How China and USA are Different

Just because I am not in China doesn’t mean I can’t rummage through my old notes and write something new. Previously I told how America and China are alike, today, how very different they are.

Once I asked my 12 year old students what their dream in life was and almost all the boys and many of the girls said, “To go to America.” In the USA if you asked that not one in 10,000 teens would answer “To go to China.”

We have done a stellar job of selling ourselves. Americans when asked to describe this nation say, “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” or “land of the free and home of the brave” or “all men are created equal.” As good fortune would have it, we actually live that way which a trip to any part of the world will verify.

Chinese people, when asked about their nation say, “we have a 4,000 uninterrupted history” or the dogma taught to modern children “we will take over the world.” Americans speak in the present tense; the Chinese only refer either to the past or the future. We are “now” people and the rest of the world knows it. Apparently this idea of the goal of America is more deeply rooted than the notion we are an economic and military enemy, also taught to the young.

The starkest contrast is information. We have humongous piles of it, 24/7 TV news, online blogs by the billions, much of it worthless, like being baptized in Michael Jackson coverage – thank you Jon Stewart for making that clear – so it can be hard to shake off the excess. In China – zip!

I’ve attached a cartoon found at a Chinese anti-censorship website as increasingly educated Chinese chafe over being left out. You can’t demand high performance education from cradle to high school and then expect an educated upper class to sit back and swallow words and deeds without question. The Internet has made that impossible.

While the poor complain about corruption the educated protest the censors. I subscribe to If you ever want to know what Official China is not saying that is the place to go.

Blaming America has somewhat cooled in China; perhaps it generated too much positive interest. The Chinese may be cut off but they are not gullible. “How,” they ask “can a mere 300 million people dominate the world when we have five times that many of the hardest working souls on earth?” ……Like Sarah Palin raking in higher PAC donations every time she is vilified. Must be doing something right.

Failed political systems must blame others because they have run out of excuses or valid reasons – Iran, North Korea, and Chavez. Demagogues will always be out there and eventually they fail. The dog can eat just so much homework.

Finally because the two political systems are so completely opposite, the Chinese misread almost everything that our government does. For example, they believed that George Bush wanted to deliberately impoverish Chinese workers by refusing to import cyanide-laced toothpaste and the toys using lead paint. They don’t have two parties – they tell you what to think and that settles it – so an accountability-based economy is a mystery.

They think we have only one election for President, completely ignorant of the myriads of other items and persons on the ballot, assuming our President like their Communist bosses makes demands which are carried out by obedient servants. They have no understanding or experience in our political system, the huge quantities of money it takes for campaigns – what is a campaign – or the calming effect that knowing a bad politician can be removed in 2, 4 or 6 years has on a patient electorate. If you don’t like the guy, he will eventually leave!! The Chinese have no such assurances. They are stuck with these guys.

Our new President caused them panic. My good friend in Shanghai asked after the election, “We don’t know how to handle President Obama?” My reply was you handle him just exactly the same way you handled Clinton or Bush. That kind of response makes no sense to them. They personalize everything. We are a government of laws not men (so far) and expect to stay that way. They live in an unstable political world.

Here Republicans are calculating the numbers of Congressmen they can unseat next time. In a one-party nation, the Chinese have no such hope. Either they work with the powers that be, or they work around them or

Chinese censorship ia getting on China's nerves

Chinese censorship ia getting on China's nerves

– defect, if they can find a way to leave. There may be Change in China but not that much Hope.

My friends and I routinely heard our Chinese coworkers and friends say how happy we were – all that hope was showing through.


5 responses to “How China and USA are Different

  1. Dear Commentators,

    Please remember that I look at China from the experience of someone who lives in a largely free country. I would hope that none of this is considered criticism – only observation. We do ourselves a disfavor when we think people are like ourselves. Inside they are, but culture plasters over the basic nature of man. What Chinese believe is the status quo is in no way what Americans believe is the status quo.

    Last Christmas a Chinese woman felt was forced to marry a Chinese man picked out by her family. She is miserably unhappy. You would not find this very often in the USA. It is hard for me to advise her what to do because she made the decision to marry. What can I say? What would a Chinese person say? Her emails to me are filled with bitter tears. `That is what happens when culture affects humans.

  2. both are amazing and beautiful countries…..I am not an chinese and not an american but still want to visit both!!!

  3. I make this observation with kind respect…

    The China that you describe is completely alien to what I have experienced. I have lived in and out of China since 1993, and have traveled throughout China. Your description is at odds with REALITY. I simply cannot understand how you could get the impressions that you write about.

    For instance, you state that Chinese students consider America as the land of hope. You have obviously NEVER talked with a student! While it is true that many mainlanders want to visit America. They do not want to live there. In general many Chinese students think that their country has it’s flaws, but is better than the USA.

    My opinion is that you have strong patriotic feelings for the USA, and a sheltered excursion into China. For this is how your writings come across to me. As as person who lets their own belief system color the experience of surface impressions without a real understanding of the culture.

    Your writings are dangerous as they are incorrect and wrong. They can lead to great misgivings and understandings in the the future. Have you ever enjoyed a KTV? Sat down and talked with a Bao an? Listened to cpop? Embrace the culture and then try to understand it.

    • Thank you for writing. I never said my Chinese students wanted to live in America although 1/3 of all the Chinese who come here do stay, despite the huge cost. And I would not object to living out the balance of my life in China, but of course China takes no immigrants so I do not ever consider it and we do have personal freedoms here that I did not see anywhere in China except for Hong Kong.

      I never said the USA was superior, only that it is different. I have lived in several countries and they all have strong points, and they all have flaws. Everything in my posts happened to me; I didn’t make anything up, but I have only lived in northern China in smaller cities and small towns. My conclusions came from observing the Chinese. People all over the world say one thing and do another, so I watch what they do first of all, because action is the truth and the rest is words.

      I could tell the northerners were different from the southern Chinese even then. I worked with Han and Mongolians. China is a huge nation and not homogeneous but there were patterns. And there are a few areas were America is superior. I certainly like Chinese food better than Western although I missed the cheese and coffee but China does not import American goods. American are lazy in comparison to the Chinese but in a pinch, the Yanks will come through which is why so many nations come to us for help. By the way, we citizens pay for all those times we bail a nation out! And I do like the fact that if we don’t like our government we can get rid of them in the next election cycle! So we can ride out bad leaders.

      I’ve wanted to work in the South and in a large city but there have been no open doors. Hong Kong is my favorite city of all and I lived outside of Paris and still like Hong Kong better. I feel sure there are differences between north and south because there are in the USA. And I have lived most of my life in large town, I was married in New York City and now for the past 22 years in a very rural area.

      No, I never saw KTV and I do not know what a Bao is. But my Chinese language studies are improving. My job is to teach English and I have had 6 languages in all plus English so I can be a resource to ambitious Chinese students which is my purpose for going there. I liked the program Crazy English and wish we had something like that here. We do have many Spanish programs which I watch to help my Spanish skills which is my weakest language of all.

      I hope you will visit my site again with some information about yourself and your experiences outside of China.

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