Index > Briefing
Monday, September 28, 2020
A Brief Discussion on Chinese and American Cultures
Chan Kung

China and the United States constitute two of the world's biggest countries, yet each possesses two highly distinctive cultures. China has a rich history lasting an estimated five thousand years, and in comparison, the United States’ history reaches back to a markedly shorter period when calculated from the founding of the country. However, this comparison is not scientific, as neither did the Chinese history begin with the founding of the country in 1949. When viewed from the same lens, the United States’ cultural history dates back to a more extended period and must be connected to the history of Europe, ancient Rome, and Greece. While it is hard to compare two such distinctive cultures, there is value to be gained in analysing together the culture of China and the United States and their unique social aspects.

The Chinese hold a tremendous amount of respect for well-cultured and learned individuals. However, they do not possess a far-reaching understanding about education itself, and thus often rely on superficial connotations of knowledge to make judgments on individuals they encounter. For example, respect is tied to workers of traditional jobs such as teachers and professors, or holders of doctoral degrees. This inevitably leads to misunderstandings. Despite this, the Chinese do not take the matter seriously and are not demanding of their scholarly understanding. Moreover, social strata in Chinese society have since evolved remarkably over the centuries. These changes are a fundamental characteristic of Chinese culture and subsequently result in a Chinese society rich and colourful in cultural aspects.

In Chinese society, poetry is often used as the main essence of Chinese culture. Since ancient times, a cultured China has always been marked by its poetry and songs. Over time, the study of China became integrated with studies of its poetry and songs. In Chinese studies, poetry forms the bulk of the studies, with the remaining being history, which was also often related to some aspects of poetry and songs. In Chinese historians' circle, reciting and writing poems are highly favourable activities and reflect the social privilege of cultured people in China.

Even modern times, classical Chinese and half-poems and half-literary forms are widely used by university professors as a form of self-expression. This form of expression has further influenced generations of students. In some college entrance examinations, candidates are found to utilise this ancient and rigid form of speech in their writing compositions to express their mastery of language and extra abilities. However, the mastery of culture and art rarely affects the behaviours of Chinese cultural individuals. It is observed that in Chinese cultural circles, what are learned, said, and given, do not lead to behavioural and habitual changes. A selective number of learned individuals with ideal noble personalities are designated as ‘Junzi’ with carries the meaning of “gentleman” or “superior person”. Unfortunately, despite Confucius’ efforts to advocate for proper conduct in society, the number of junzi remains limited in Chinese society. Thus, China's history has tended to look toward well-learned and refined individuals in history, regarding them as moral exemplars.

Chinese scholars in modern-day society fall far from being categorized as ‘gentleman’ when compared to the standards of ancient times. It is evident for society that the higher the intellects of a person, the more their personalities and temperaments set them apart from the others. These persons have been known to be condescending and utilize their knowledge to suppress others below them.

In contrast, the culture and social norms of the United States differ significantly from China. American culture is overwhelmingly rooted in society and affects social developments at more far-reaching levels. While Americans also hold a strong appreciation of art, a smaller number of individuals recite poetry. Wealthy Americans in the United States are known to collect various artworks, sponsor museums large and small, memorials of famed individuals. Moreover, wealthy Americans contribute to cultural developments by assuming the obligations and responsibilities that come with money and wealth and promoting the continuation and expansion of culture and art. Americans are also fond of reading as a pastime. The United States is known as the center of modern art and civilization, especially in New England. Americans read not to show off their knowledge, give the impression of being cultured, or get ahead of others. On the contrary, well-educated and sophisticated Americans usually maintain a low profile in society. In other words, Americans use culture as a tool to improve their qualities and to further enhance their characters.

Therefore, in the United States, one can hardly identify a cultured person through poetry recitation and business card titles. A well-cultured individual can only be identified from his temperaments and quality of character. This temperament and quality are more reflected in such aspects as a sense of humor, judgment, logical ability, precise expression, and cautious attitude towards money. These attributes are commonly reflected in the sense of humor, value judgments, analytical abilities, refined forms of expressions, and cautious attitude towards money matters. In the United States, a self-educated longshoreman, Eric Hoffer, was the author of a book titled “The True Believer”. The book is now regarded as a classic in the sociology field, and Hoffer was later awarded the prestigious Presidential Medal of Freedom for his contributions. Hoffer’s achievement represents an incredible feat. For instance, although the founding fathers of economics in universities in the United States are held in high regard by society, none have won the Presidential Medal of Freedom - discounting for the ones awarded by Trump. The influence of “The True Believer” can be further garnered from the reaction of President Eisenhower, who publicly cited the book and bought fifty copies as gifts for others. In its entirety, Hoffer represented well the characters of a well-cultured American.

It thus goes without doubt that China and the United States possess markedly distinctive cultural characteristics, the detailed descriptions of which are unachievable within the lengths of a short article. This article served only to illustrate fragments of the similarities and differences in culture between these two big countries. Generally speaking, Chinese culture can be identified as perceptual, whereas American culture is rational. When it comes to differences, this stands out as the most significant cultural difference between China and the United States. As for the future of cultural advancements, it should be emphasized that culture represents the spiritual spine of society. Thus, the withering of culture is equivalent to the withering of the spirit of a society.

Final analysis conclusion:

Culture is the internal pillar of society's development. The development of a country or a nation must not be separated from the development of culture. China emphasizes the need for cultural self-confidence, and the United States is truly confident in its culture. Comparing Chinese and American intellectuals, we can find that in addition to the content of culture itself, there are great differences between the two countries in terms of cultural expression, the relationship between culture and individual, and the relationship between culture and society. These differences are worthy of China's consideration.


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