How Class is Expressed in the United States and China

Jun 18, 2020 in Sociology Essay

Sociology Essay Example

Calculate Price
Order total: 00.00


Researchers and thinkers have often claimed that cultures can be divided into individualistic and collectivistic types. The former prioritize on individualism and achievement, while the latter focus on collective goals of the family, group, and society (Culbertson & Chen 2013). As a result, the American and Chinese cultures are often seen as falling in the opposite ends of this spectrum. Despite a number of differences in their perception of social classes, in both societies, the latter are directly connected with the type of person’s occupation. 

How the Americans and the Chinese Think About Social Classes 

The American and Chinese societies depict a range of similarities and differences when it comes to social stratification and social structures they maintain based on economic and cultural attributes, such as levels of income and education, occupations, positions they hold in social groups, and the power to own or control resources (Kraus, Piff & Keltner 2011). Durkheim’s perspective of class theory enables to understand better why American and Chinese societies are stratified. Durkheim presented important thoughts about occupation and social class. He found out that there are lasting conflicts among groups of individuals. With focus on the division of labour, he argued that people have similar interests if they share the same occupation and develop the sense of collective identity and thus a social class (Alexander 2014). For these reasons, in the USA, people with prestigious occupations belong to upper classes, while those with low-paid positions belong to lower ones. In China, such division is not only based on income levels, but also respect and traditions.

How the Americans Define Social Classes

American society is stratified into social classes based on wealth, income, educational attainment, occupation, and social networks. Most Americans recognize a three-tier structure, comprising upper, middle, and lower classes (Kraus, Piff & Keltner 2011). In the American community, person’s ability and power to own and control resources defines his or her means of earning income, as well as the kind of life he or she lives. For example, members of the upper class are well educated, have high-profile occupations, and maintain powerful social networks. They include business owners, managers, entrepreneurs, and politicians among others (Sobel 2013). Members of the middle class are those who have attained medium education levels, such as college and university degrees, and hold middle-income positions in the sphere of customer service, entertainment, sales or other service-oriented work. Members of the low-income class comprise people with low income and education levels (Kraus, Piff & Keltner 2011). A significant proportion of individuals in this category are either part-time employees or unemployed. The highest level of education in this group is a high school diploma. A reflection on the social classes in the USA shows that Americans are meritocratic and view a class as based on achievements. 

How the Chinese Define Social Classes

Traditions and money are fundamental reinforcing paradigms in the contemporary Chinese world. The Chinese appreciate the value of stratified social hierarchies that bring about unequal relationships between an obligation and responsibility (Bian et al. 2005) . The system of social stratification practiced by the Chinese can be traced back to the feudal society of imperial China. At that time, the ruling class emerged from a combination of priests, military leaders, and administrators. Such social structure was transferred from one generation to another. Nowadays, the Chinese social structure features four classes, namely the Shi, Nong, Gong, and Shang (Bian et al. 2005). The Shi class mainly consist of scholars and officials, while the Nong one comprises farmers and peasants. The Gong class includes artisans, while the Shang one includes merchants. The classes are ranked as Shi, Nong, Gong, and Shang in a top-to-bottom order. Historically, the Shi formed an esteemed class that gained power and respect, but not necessarily wealth. Members of the Shang class were less respected but with little or no income, and were thus considered representatives of the lowest stratum (Bian et al. 2005). Overall, the Chinese are oriented at traditions, money and social status.  

Similarities and Differences

From the reflection above on the American and Chinese people’s perceptions of social status, it has become clear that both societies show an array of similarities and differences. To begin with, both cultures value a social status, which is determined by the rank one has in society. The higher the social class of a group, the more its members are likely to be happy, respected, and wealthy (Sobel 2013). The reason why the Americans and the Chinese connect social classes to the type of occupation and the belief that a prestigious position leads one to a high social status can be explained from the perspective of Karl Marx’s class theory. He suggested that society is influenced by class struggles. Social classes are in constant competition for resources and in the pursuit of class interests (Bancroft & Rogers 2010). It explains social gaps and class struggles between wealthy and poor Americans and Chinese people. However, while the Chinese social structure appears formal and hierarchical, the American one is looser and informal. In the USA, people on different levels can relate easily unlike in China where certain social boundaries should not be crossed. Besides, it is uncommon to see Americans progress from one social level to another if they work tirelessly hard. While the Chinese perceive that people in higher classes are those that have gained respect and power, in America, people belonging to the upper class are those that are wealthy and have the authority to own and control resources (Andersen & Collins 2015).


The Americans and Chinese value social classes and appreciate the fact that society is socially stratified, meaning that different people have different living standards. The American social structure comprises the upper, middle, and lower classes. The Chinese society includes four classes, namely the Shi, Nong, Gong, and Shang. It is more formal, hierarchical and based on power and respect, while the American social structure is loose and informal based on one’s level of education and income, nature of occupation, and social networks. Therefore, the study of the subject of social class requires further comprehensive research, which should consider why cultures perceive social classes and occupation differently  It should approach the issue from the perspective of the existing class theories by Karl Marx, Max Webber, and Emile Durkheim among others. 

Related essays