When I first arrived in Hong Kong, on my way to the Chinese Mainland, my recruiter made a comment that rung oddly in my ears: “The average Chinese” he said “has more freedom than the average American.”
I had to wonder… had he been in Hong Kong too long? Was he blinded by the good food and the pretty women? Had the government abducted him and brainwashed him in some nefarious indoctrination protocol?
And then I lived here for a month… I looked at the people on the street, I dealt with the vendors and the stores, and I talked to the people that live here. As strange as it sounds, he was right.
In the United States, we make a big deal about “freedom”. We’re the “Leaders of the Free World” and we’re a shining example of liberty compared to the dark and evil dictatorship of Communist China. Yeah… and Santa is going to leave presents under my tree and Superman is going to save me from the Xygloxian terrorists from the 12th Dimension.
While I could write a doctoral thesis on the subject, this is a blog post, so I’ll keep it simple.
When I talked to my students about this topic, they were shocked to hear that a city can tell you what pets you can have or what you can plant in your front yard. They laughed at the idea that people would allow a Home Owners’ Association tell them what color they can paint their house or where they can park their car. And they couldn’t understand why a city would tell people that they can’t run a business from their homes–doesn’t the government want the increase in commerce and the tax income that comes from it?
China places a few large chains on their population, and is very honest about what those chains are, and why they’re in place. Americans look at those chains and scream indignantly about “curtailed freedoms” and “oppressive governments”. But the fact of the matter is that most Chinese never encounter those chains, and the ones they do are easily bypassed if they so desire.
America, on the other hand, boasts to the world that it has no chains… while binding it’s citizens with a million threads. We think nothing of the myriad of tiny restrictions and webs of licensing that a Chinese sees as incomprehensibly restrictive.
China has problems at the top. America has problems at the bottom. The answer lies somewhere in the middle: The American approach to “Essential Freedoms” and the Chinese attitude of “don’t sweat the details”.
Just a passing thought to end with: China is the 2nd fastest growning economy in the world, and is poised to become a powerhouse unlike anything we’ve seen in the last 50 years. While the rest of the world is arguing about how many peas they get and demanding that they deserve the biggest piece of pie, China is about to walk away with turkey AND the mashed potatoes.
Just some food for thought.