Comparing and Contrasting the United States and China Essay

A young girl in the People’s Republic of China drops out of school so that she can care for her aging parents. She will stay with them and carry out many of the household chores while her brother is away getting an education. She wanted nothing more than to stay in school and perhaps go on to college, but this is a dream she may as well forget. Besides, if her parents can only afford to educate one of their children, why would it be her? Soon she will probably marry and move into another household with another pair of parents that need tended to anyways.

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What good would an education do her? Meanwhile in the United States of America, a young girl – not so very different from the aforementioned girl – leaves her home with her parents to pursue a college degree hundreds of miles away. Her parents could really use someone around the house to help with the housework, but she fervently maintains that this is not her responsibility.

She is excited about the amount of independence she will soon be experiencing: namely, she will not have to take care of her parents or her little brother anymore.

The only person she has to care about now is herself, and that will only change if she wants it to. The girl in China is (and likely always will be) living in a way oddly reminiscent of Ancient China. Although the nation as a whole has evolved remarkably throughout the past 4000 years, many centuries old customs and traditions have withstood the test of time and are still visible in modern China. Contrastingly, the old traditions and standards of the United States show little resemblance to what the country has become.

Many of the ideals that founded this country just a few hundred years ago have since disintegrated. The underlying point is this: China is a country whose current customs and beliefs are deeply rooted in its ancient history, while the United States has customs and beliefs that are constantly changing and evolving to suit the times. It is fair to say that – from a historical point of view – when China and the United States were respectively founded, they held some of the exact same beliefs.

For instance, both maintained that women were subordinate to men, and men were to make the major decisions for the family. Children were to be obedient to their parents and grandparents. Both nations viewed children in and of themselves to be financial assets to the family (mainly because both nations had strong agricultural backgrounds), and the main goal of life was to marry and create a big family. Overall, the United States at its founding was a very different place than it is now, sharing many basic characteristics with what is known of China in its early days.

As time progressed, the culture of both nations changed remarkably, although more dramatically in the United States than in China. The latter’s culture preserved many of the traditions that it always had: women are still considered lesser than their male counterparts. Children are still supposed to obey and respect their parents, no matter what, and they are still viewed as a financial asset to their families. Many Chinese people are farmers and herders, not straying far from their ancient ancestors, and most (especially the older population) would say their primary ambition is marriage and a family.

Education – which was customarily little better than useless to common people – still falls to the wayside in an abundance of families. In other words, a majority of Chinese citizens embrace traditional, ancient beliefs. The United States has travelled a completely different path over its lifespan. The ideologies the founding fathers are, at best, dead and, at worst, offensive. As previously stated, the United States began its existence with the same general traditions as the Chinese. However, many of the traditions that were a fundamental part of life 400 years ago have since ceased to be entirely.

Most obviously, the United States is no longer a strictly agrarian society; meaning children are no longer an economic necessity. In fact, most would probably describe them as an economic burden, which is a far cry from their traditional role in the family. The 18th century definition of success as having a large and healthy family has been replaced with a new definition that stresses a good job and a lot of money. Although not perfect, the United States has also lost most of its traditional – and derogatory – views on women.

Education has since become extremely important to citizens of the United States. Where once the highest and most respected people were often elementary school dropouts, now a college degree is almost a necessity. In other words, most of the traditions and customs that founded the United States have long since been abandoned, and few people still live by the ideals of their ancestors. This leads to the question of why many Chinese people hold so dear customs that are thousands of years old.

For one thing, Chinese citizens have always placed a strong emphasis on familial ties and shame. They have a lot of pride in their families and their family names, and being disgraced is regarded as one of the worst forms of punishment. American families have always had a degree of family pride, too, but not nearly as strong as that of China. Therefore, it can be assumed that the fear of shaming one’s family led many Chinese people to adopt more moderate and socially acceptable lifestyles, which would doubtlessly produce a rather old-fashioned, traditional society.

On the other hand, the American abandonment of cohesive families and adjustment to a more individual-centric society creates a kind of need for branching out into the unknown and daring, especially since they lack the restraint of the threat of family shame. In the end, Chinese people seem to generally perpetuate the ideals of their parents and grandparents, while Americans strive to be innovative and original, which causes them to deviate from the ways of their elders.

Intriguingly, this creates two completely polar perceptions about elderly people. The Chinese people seem to respect a person more as they age and gain valuable wisdom. Oppositely, the American people seem to devalue people as they approach the end of their lives. They don’t seem to care about the wisdom that could be given from such an old person, only caring about the financial implications of keeping people in poor, failing health alive.

A related and interesting commonality arises when the issue of tradition is considered with respect to government. On a large scale, both nations have always tried to appear to be at the forefront of science and technological development. Beginning thousands of years ago, China started construction on the Great Wall, both as a means of defense and an attempt to impress all who saw it. More recently, their government has been known to spend millions of dollars on building skyscrapers essentially just to rouse the rest of the world.

Specifically, the country saw quite a bit of both criticism and awe from the world during the 2008 Olympics due to the excessive amounts and types of architecture built for the sake of looking imposing. The United States does much the same thing as well. The citizens have almost always embraced displays of power in everything from the moon landings to the military prowess displayed during wars and skirmishes. In both cases, the governments are attempting to create atmospheres that appear rich, powerful, and on par with – if not better than – everyone else.

It is clear that China and the United States have some pretty clear differences in culture, fundamentally stemming from the fact that China is a very traditional and familial society, whereas the United States is more focused on innovation and the individual. Equally – probably even more – important are the similarities between the discussed people. Although the cultures definitely have their differences and the people may never quite understand each other no matter how hard they try, the realization that they still have much in common is the first step to respect and ultimately peace.

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