The Fundamental Difference Between the US and China

In the comments from my post last week about differences between the US and China, a few people had expressed interest in what Chinese people see remarkable about our culture. I think the biggest thing that almost in a sense fascinates Chinese people about our culture is our spirit of individualism. China is, and has been, a collective culture for thousands of years.

This is also the biggest thing that divides our cultures.

This sense of collectivism starts with a strong family unit, which is an idea that descends from Confucianism. Without getting too far into the tenets of Confucianism, it can be said simply that the family unit in China is much stronger than it is in the US.

Chinese parents will do everything they can to help their child succeed in the way they want the child to succeed. Though in turn the child is expected, almost obligated, to obey the parents into adulthood. The child isn't its own person; it is part of the family, and should work to serve the family. The individual doesn't decide what is best for the family; the family decides what is best for the family.

Even after graduating college and finding a job of their own, many Chinese children will still do almost exactly what their parents tell them to do. Parents are almost an overriding factor in deciding which city to live in or which company to work for, etc. I could never imagine choosing to work for a certain company, particularly a company I don't want to work for, just because my mom and dad told me to. But, self-sacrifice isn't as big a deal for Chinese people.

Even at the highest levels of government, decisions are made by consensus. Although there is a paramount leader, Xi Jinping, who is the head of the Communist Party and of its military (in China the military is controlled by the Party not by the government. Yes, the Party also controls the government, so this is just a semantic difference, but it's still important to note), he still has to work with six other guys to come to a group decision. Leaders who attempt to act independently from the groupthink often see their careers short-circuited.

Americans value individual liberty. We strive to first better ourselves, which in turn will better the group. The Chinese see it the other way around. They see the individual benefitting from the efforts of the group. Remember though that this isn't merely because of the current government; collectivism has been essential to Chinese culture for thousands of years.

Take this analysis with a rock of salt: it's from a white boy who has only lived in China for a couple of years. This is what I have gathered from my firsthand experiences. I would welcome others, especially Chinese to chime in with their thoughts.

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Comments (8)

Jan 29, 2013 - 9:18pm
Angus Macgyver, what's your opinion? Comment below:

This is a topic that has been studied pretty intensely by academics, especially in light of the relatively recent economic skirmishes between China and the West.

What I'll say is that it seems to me that the Western ideals of individualism and liberty are picking up steam in China - it's increasingly common to see newly-rich entrepreneurs flaunting their wealth in the most ostentatious of manners. On the other end of the social spectrum, you have disenchanted, disenfranchised Chinese citizens massing on anonymous Internet messageboards complaining about the Chinese system.

It'll be interesting to see how this all shakes out in another decade or two.

Jan 30, 2013 - 12:17am
amazingmonkey, what's your opinion? Comment below:

good observation. well analyzed.

Monkey Never Sleeps.
Jan 30, 2013 - 9:36am
Blank999, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Oh man, Kenny, you kill me hahahah.

While I think the US (and West) could learn a lot from the Chinese with regards to respecting parents and discipline, I really don't know if it is the best thing to have people still listening to mom and dad when they get to be an adult. Disagree with me and I challenge you to date someone like this. Insert gun in mouth.

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Jan 30, 2013 - 11:30am
BlackHat, what's your opinion? Comment below:

This has always been what's divided the East and Western worlds and was one of my pathetic academic curiosities in college. I could probably write a novel here but after reading enough studies on the topic and spending enough time in SE Asia, I'm fairly convinced this isn't going to start changing until the governments have been decidedly democratic for at least a decade. I don't even lump China into this category because they have plenty of other things going on there that are actually more "capitalistic" than anything we have going on in America (e.g. wealth gap, graft, retarded levels of feigned national pride). But China does have the same thing going on.

I hate victims who respect their executioners
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Jan 30, 2013 - 4:07pm
SteveJerbs, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Very interesting observation. In recent years though, I think china is beginning to slowly adapt some individualist behaviour. With huge entrepreneurial success spreading across china, many are chasing the American dream in china.

Jan 31, 2013 - 1:40pm
Suit Up, what's your opinion? Comment below:

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