As the No. 1 world power with the largest economy, the United States is undoubtedly the foreign country that Chinese netizens are most interested in. They would like to learn about many issues in the country, ranging from its democracy to its “gun culture.”
Online Forums like Baidu Tieba Rife with Posts about U.S.
Under China’s largest search engine Baidu, there is a website called Tieba, which literally means “Paste bar.” It’s the largest Chinese language communication platform, where people post information and exchange opinions on almost all the topics you can think of. Each “bar” is a forum on a specific topic, and as of 2014, there were more than eight million bars, mostly created by fans. Naturally, there is a bar called “U.S. Bar,” which is very popular among Chinese netizens. By 12:36 PM EST on May 31, 2016, there were 243,784 followers and 2,590,151 posts at this bar.
At this bar, people express their ideas on many major issues about the United States. Not only does the forum show Chinese internet users’ great interest in the U.S., but also indicates that the Chinese generally have mixed opinions about a country that is almost the same size as China yet with a totally different political system.
In addition to Baidu Tieba, Chinese netizens also turn to other famous online forums to discuss U.S. issues. To a certain extent, some of these forums are more organized than Tieba, thus more user-friendly. For example, at Tianya Forum, believed to be the second largest Chinese language online forum just behind Baidu Tieba, there are innumerable posts about the U.S., and by entering the name of a topic in the search box at the top of its home page, you will have access to all the relevant posts with comments about them. Some other such predominant forum websites include Mop , Xici Hutong, Sohu Shequ, Sina Blog and Xilu.
(By searching “American democracy” at the Tianya Forum, you will see a large number of articles posted here about the topic.)
A Love-And-Hate Attitude toward U.S. DemocracyImage Source: War on the Rocks
In general, Chinese internet users have a love-and-hate attitude toward the United States as the self-claimed role model for democracy.
According to China’s major English-language newspaper China Daily, an examination of the top posts about U.S. democracy on Tianya Forum in 2012 revealed that many young Chinese netizens have a negative attitude toward U.S. democracy. They accuse the U.S. of using democracy as a “diplomatic instrument” to maintain its “hegemony” in international relations. They also believe that the U.S. promotion of democracy around the world through its military interferences abroad have achieved nothing except “exporting poverty, wars and national disintegration” to the developing world. Some of them even say that the U.S. democracy is at the mercy of those who have the most money.
At the same time, there are many netizens who hold that the U.S. is the most exemplary model of democracy. And some recent posts on Tianya even describe critics of the U.S. democratic system as being biased with little understanding of the U.S. political system.
According to a post titled “Some People’s Wrong Perception of U.S. Democracy Need to Be Corrected,” the U.S. democratic elections are not a game played by the rich, and there are strict rules and regulations on political donations to candidates. It also says that the U.S. democracy, in essence, is a process of collecting public opinions, during which there might be some situations that seem chaotic, but it still ensures that the public expresses their views in an orderly manner. According to some of the comments on this post, however, many netizens are still skeptical or critical about U.S. democracy. “Democracy is such a good thing, but I’d rather let Americans enjoy it themselves,” says one comment.
All these posts at Chinese online forums indicate that Chinese netizens are still much divided on U.S. democracy.
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U.S. Health Care Simply Too ExpensiveImage Source: IAHC
People in China generally believe that the U.S. has the best doctors, medicines and medical technology in the world. To most Chinese netizens, however, the U.S. healthcare system is flawed as its services are just too expensive. At almost all major online forums in China, there are numerous posts focusing on the high cost of seeking medical treatments in the U.S.
In a post that gained much attention last year on Tianya, a netizen says that a procedure to have one’s infectious appendix removed incurred a charge of $32,018 to an unfortunate patient who is a Chinese living in the U.S. Of this exorbitant amount, a sum of $4,720 was billed for a CT scan, according to the post, which was accompanied with three pictures of the actual bills.
The post also says that the patient’s “recovery” in the surgery room right after the procedure was charged by the minute. As a result, the patient was billed $930 because he “slept” in the surgery room for 47 minutes, says the post, which received 126 comments.
Many of the comments indicate the shock or even indignation of Chinese netizens over what they called the “ridiculous” charge. “I don’t know much about such surgeries, but I’m sure it won’t be that expensive in China!” says one comment. “Over 30,000 dollars…it’s stark robbery!!!”
Another comment may have pointed out what many believe the key problem with U.S. healthcare. “The U.S. healthcare is basically not a good one, as the U.S. is probably the only country without universal healthcare among all the developed nations,” it says.
Despite the ridiculously high medical cost, however, some others responded at the forum that healthcare expenses in the U.S. are mostly covered by insurance companies, and most people with a job have health insurance. “Most Americans purchase health insurance, so medical expenses charged have nothing to do with the patient, but are dealt with by insurance companies,” says one comment.
On Zhihu, a Chinese question-and-answer website similar to Quora, there are also many posts about the U.S. healthcare system. Most of them point out the high cost as its major problem. In answering the question “what are the problems with the U.S. medical system?”, a netizen posted a breakdown of the estimated expenses for a dental treatment that he was going to receive. And the total was $4,863!
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The Chinese Consider The US Safe Despite Its Large Prison PopulationImage Source: Marron Institute
Whether or not it’s due to the many U.S. movies and TV series featuring crime stories, Chinese netizens have shown much interest in the U.S. prison system. It’s generally agreed among them that the U.S. has the largest number of prisoners in the world, and yet the country is a very safe place to live in.
A post at the “U.S. Bar” on Baidu Tieba forum gives an interesting analysis regarding such a paradox.
The article, entitled “why the U.S. has a pretty high crime rate but is very safe,” says that what counts as crime is defined differently in the United States and China. “In the U.S., at public places (except bars), such as streets and cinemas, drinking is forbidden, so if you are caught drinking alcohol, including beer, you will be arrested…so this is a crime,” says the post, which was published in 2014. It also says that certain acts such as fighting and DUI may also make you end up in jail in the U.S., while in China you are unlikely to go to jail for such kind of behaviors.
At Tianya forum, a thread titled “does the large prison population in the U.S. prove that it’s a country ruled by law?” also attracts a lot of attention. Some netizens even suggest that China should also have more prisons. “To enforce the law strictly, China should build more prisons,” says a comment. Another netizen commented that the Chinese used to believe that the U.S. is a dark society because of its crowded prisons, now they realize that it had been a wrong perception all along.
At the same time, many Chinese netizens have the impression that U.S. prisons are poorly managed with many crimes actually committed by inmates while in jail, such as fighting, drug-dealing and raping. In 2013, a video was posted at Tianya Forum showing an incident of violent group fighting in a jail that involved both white and black inmates. From the comments on this video, we can see that Chinese netizens apparently were shocked by the magnitude of violence in U.S. jails. “I was horrified ,” says one comment. Another netizen commented: “I haven’t seen something so violent for a long time.”
Editors note: It is interesting to note that drugs and race are rarely cited as the reason for the US large prison population, even though it is regularly used in arguments against the current levels of incarceration in the US by “Western” media and commentators.
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Chinese Mixed Feelings about “U.S. Gun Culture”Image Source: Wikipedia
While people in China are impressed with the U.S. success in keeping safe despite its large prison population, they are more amazed at the fact that the country does not become criminals’ heaven even though most people can legally possess guns.
In the eyes of Chinese netizens, guns are part of American culture. The website of Global Times, a daily Chinese tabloid under the auspices of the People’s Daily newspaper, devoted a whole webpage in 2012 to the “U.S. gun culture,” explaining the issue from multiple aspects. Consistent with its role as part of typical Chinese state-run media, the website highlights the negative effects of people having guns, featuring four news reports about innocent people being shot to death. While the articles posted on the page are not totally critical of the American gun culture, they do indicate that the public’s easy access to guns results in more crimes and some other social problems.
While many Chinese netizens echo such a viewpoint, it appears that many other internet users hold a favorable attitude toward the U.S. gun culture. On Baidu Tieba, a post titled “Introducing You to U.S. Gun Culture” apparently applauds the right of possessing guns in the U.S., featuring a number of pictures showing Americans posing with their guns in front of cameras.
Recently at a popular Chinese online forum focusing on military issues, a thread titled “In the U.S. Almost Everybody Has Guns, Why Is Its Government Not Afraid of People Rioting?” once again showed the Chinese netizens’ great interest in the U.S. gun culture. At the forum, which is called “kuai le da ben ying” or “Happy Base Camp,” many responded to the question with interesting comments. One comment says, “It’s no big deal having guns, uses tanks and F-16.” Another one says, “Everything is ruled by law, there’s nothing to be afraid of.”
Polarized Chinese Internet Community: Heaven or Hell for Poor People in U.S.?Image Source: Time Magazine
Most people would agree that no matter how rich a country is, there are always some poor people among its citizens. And there is no exception with the U.S., according to Chinese netizens. But they are greatly divided over the general condition in which poor American people live.
In China’s huge internet community, many believe that most poor people in the U.S. live a decent life without much worry about their financial status. Some Chinese netizens even shared their personal experience to support the argument that the U.S. is heaven for the poor.
In 2014, a post on sina.com, a major online news network in China, painted a rosy picture of the life of low-income Americans. The article, entitled “Chinese Immigrant Describes Life in U.S.: Heaven for the Poor,” says that a Chinese couple who arrived in the U.S. in 2009 enjoy free medical care, food stamps totaling about $300 each month, an apartment with a much lower rent than the market rate, gas and electric supply at a discount rate and a tax credit of about $4,500 each year. Also, their newly born baby receives WIC benefits and will be enrolled in a public school for free in the near future, the post says.
According to the comments in response to the post, while some people were impressed with the benefits offered to poor people in the U.S., many others were simply skeptical about them. “Is the author a ‘plant’ hired by an immigration company?” one comment says jokingly. Some netizens criticized the U.S. benefit system for being so favorable to the poor, expressing concerns that it may encourage people to be lazy with no motivation to work hard.
As opposed to those who believe the poor in the U.S. is having a good life, many Chinese netizens depict a much darker picture of the life of U.S. poor people. Recently, the online forum China.com featured a post entitled “The Real Life of American Poor People: Last Heaven for Homeless People.” It includes 25 pictures showing the hardships endured by homeless people living in tents near Seattle. In the eyes of many Chinese, these homeless people are living in hell. “ a democratic country? A paragon of democratic countries?” says one comment.
In 2012, a post at Tianya Forum about U.S. poor people also caught the attention of many Chinese netizens. According to the article, entitled “Exactly How Poor Are U.S. Poor People?”, 46 million Americans live in poverty. It says that many of them worry about getting food and paying bills. While some comments point out that the magnitude of the U.S. poverty may be exaggerated in the article, many Chinese netizens do believe that the U.S. social security system has its flaws in taking care of poor people. “The GDP per capita of the U.S. is 10 times bigger than that of China, and yet they have such a shitty social security system?” says one comment.
In 2014, China and the U.S. mutually agreed to increase business and tourist visa validity to 10 years. With such a move, it is believed that Chinese people will be even more interested in the U.S. than ever before, as it will be much easier for them to visit the country now. With more Chinese setting foot on the U.S. soil, will Chinese netizens have a growing consensus on some of the above issues? Let’s wait and see.
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