Located on opposite sides of the world
Located on opposite sides of the world, the differences between American and Chinese culture, both historical and contemporary, are vast, but the two countries also share many often-overlooked similarities. The United States, often simply referred to as “America,” is a relatively young and diverse nation, whereas the large and populous China, called Zhonghua Renmin Gongheguo (or Zhongguo) by its natives, is one of the oldest nations on Earth, with a long and colorful history. (everyculture.com) In this modern political era, China and the United States are constantly competing to be crowned the most influential and dominant world power, and while the US loses its grip on supremacy, communist China continues to climb up the ladder of wealth, control, and education. Despite such political and economic rivalry, each nation has greatly influenced the culture and development of the other, resulting in many shared cultural characteristics. Younger generations, aided by improved communication and more opportunities to travel and study abroad, have begun to bridge the social gap between these two superpowers, revealing both mutual and notably different cultural facets between the United States and the People’s Republic of China.
To begin with, many of the cultural customs and daily practices of a people can be traced back to their country’s history and the influence of deeply-rooted beliefs; this is just the beginning of where Chinese and American cultures divide. China, a nation with a primarily homogenous people and philosophy, is considered by historians to be one of the oldest continuous civilizations in the world, with a history dating back to prehistoric times, over 5,000 years ago. (Flower, 18) Throughout most of China’s history, the land was ruled by a successive line of empires and dynasties, beginning with the Xia dynasty in 1994 BCE all the way to the Qing dynasty in 1911. After that, China entered a state of revolution and Qing dynasty fell. For the next 38 years, China’s history was plagued by violence and confusion. Finally, in 1949, Mao Zedong led the Red Army to defeat the nationalists at Nanjing, and established the unified People’s Republic of China under a communist government on October 1st of that year. (Flower, 18-29) The United States, on the other hand, has only existed for less than 250 years (Britannica) and was founded around the ideals of democracy rather than a single emperor or political party’s rule. Although the chunk of land that is now the United States had been populated by indigenous peoples for over 20,000 years, the beginnings of the U.S. are sometimes credited as being the arrival of Europeans in the late 15th and early 16th centuries, or, most often, the day on which the Declaration of Independence was signed: July 4, 1776. (Britannica) From simply observing the founding of both nations, one can already begin to see the extent to which the countries differ from each other, but it was in more recent years that similarities began to stand out.
The primary languages of China and the US, Mandarin Chinese and English respectively, could hardly be more different, but upon scrutinizing the structure of both languages, similar patterns can be found between them. The term “Chinese,” does not actually refer to a single language, but rather an entire family of languages, each using the same writing system but different pronunciations. There are seven main Chinese languages, similar but mutually unintelligible and each coming with a variety of dialects, such as Cantonese. (Britannica) China’s most widely-spoken language, Mandarin, became the official language in the early 1900s because it was the predominant tongue of Beijing, the nation’s capital. The US does not have an official language, but English is widely considered the unofficial first language, with Spanish as a second language, followed by Mandarin Chinese and French. (everyculture.com) English is an Indo-European language, whereas Mandarin, and all forms of Chinese, are Sino-Tibetan. (World book Encyclopedia) This means that both the written and spoken aspects of English and Mandarin are extremely dissimilar. The most obvious different is in the writings scripts; English uses a Latin alphabet, made up of 26 letters, whereas Chinese makes use of a character system, in which each character is a pictographic symbol representing a word or part of a word, formed by precise brush strokes. (Worldbook) There are over 50,000 existing characters, but only about 4,000 are actively used today. (Worldbook) Many English words are polysyllabic, meaning that they contain more than one syllable, but in Chinese, virtually every character is monosyllabic. Even words that require more than one syllable to say are just a joining of two or more monosyllabic characters. (Worldbook) Mandarin is a tonal language, meaning that the pitch, or variation in pitch, with which a character is pronounced changes the meaning of the word. (Flower, 153) English can also make use of tone and pitch as a way of conveying meaning, but this is based more on emotion and emphasis. Unlike in English and other similar languages, Chinese has no tenses, such as past, future, present, and perfect, which means that context is even more important in Chinese. There are other minor differences here and there, such as Mandarin’s lack of a “v” sound, which is why many native Chinese speakers find the sound so tedious to duplicate. However, sentence structure is very much the same in both English and Chinese. Additionally, both are considered- whether accurately or not, that is left to the opinion of the individual- to be the most difficult languages to learn.
One thing that can bring the people of China and America together is food; both cultures celebrate a great appreciation of food, but the importance placed on mealtime is far greater in China, and the typical Chinese and American diets are so different that common foods often looked upon with scorn by the other side. Three meals a day- breakfast, lunch, and dinner- is the standard in both countries. In most of China, rice is the staple crop and eaten on almost any occasion, but wheat products such as noodles and dumplings are more popular in the North. (Worldbook) For the majority of Americans, the day always starts out with coffee, followed by a small breakfast of carbohydrates or dairy products; different kinds of cereal are considered the basic American breakfast food. In northern China, breakfast usually consists of noodles or wheat bread, whereas rice porridge is the standard breakfast in the South. (everyculture.com) Chinese lunches usually include vegetables with bits of meat, and rice or noodles, sometimes accompanied by egg rolls or stuffed dumplings. American lunches can vary greatly, depending on the nutritional views of the family or person, but sometimes consist of pastas or salads. In both China and America, evening meals are often the largest. With record-high obesity rates that are still rising at alarming rates, it is common knowledge that the average American diet is simply unhealthy, likely due to the ubiquity of canned, processed, and fast food, and overuse of sugar and sodium. However, it is more controversial of whether or not the typical Chinese diet can be considered healthy or not; their nutritional intake consists of plenty of vegetable servings, but many common dishes, particularly Shanghainese specialties, are also extremely high in oil, sugar, and monosodium glutamate, a particularly high-sodium taste powder. (Flower, 105) Animals, and parts of animals that are rarely or never eaten in the U.S, such as chicken feet, fish eyes, and cat, dog, and snake meat, are considered delicacies in China, which is attributed to the country’s long history of famine. (everyculture.com) While tea is the most common drink in China, both cultures enjoy soft drinks and beer. (everyculture.com)
Religious views, practices, and makeup within the population have always been, and continue to be, very unalike in China compared to the U.S, despite how much religion in China has changed within the past 70 years, but looking beyond statistics, there are a handful of religion-related characteristics shared by both nations. In history, both countries were birthplaces of new philosophies, religions, and religious sectors. Confucianism and Taoism originated in China and would go on to become the cornerstones of Chinese society for many centuries. (Britannica.com) Protestant Christians gave rise to new denominations in America, such as Mormons and Shakers. (everyculture.com) In the Constitutions of both countries, religious freedom is guaranteed and discrimination based on religion is forbidden. Furthermore, most people from both China and America believe in some form of an afterlife, although this varies among different religions. (everyculture.com) Additionally, both countries have seen massive changes in religion in more recent years, but this is what primarily sets the religious cultures of said nations apart. While the communist government of China declared the country to be officially atheistic, religious diversity has continued to grow in America, due to the large number of immigrants. (everyculture.com) In the U.S, the vast majority of people identify as Christians, but there are dozens of individual Protestant denominations within this single religion, and although Roman Catholicism is the largest single denomination in the U.S, Catholics are heavily outnumbered by the combined number of Protestants. (everyculture.com) The religion with the second largest following in the U.S. is Judaism, and then Islam. (everyculture.com) On the other hand, according to 2010 statistics, over half of native Chinese do not claim to practice any religion. Twenty-one percent of the Chinese population practice some form of traditional folk religion, such as Taoism or Confucianism, five percent identify as Christians, with Christianity being one of the smallest but rapidly growing religions in large Chinese cities, and about two percent of the population are Muslim. (Britannica)