Caste and Writing Systems in East and South Asia

by Roger Bourke White Jr., copyright April 2018


South and East Asia both developed caste systems. According to the Asian Philosophies book both were first based on meritocracy, but then the South Asian forms evolved into ancestry-based while the East Asian forms remained meritocratic. This difference affected writing skills and may have been effected by them.

Writing makes a difference

When a caste system is based on meritocracy it is based on testing the applicants. The testing systems in China were written. This made mastering writing skill an important asset in Chinese culture. Some East Asian cultures went even further in their writing reforms. In Korea in the 1400's King Sejong supported creating a whole new alphabet specifically designed for the Korean language -- at the time they were using an adapted version of the Chinese alphabet, it was very clumsy. It is interesting to note that this new alphabet was not easily accepted by Korean intelligentsia. It was a "hobby alphabet" until the 20th century. What changed then was it became part of expressing Korean identity during the Japanese Occupation era.

While the Chinese were testing, the Indian cultures were evolving into the inherited caste system. This meant there were no tests to pass and mastering writing skill became a non-issue in determining caste. This changed the value of writing skills between India and China.

Did writing loose importance in India? As a result were writing system reforms slower to advance? I don't know. How much effect this caste system difference had on writing systems, and vice versa, would be interesting to discover.



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