Chinese Fascinated by Our Politics

by Patrick Nohrden

Note: This article was written in 2004. Since then, world political and financial situations have changed.

It has sure felt good lately to be an American in China. For the past few days, nobody has got into my face about Iraq, about America’s thirst for oil, about America’s goal for world domination, and the usual myriad complaints that the Chinese are fed by the state-run media. Lately, I have been asked about the election. I am frequently being asked about my choice for president and who I hope will win. To me, the most important thing about this year’s presidential election is not who will win, although I have my favorite, but the fact that I get to help choose, despite the fact that I am living in China.

For a few days, average Chinese citizens are enamored with the American political process. They are jealous. The do not get to vote for their president. They are lucky enough if they are qualified to vote for their representatives to the Chinese People’s Congress.

The Chinese media has been following the American presidential campaign, predicting Kerry to be the next president for weeks. The truth is that China has been hoping that Kerry would be elected. Today, however, the television news actually explained the electoral process, and one noontime news program had a large map of the United States with red and blue push pins representing the states won by Kerry and Bush.

The Chinese are fascinated.

But many Chinese are being reminded of other differences between the United States and their own country. Typically, they are too timid to say what they think about their own political system, but lately, a few are talking about America’s differences from China. A word I have heard recently is the word “freedom.” In the fifteen months since coming to China, that is the first time I have heard that word uttered by a Chinese citizen. They are not so brave as to say that China does not have freedom, but they will say that America has it. Somehow they have equated our democratic process, our direct participation in the selection of our leaders, as freedom.

America is a free country, and we elect our leaders. These are really different things. But I suppose that a country could not be free unless it did elect its leaders. In fact,

I can think of no country that enjoys even half of the freedom that the average American does that does not elect its leaders.

Whether your candidate won the election or not may be the source of disappointment to you. More importantly, however, is that you should celebrate the fact that somebody won, and he won because a majority of the voters elected him.

I am happy and proud to be an American. I helped choose the next president of the United States of America.

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