Culture is a common notion that embraces a diverse set of learned patterns of human behavior. According to anthropologist Edward B. Taylor, culture is “that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, law, morals, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society”(Tylor, 1871).
Culture is a very volatile phenomenon as it constantly changes with the limitation to exist only in our minds. In other words, we are the reflection of our culture, which was acquired by the environment that a person had been raised in. The current trends in globalization and global citizenship emphasize on the importance of awareness of cultural differences among countries. It lays the foundation for peace, mutual understanding, and elimination intolerance.
However, global citizenship does not have a universal cultural background. Each country has its own language, beliefs, cuisine, tastes in music, arts, and general social habits that narrow to the culture of a specific country.
Located on the opposite sides of the globe, China is one of the largest countries the population of which is more than a billion people with a diverse cultural background. It has a continuous recorded history of 5,000 years. While the United States of America is the third biggest country by its size. It is relatively a very young country. It hosts the representatives of different races and ethnicities from all over the world; and, thus, there are very few customs and traditions that are known to be genuinely American. Nonetheless, it makes interesting to compare both cultures that are unique in their own way.
A social structure should be a starting point for the cultural comparison of China and the U. S. In China, the social structure is hierarchical and more formal. A person knows where to fit in the structure and consequently follows the rules that exist in a certain level of social hierarchy. In America, the informal social structure is predominant. There is no strict line in socializing among people from different social levels. In general, in the U.S., social ranking is minimized.
Conception of self in China is collectivistic. Chinese people place a higher value on their influence on a group, as a whole, rather than how the group affects individual. They are prone to give up something or sacrifice themselves for a general wealth. American culture is known for its great support of the individualism. The high value is laid on self-reliance, initiative in their own decision-making, which leads to self-promotion. Individualism does not limit an individual and gives opportunities for a personal growth and development.
While comparing the social structure and conception of self it is important to highlight the perception of a social status by both cultures. In China, the social status is ascribed. It depends on such characteristics as gender, age, and family. In the United States, it is different. The social status is merit-based and depends on individual’s achievements either in education, a public activity or at a working place. The social status is highly affected by conception of self. A collectivistic concept outlines the frames for individual development, while individualism broadens the horizons for the individual growth.
The social status directly connected with reputation. For Chinese people, reputation is among top priorities. Every action is carefully weighed as it may lead to humiliation and harm the one’s reputation. When it occurs, a person may even give up a job position or other thing in the sake for a reputation recovery. In America, reputation is not so crucial. It is more about an end goal. Reputation may be overlooked.
In this regard, it should be reasonable to look at inter-personal communication. In China, it is more common to have a limited circle of friends with highly developed reciprocal dependence on each other and a life-long relationship. For Americans, it is more common to have a large circle of friends and acquaintances, which change with the time. There are only a few ties with a mutual obligation commitment. For the Chinese, relationships come first while accomplishing a task. It is other way around in America; relationships have less importance contrary to getting work done.
Another peculiar feature of Chinese culture is a role of laws, rules, and regulations. They place more faith in personal relationships than in what has been written. In the United States, written rules have the supremacy. They are equally applied to everyone. In addition, it helps to establish fair and justified procedures and decision-making.
Confrontation and criticism is banned in China. It is still closely connected to reputation despite the truth, which might be critical. They are considered to be shameful to start a direct confrontation while pursuing your personal point of view.
As it has been mentioned above, reputation is above all in Chinese culture. It closely relates to a moral aspect of culture. For example, in China, dating during adolescence is discouraged; and, thus, marriage is considered to be appropriate in late twenties. In the American culture, it is different. There are no strict rules that would prescribe when it is appropriate to get married, unless it might be regulated by the federal law.
Another feature that differentiates two countries is a role of humility. In the United States, humility is a sign of weakness. In China, it is a virtue. It is inappropriate to brag about personal achievements and success.
In China, respect comes along with reputation. It is very important to be sensitive to the needs of other person. It is set by default that you will treat the other person with respect. Their needs will be met at each encounter. It is recognized that this feature, unfortunately, fades away in the American culture. In China, youngsters have to use pronouns to address to older people, while in America it is common to use a name or a last name despite of the age.
They show respect towards each other, including those who passed away. Commemoration of ancestors is important as they pay relatively more attention to the past. They perceive it as an obligation to visit the gravesites and honor each ancestor individually. In contrast to America, where most people rarely know these kinds of details, it might be due to overwhelming majority of first-generation of immigrants who reside in the United States (Graf 2010).
Speaking about ancestry and family ties it is important to mention the differences between Chinese and American families. The most peculiar difference is connected with the role of family in the society. For Americans, the family serves as a supportive environment for an individual to grow, develop, and contribute to the community. For Eastern countries, like China, the family serves as a core constituent of the society. The main role of an individual is to keep the family together and work for its continuation. The recent research by Taiwanese scholars C. Y. Cyrus Chu and Ruoh-Rong Yu conducted in 2010 shows that due to the changes in economy and, thus, in society, the concept of the Chinese family has changed.
Despite changes in a family size, marriage, reproduction limits, division of household duties, and education arrangements, however, interaction between different generations within the family has remained unchanged. It is usual for Chinese families to reside with elder generations with common budgets. While in the American culture, the concept of family is changing. It is more common to see a single-parent family or same-sex family, which is slightly different from a stereotypical concept of the ideal family. However, it is still the family. A lot of elder generations prefer to stay at retirement homes or ask for care provided by the government rather than staying dependent on a younger generation (C.Y. Cyrus Chu 2010).
The relationships between children and parents are also different. For instance, in China, parents have an absolute authority. It means children have to obey the rules. Parents act on child’s behalf and have a final word even when children reach their adolescence.
In America, the children’s and parents’ tie is more like friendship. It is allowed for a child to express his or her own view and be treated equally. Parents allow freedom in decision-making and personal autonomy.
Parenting in both countries is different. Chinese parents try to foresee future of their children and decide which path to choose either education or seek for a good employment. Most of the time, children spend studying at the same time loosing the connection to develop independence, adaptation, and social obligations. It is opposite in America. Parents try to focus on abilities to adjust to different live circumstances and emphasize on independence.
On the household level, the Chinese parents do not assign chores and do all the housework for them. The contact with the outer world is also limited. Parents are over involved in all aspects of private life. Despite the discipline that exists in Chinese families, there is also obedience to satisfaction of child’s needs. If necessary, parents may tighten their expenses just to give everything that the child wants.
By contrast, in America where competition has penetrated into each sphere of social life, parents believe that children must rely on their own strengths in order to succeed. A lot of attention is paid for the development of analytical and practical abilities which will be useful in adulthood. An American teenager when reaching eighteen is no longer dependent on their parents.
Another important aspect in culture is cuisine and dining habits. While dining out with friends in America it is common to share the bill between friends. During other occasions, Americans will treat a friend to a meal while in China it is expected that the guest will invite the host for a meal later in return. In addition, in China, friends’ outings usually are paid for the host. If there is no host, at the end of the evening, everyone will fight over the bill to pay. Paying for oneself in China is considered as mean, selfish, and miserly.
There is no need to evaluate the superiority of one culture over another. Each culture has traced its own way to shape its own pillars over a certain period of time and through different epochs. People usually think that the grass is much greener on the other side no matter if it is East of West. Western culture has a significant influence on others. It is individualistic by its nature which supports development of an individual and its work towards building oneself. China is collectivistic by its origin. A lot of attention is paid on relationships and opinions of others. It is the culture that treasures obedience and humbleness. Social ties and interactions between people are different. The family as a core foundation of the society also differs starting from its foundation to the role it plays for the community. Culture changes a lot and influence of one culture on another is undeniable. However, the core features remain unchanged in both of them.
Both American and Chinese cultures are unique. They are neither better nor worst. It is a key for understanding and establishing sound relations between two countries.