... However, the nature of the heartland necessitated greater Chinese centralization, just due to the titanic effort needed to (not always successfully) keep the Yellow River in check.
If this is the case, then it makes sense why a bunch of Timurid exiles carrying Persian ideas of administration were the ones who formed the longest-lasting unification of India prior to British meddling.
[–]khoonirobo 50 points 20 hours ago
This! India was really influenced by a multitude of incoming and internally generated influences but never had a truly long period of stability and thus homogenisation. Without the homogenisation part the multitude of cultures continue to exist in pockets and influence each other in broader swathes. An example, take language, the only really common language is English, which is no - ones mother tongue. No language has the status of a 'national language' though there are multitude of nationally recognised languages.
[–]ludonarrator 2 points 14 hours ago
This is (almost) correct; most of present day India is astonishingly isolated from all sides. This is also why the location of Kashmir - which currently happens to be under Indian control (sort of illegally so, too) - is considered extremely valuable, being the centre point of three competing nations in the Himalayas: India, China, and Pakistan, and has been in a state of constant war for several decades now.
[–]Mequittingthenet [score hidden] an hour ago
India is FAR more geographically bound than China, with an ocean to the south, heavily forested mountains to the east, world's tallest mountains to the north, an arid mountain range to the west, through which South Asia is linked to the rest of the world.
india has access into the silk road. it's oceans to the south exposed it to greek and arab traders since before recorded history. china is landlocked except to the east. india has a whole peninsula exposed to the ocean. also, within india, the land is more broken by rivers and mountains. isolating people within india from each other, whereas within china, people can travel with relative ease.
Also sea invasions became popular in the late 1800's, when all the European countries were competing for large navies.
[–]bananagee123 151 points 20 hours ago
The northern and southern parts of India are actually separated by shorter mountain ranges that gave ancient armies a difficult time. That’s part of the reason why south India almost always had its own kingdoms
[–]Netturaan 84 points 20 hours ago
This is an interesting point .I remember a professor once telling us that these historical effects can be seen in the way festivals are celebrated in South and north .Southern festivals are usually "in-house" events and do not have too much of community celebrating together , out in the open etc. , Whereas the North Indian festivals are more community based and obvious (such as navratri dance , or Holi etc.) . Apparently this is due to the fact that since norther parts were historically invaded from time to time and were always under threat , festivities were a show of strength of the communities .
[–]LD_in_MT 28 points 19 hours ago
I'll add that China has two large navigable rivers and multiple smaller ones that help unify parts of the interior with the coastal regions.
India certainly has navigable rivers, but nothing that connects the north and the south, say the way the Mississippi river system does in the US.
[–]MFillon 13 points 18 hours ago
Sorry, when I say Chinese identity, I mean it in a loose sense: i.e. that a person living in China at a given time identified himself as a subject of the ruling dynasty rather than of a tribe or a village (and I do understand that not everyone did). From a language standpoint, if I remember correctly, modern Chinese characters were formed post-Shang, and many elements of the culture like architecture and philosophy that would last for centuries to the modern day were set in place by the time of the Han. I would say a Chinese identity (again, in the broadest sense) was strongly in place by the golden age of the Tang.
I'm no professional historian, but I am an avid reader of Chinese history (and have lived in China previously). It's such an amazing subject, Chinese history. But please, take my posts as my own opinion and analysis, not fact.
[–]DaBIGmeow888 4 points 18 hours ago
Southern China was fully sinicized during the Song/Tang dynasties due to massive migration from Northern China.
There were rivalries between Yue and Hakka in some regions, that's all I know of.
[–]sf_davie 17 points 18 hours ago
Before the Mongols, there were significant periods of time where the place we call China today was split into many states. China was only really a unified entity for about 4 dynasties and they are often followed by centuries of turmoil (See Spring-Autumn after the Chou, Warring States before the Qin, Three Kingdoms and North and Southern Dynasties in between of Han Tang, and not to mention the drawn out instability of the later Song) . The people in the central plains were under constant invasion threats. That's why they build walls and developed archery.
[–]Sikindar[🍰] 39 points 19 hours ago
I believe the heterogeneous view of India came forth due to a mixture of several factors.
For example, when one observes Northern India you see a sense of homogeneity and a similarity in the culture which can be attributed to the Ganges water system which is shared throughout the north. This led to trade and the spreading of culture throughout Northern India. India is often underrated in terms of its size but when you look through its geography you see dense jungles with numerous mountain ranges, rivers, deserts and highlands which helped to isolate different people groups, not within the Ganges water system.
Also, the unification of India was not as frequent as in China, as only a couple of times had mostly India been united, namely: the Mauryan Empire, Delhi Sultanate, Mughal Empire, Maratha Empire, British Raj. The unification of culture is due in part to a centralized state which was commonplace in Chinese society along with strong Confucian values that encouraged integration with society.
[–]Eric1491625 [score hidden] 1 hour ago
There are indeed high mountains in China but the central plains between the Yangtze and yellow river are remarkably flat, and half the population lives there. The mountainous areas are mostly in the southwest and far west, but hardly anyone lives there. Precisely because the geography is rough there the population densities are low and as a result the Tibetans/uighurs/Min living in those mountains/deserts are utterly outnumbered by the Han who come from the large plains.
[–]bikbar 15 points 18 hours ago
As others have mentioned before, lack of a unifying empire was the main reason for not having a pan-Indian culture like China. The great empires of the Mouryans or the Mughals were not that centralized too.
The Indian empires were more like a federation of semi-independent states. For example, even during the Mughal empire at its zenith the subahs (provinces) like Bengal or Golkonda were mostly independent. The badsah of Delhi had almost zero influence in the faraway cities and villages.
[–]alter_pro[S] 11 points 20 hours ago
When I say Han I mean in the same context as in when someone says “I am Spanish, Not Catalonian” or “I am Scottish, not English”. So I would say Political unity that would be nationalistic in nature. I realize that someone in Guangzhuo lives a very different life and has vastly different customs to someone in Beijing, however both these people call them self. A culture so far as someone can say “I am (x nationality)” even if they have very different customs in practice. Kind of like Bavaria in Germany, Bavarians are catholic vs prot and a very distinct people but still are considered Germans
[–]Lord_Malgus 7 points 18 hours ago
Jokes aside, "Spain" was actually a bunch of feudal states up until the 15th century when it unified between the three major regions; Leon (Galician/Castilian), Castile and Aragon (Catalan), it was a really volatile "empire" that would only really solidify in the 1700s. Today there's the "autonomous system", but we've seen what happens when one of the regions tries to gain actual autonomy.
[–]readinreadin 4 points 19 hours ago
When did people in the Chinese empire first start calling themselves ‘Han’? I suspect if you can find out when that happened it will go a long way toward answering the question of why so many people of different but related cultures use the term but similarly inclusive terms like ‘European’ are less commonly used for culture.
[–]Hellebras 5 points 17 hours ago
During or after the Han dynasty. The Han were a long-lasting dynasty that controlled pretty much all of China to some extent or another, along with some territory outside of it. The Han also presided over one of the golden ages of Chinese civilization. So this contributed to the conditions that allowed for the development of a central identity.
[–]Swole_Prole 7 points 14 hours ago
Do you think their very advanced city infrastructure, including by far the oldest and most advanced pre-modern sewage system, arose without any political organization at all? That seems very naive. They were the first civilization to standardize measurements too. Obviously this was a very organized society at every level.
[–]sbzp -3 points 14 hours ago
Then why is there no direct evidence of political organization? There should've been some obvious evidence of that. It's highly possible they weren't a civilization but something completely decentralized, which on its own is very impressive but again creates an apples to oranges comparison.
[–]Swole_Prole 7 points 13 hours ago
They were by far the most expansive and populous civilization for most of ancient history. How could that be achieved with no political organization? What would evidence look like, considering we have not deciphered the Indus Script, and are not even sure it is a script? Why would they all have such similar city organization? Obviously there is a lot we don’t know, but it simply makes no sense to imply they were just villages doing their own thing. Where else on Earth have poorly organized societies ever produced such an advanced civilization?
[–]sachinabilliondreams 0 points 17 hours ago
India for a long part of history had city state like the Greeks but on a very large scale. The Mauryas brought it under the control of an Empire. I am seeing that people are calling Mauryas as just titular heads who were content to let local kings rule in there stead. This is incorrect as the Mauryas had a unified army, administration which was centralised. They had a common currency and regional governors. Why India didn't develop into a homogeneous society is mainly because non was powerful enough to overthrow the other and each region maintained its uniqueness simply because everyone had huge numbers which couldn't be completely suppressed. Also China had a lot of diversity and the totalitarian state destroyed it .
[–]Demiansky 5 points 12 hours ago*
I would say that the main reason is the same reason Latin isn't the dominant culture in Europe (but nearly was). Maintaining imperial hegemony over India or the Mediterranean for an extended period of time was harder than it was for China due to geography and the relative locations of high population carrying capacity. India's Ganges and and Ganges delta has huge carrying capacity, but is wedged up in the corner of the subcontinent. In other words, dominating all of India long enough to enforce one culture over all of India meant projecting power from a much more distant power base across many more mountains, deserts. Also, a large population base south and West of the plateaus meant powerful, "civilized" rivals to any Northern entity (not to mention over in modern day Pakistan, separated by even more natural barriers.)
Given enough time consistently United under one political entity, one dominant culture evolved. The same thing started happening in the Roman Empire with Latin culture, but the process was interrupted.
EDIT: I worked on a pretty complex historical demography program which gave me a lot of insight into the subject.