Political Culture

One of the lectures addressed the history of China-US relations. It got me thinking about differences between our cultures, and how that shapes the relationship dynamics between the two countries. The most obvious difference upon arriving is the racial homogeneity of China compared to the US. I had heard about the 40-some minority racial groups in China, but I think that number is very misleading. In practice, 90+% of the people you would meet in major cities belong to the Han Chinese racial group. Aside from that, I think the most significant difference may be political culture. The US is ostensibly based on a bottom-up democratic approach. China, by contrast, follows a top-down approach. In America, great pains are taken around the value of individual autonomy. Those values are nowhere near as widespread in China. I discussed this issue with a friend, and she brought up the point that our freedoms are not as complete as we like to think in America – the Patriot Act is a good example. Add in our massive wealth gap and the fact that money can do much more to influence political action than a person’s vote ever will; when viewed this way, it begins to seem like the American image of freedom and democracy is little more than an illusion conjured by a clever and rich ruling class. Perhaps we are not so different from the Chinese, and they just avoid beating around the bush and hiding their top-down political processes. Political culture is a complicated issue, and after experiencing China firsthand, I am sure I will leave with more questions than I came in with.

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