aTHE DIFFERENCES IN CULTURE: A COMPARISON OF THE UNITED STATES AND CHINA
The Differences in Culture: A Comparison of the United States and China
Debra H. Maxie
Patrick Henry Community College
Cultural differences are apparent from one group of people to another. Culture is based on many things that are passed on from one generation to the next. Most of the time people take for granted their language, beliefs, and values. When it comes the cultural differences of people there is no right or wrong. People should be aware of others culture and respect the differences that are between them. The United States and China are two very large countries that have cultures that are well known through out the world. There are many differences between the United States and China, but there are many contributing factors that shape the cultures of these two countries.
Language is universal, but there are different meanings and sounds, which vary from one culture to another. In China citizens speak many languages, but about 94% speak the Chinese language. The difference in dialects was overcome by the written word and eventually a version of Mandrin became the “official speech” (The Cambridge Illustrated History of China, 1996,p.304). In America there are many ethnic groups with many varieties of language. The U.S. was created through many people from different countries migrating to the new states. In the U.S. there is an “official speech” which is the English language. The language of both these countries are not only different in meaning and sound, but also reflect the way in which the people in these societies live, believe, and function.
Religion usually plays a big part in the cultures of the world and is the basis for their beliefs and values. In many countries religion is very important, so important that some cultures use it in every aspect of their lives. China like some other countries is a multi-religious country. Islam, Taoism, Buddhism are the three main religions of China (National Day Special, 1999). Buddhism is the worshiping of the “enlightened one” and teaches to overcome one’s desires is to overcome pain. Islam teachings are written in a book called the Koran and was founded by Muhammad. He claimed to have a vision from God. There are two different types of Islam that are practiced: one believes the religious leader is inspired to interpret the Koran and the other believes that Modernism threatens religion (Chinatown-online- Chinese beliefs). In the United States there are hundreds of denominations and sects of religion. About 69 % of Americans belong to a church or synagogue. In the U.S. people are usually drawn to a certain religion because of social class, race and age. The most obvious classification of religion in the U.S. is race (Sociology A Down-to-Earth Approach, 1999, pg. 511). African Americas and the White population tend to separate themselves into their own churches. With so many congregations and denominations throughout the U.S. there is no dominate religion. Over the years moderilization in the U.S. has put less importance on religion. The Chinese culture is very much centered on religion (A Down-to-Earth Approach, 1999 pg. 512).
Over a period of year’s education has grown to be very important to many cultures all over the world. At one time in many cultures children were only taught what was necessary to get along and sometimes only children of the wealthy would be taught. China’s government places great emphasis on their educational system. They have even established an Educational Fund-Raising System, which puts extra money into the school system. At this time China has implemented the Compulsory Education Project, which is mainly aimed at helping poor areas of China. The implementation of Kindergartens has grown steadily over the past few years, with about 42.2 % of children ages 3 to 5 years of age enrolled (Chinese Culture-Education for Children). According to UNESCO Statistics the enrollment ratio of school-aged children in China is much higher than in other countries of the same economic development level. The educational system of the U.S. started with educating people about politics and the government. There was no comprehensive school system and most schools were supported by tuition only. Few poor children were allowed to attend free (Sociology A Down-to-Earth Approach, pg. 466). In 1918 all U.S. states had mandatory education laws that required children to go to school (Sociology A Down-to- Earth approach, pg. 467). There are several major problems within the U.S. educational system today. Low scores on SAT tests, school violence, drugs and teen pregnancy. The increase of gun shootings in schools is a major concern of the U.S. and they are quickly trying to find answers to this problem. China and the U.S. recognize education as a very important part of their societies, but they know there are improvements to be made (Sociology A Down-to-Earth Approach, pg. 483-484).
Values play an important role in culture. Values are people’s ideas, definitions, and standards in life. The traditional values of China have changed over the years, but there are still some that are a part of the modern way of life. Traditional values included; many relatives living together in large family units, sons valued more than daughters, men only working, and family was emphasized. Today in China family importance and reputation is very much alive. There are smaller family units and usually consisting of parents, children and sometimes grandparents. The value of girls is as important as boys and they are seen as equals. At one time all marriages were arranged, but today most people are free to choose their own spouse. The Chinese people have traditional festivals that are very important in their lives. “All Chinese festivals include common elements such as a desire for happiness and well being, the warding off of misfortune, experiencing a connection between man and heaven, and family reunion.” “Chinese traditional festivals are one of the strongest bonds reinforcing the cultural identity of the Chinese.”(Destiny, The Culture of China – Living and Values, 1998) The U.S. is made up of many different groups and there are numerous religious, racial, ethnic and special interest groups within U.S. societies. To specify U.S. values is difficult because there are so many different groups. There are some core values that are shared by many of the groups in the United States. Achievement and success are very important to Americans. Personal achievement is at the top of the list in school, work, attaining wealth, power and prestige. Leisure has become a major value with Americans. This is apparent through seeing the emergence of the Recreational Industry. Self- fulfillment has also become a top value as seen with all the self- help products and programs. Physical fitness is another area that Americans have begun to be striving for and is what’s expected. The values of the U.S. seem to be more self-centered and China’s values remain centered around family (Sociology A Down-to-Earth Approach, Sociologist, Robin Williams, 1965, pg. 47).
Norms are expectations that are formed from the values that are within a society. All cultures have norms that they live by. In China there are expectations for family closeness and honor. This closeness with family is seen among most Chinese people. There are norms about how many children a family can have and two is the limit in China. This of course is to control population because China is so over populated. In the U.S. there are a lot of expectations or norms that people are expected to follow. In the U.S. children are expected to go all the way through school and graduate. People are expected to get married and have families, but it is thought to do this after personal achievement and success. There are a lot of norms that the U.S. and China have but most people don’t always live up to what is expected.
Laws help control and run societies and each culture has a set of rules to follow. Each culture has certain laws that are chosen according to their ideas and beliefs. China is a Socialistic society with major success in economic development. Living standards have improved and education has progressed because of the laws of China. “The People’s Republic of China is a unitary multinational state built up jointly by the people of all Nationalities.” In China’s Constitution there are several general principles. In article 4 “All nationalities in the People’s Republic of China are equal.” In Article 19 China promotes education “The state develops educational facilities of various types, in order to wipe out illiteracy and provide political, cultural, scientific, technical, and professional education for workers, peasants, state functionaries, and other working people.” Throughout China’s Constitution it covers providing medical and health services, family planning, laws to protect the people and the environment. The people of China take the Constitution as the basic norm of conduct (ICL- China- Constitution, 1988). The laws in the U.S. are about protecting and keeping the rights of the people. Freedom of speech, religion, to bear arms, and the press are only a few of the precious rights that Americans have. These laws are kept and protected by the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Many of the great programs created by the U.S. Government were established many years ago. The people of the U.S. are privileged to have Social Security, Medicaid, Government loans, educational assistance and many more government programs.
The Federal Republic of the United States offers a land of freedom and opportunity to all people.
The population of a country can give a clue as to how a society functions in the way that it does. The population of China as of 1998 was 1.248101 billion. The Chinese birth rate was 16.30 million and death rate 6.50 million as of 1998. The average lifespan of Chinese people is 70.8 years (National Day Special, 1999) In the U.S. the population is 260,650,000 million people. In 1998 birth rates were listed at 3,944,046 million and death rates were 470.8 per 1,000 population. According to U.S. Vital Statistics life expectancy reached a record high of 76.7 years (APA News Release, 1999).
The information that has been provided about the countries of China and the U.S. clearly shows that cultures are different based on many things. People’s values, beliefs, ideas, and norms dictate how and what their culture will be and how others perceive it. To be informed, educated and aware that there are differences from culture to culture could possibly help unite nations and societies. The biggest difference I see about these two countries is the order of their priorities. China puts family and religion first in everything and the U.S. seems to have this last on their list. It seems that this has caused society to have no morals and conscious about the ugly things that happen in the United States.
Ebrey, B. P., (1996). Cambridge Illustrated History China. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
National Day Special: 50 years a look at China (1999). Retrieved March 21, 2001, from the World Wide Web: http://english.peopledaily.com.
Chinatown-online is a wonderful site with an abundance of information about China.
Henslin, J. M., (1999). Sociology A Down-to-Earth Approach (4th ed.). Massachusetts: Allyn and Bacon.
Education for Children: (1999). Retrieved March 21, 2001, from the World Wide Web: http://chineseculture.about.com/culture/chineseculture/l…/blskids4.htm?terms=chinese+educatio
Thinkquest Team, (1998) . Destiny, the Culture of China: http://library.thinkquest.org/20443/culture.html
ICL Document, (1988) . ICL- China Constitution: Retrieved March27, 2001 from the World Wide Web: http://www.uni-wuerzburg.de/law/ch00000_.html
American academy of Pediatrics (AAP), (1999). US Vital Statistics show Death Rates down, Birth Rates up: http://www.aapaorg/advocacy/archives/decvital.htm