The Importance of Culture

Culture is a strong part of people’s lives; it specifically defines the beliefs, values, morals, customs, and interests shared between a group of people. Culture is an important part of society because it allows people groups to uphold a unique identity among other groups of people.

While some cultures have similar interests and practices, others have customs that differ greatly when compared to another group. While China and India were both advanced ancient civilizations, they have many present-day cultural differences including: social system, food habits, eating practices, and religion.

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Patriarchy is a common custom in both Indian and Chinese cultures; this means both of these societies follow the rules of patriarchy. Patriarchy is when the man of a house has complete dominance over the woman and the household. For example, if a woman wanted to leave the house to go to the store, she would have to ask her husband’s permission to do so. In these cultures, men are always superior to women. Men have so much power over their wives that they are literally allowed to beat them as long as their wounds are small.

The Chinese Communist Party declared that the nation of China is atheist, yet they are gradually becoming more tolerant of different religions (Albert). As of right now, there are only five officially legal religions: Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Catholicism, and Protestantism. Practicing any religion other than these five is considered illegal in the region, even though the law says the people are allowed freedom of religion.

The steady acceptance of these religions has only begun to grow in the past few decades. About 1/4thof the Chinese people practice Taoism and Confucianism and other traditional religions. There are smaller numbers of Buddhists, Muslims, and Christians. India is recognized as the birthplace for Hinduism and Buddhism. Unlike China, roughly 84% of the population of India identify as Hindu (Stanford). The remainder of the Indian population are accounted for as Muslims (14%), Christians (2.3%), Sikhs (1.7%), and very few Buddhists and Jains (Stanford).

China is first in population and fifth in area, and the customs and traditions vary by geography and ethnicity (Zimmerman). Cuisine is heavily influenced by ethnic diversity and geography. While there are many different styles of cooking in Chinese culture, there are two main styles. Cantonese is one heavily utilized style of Chinese cooking; this plate features stir-fried dishes. The other style is Szechuan; a dish known for its spiciness. Rice is one of China’s main food sources and a major element that helped to grow their society. Rice is a staple in the Chinese diet, along with bean sprouts, cabbage, and scallions. The Chinese do not consume much meat, but sometimes pork or chicken — tofu is their main source of protein.

Eating practices in China are a communal activity. Food in China is ordered dish-by-dish to be shared throughout the whole table. Each person eating will have their own rice bowl; using chopsticks or serving spoons the host will put food from plates or bowls that are in the center of the table into the personal bowls. It is almost like a sit-down buffet, except the host will be placing the food into each person’s bowl.

This is a sign of hospitality, not to be mistaken by westerners as an interference with independence. In China, it is quite acceptable to place your elbows on the table, especially while eating noodles. Chopsticks are the common utensils used in china, and it is normal for everyone to use their own chopsticks to fetch for food from the dishes in the center of the table. Smoking is permitted in most Chinese restaurants; if one is uncomfortable with this custom a way around it is to ask for a side room for your meal which will have its own door to separate you a bit from the smoke.

Slurping, smacking, and leaving the mouth open while eating can be viewed as demonstrating enjoyment of the food being eaten and the friendly environment in China. Drinking alcohol is common as far as beer goes, but all the beer is very similar. Rice wine is also a popular choice, but beware, it can be very strong (40%+ alcohol) (Kelly). Drinking in China is mainly a male custom. Men are routinely offered alcohol and cigarettes at lunch or dinner. Being drunk is not seen as a problem, but rather encouraged.

Indian cuisine was heavily influenced after the invasion of the Moghul Empire in the sixteenth century (Zimmerman). India is known for its large variety of dishes and its use of spices and herbs. Much like China, cooking styles will vary from region to region. Wheat, basmati rice, and pulses with chana are staples in the typical Indian diet. The dishes are rich with curries and spices such as: ginger, coriander, cardamom, turmeric, dried hot peppers, cinnamon, etc. Chutneys are thick spreads made from different fruits and vegetables and they are used very kindly in Indian cooking.

Although many Hindus are vegetarian, lamb and chicken are usually found in dishes for non-vegetarians.
Unlike the Chinese, the Indian’s typically eat their food using their fingers or bread as utensils. Being asked over for a meal in an Indian household is considered a sign of honor. One traditional saying, “Atithee Devo Bhava,” means, “The guest is God!”. It is considered very rude to skip a meal unless you have a very good reason for doing so. In Indian culture the amount of food you consume is supposed to be an indication of how much you like the food. Also, in some states in India, if you don’t burp it is actually frowned upon. Meals typically end with dessert; tea or coffee may also be served later on in the meal.

Culture is important because it allows different ethnic groups to uphold a unique identity among other people. While some cultures have similar interests and practices, others have customs that could not be any more different from each other. When it comes to Chinese and Indian food culture, I found they have many similarities and differences. The main staples of their foods being similar because they both include rice; they are different because bean sprouts and scallions are a noted staple of Chinese food, but not noted as a staple of Indian food.


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