At the 20th People’s Congress, President Xi Jinping expounded on the ‘Chinese dream,’ causing a heated debate to unfold. The Chinese dream is comparable to a “pair of shoes” that have been tailored solely for the Chinese people to wear—shoes that are only comfortable if the Chinese people put them on. These shoes have a youthful shine; they let you walk with wings. The best way to understand this may be to compare it with the famous ‘American dream.’
Until now, only large countries like China and American can be ‘dreaming.’ Not every country has the necessary prerequisites to ‘dream.’ It requires seizing one’s destiny and daring to imagine. It requires the strength and confidence to realize these dreams. Only then can one ‘dream.’ Without these, a small country in the shadow of a giant will have an uneasy fate, and who can dream peacefully then? A resource-scarce country, with their economic lifeline in the hands of another, trembles with fear all day. How can they then dare to sleep without a care in the world?
Let me breakdown the contents of the ‘Chinese dream’ and ‘American dream.’
“To realize a healthy society, to build a rich democratic culture and peaceful society is a goal the country struggles to achieve. The Chinese people’s biggest hope is to realize national wealth, social development, and happiness.” –President Xi at the close of the 20th People’s Congress
“Let all of our classes rise up, become more prosperous and happier in living the ‘American dream.’ This is our purpose now, to make our biggest contribution to the world’s ideas and well-being.” –James Truslow Adams, The Epic of America
The Chinese and American dreams are inevitably different, having been determined by their respective histories, cultures, economics, and geographies. These differences and their causes can be summarized into seven points.
One, the Chinese dream is about national prosperity. The America dream is about individual prosperity.
Compared to China, America has a huge geographic advantage. Surrounded by water on three sides, the US is easy to defend and hard to attack. A tyrant since the beginning of its history, the US has never been subjugated by another nation. Instead, the US frequently seizes the natural resources of other states. As such, they have never worried about their country’s safety. People are free to concentrate on their dreams for wealth. Since ancient times, however, China’s borders have always been in peril. Throughout history, attacks on China’s borders have never ceased and China has even been dominated a few times. Historical lessons have taught us that a country’s strength resides in its people’s ability to live and work in a peaceful environment. Therefore, the Chinese dream must, first and foremost, prioritize national strength.
Two, the goal of the Chinese dream is national rejuvenation. The goal of the American dream is individual achievement.
China is made of people from the Han ethnicity and multiple other minority groups. Together, these people make up the Chinese nation. Since ancient times, Chinese people were born and raised here, shared adversities together, have had inseparable ties, and thus have very deep feelings for this land. The people share one consensus, which is that if the ethnicity is vulnerable and subject to bullying by other nations, the individual’s dignity will be lost. If life and property cannot be protected, how can you find happiness then? America’s ethnic makeup is more complicated. Black people have been discriminated against for a long time, and although the law treats them equally now, a small incident can cause a racial conflict. America is a multi-ethnic country, without the concept of a motherland, so they can only speak about individual achievements.
Three, the Chinese dream must be realized by the Chinese people. The American dream can only be realized using the human resources of other countries.
The concept of the American dream can be traced back to the American constitution, which emphasizes the innate capabilities of people. Everyone has the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The American dream emphasizes that no matter where you were born or what your social status is, everyone can rely on their own ability to seize opportunities for success. For many people from small European countries, these precepts were very attractive and encouraged them to take the risk of going to America. Historically, the United States repeatedly used the people of other nations to develop herself. For example, the early introduction of a large number of black people from Africa brought to the United States to engage in cultivation. In the 19th century, Chinese labor was used to build the railroads. Now, there are more laborers from Mexico and Eastern Europe doing all kinds of work while Caucasian Americans enjoy a life of leisure and playing golf all day. China, on the other hand, has 1.3 billion people and cannot rely on bringing in outsiders to develop itself. That’s why President Xi stated, “the Chinese dream requires walking down the Chinese path,” “the Chinese dream requires using Chinese energy,” “the Chinese dream requires harnessing Chinese power.”
Four, the Chinese dream is about group harmony and happiness. The American dream is about individual freedom and happiness.
From early on, Chinese people held the concept of “homeland” and the idea of the community very strongly. Within a household, only when relations are harmonious and everyone is in good health can an individual be happy. For Chinese people, happiness is a group idea. In a family, happiness is shared; in a country, happiness is also shared. President Xi used three shared ideas to depict the source of the Chinese dream: “shared joy can bring color to life, shared joy can make dreams come true, shared joy can move a country towards progress.” Western culture emphasizes the individual and the individual pursuit of freedom and happiness.
Five, the Chinese dream has a long history behind it. The American dream relies solely on experience.
The confidence to realize the Chinese dream comes partly from history. The Chinese nation has about 5000 years of history. China was at many times extremely strong, being the most prosperous nation in the world. The recent increase in popularity of Imperial historical dramas reflects the thoughts of the public. Western countries are worried about China’s sudden rise because of China’s history: the West believes that, historically, Chinese people have the ability to rise up. When a small country, which has never been powerful, begins yelling, other countries will regard it as a joke. When President Xi Jinping said the phrase, “to realize the Chinese nation’s great rejuvenation,” his use of the term “rejuvenation” revealed optimism and confidence. America, on the other hand, only has two to three hundred years of history. When building its nation, America relied on other nation’s resources to eventually become a superpower. The American dream is about avoiding reality and not allowing challenges to their power to arise; thus being able to continue their sweet dream.
Six, the Chinese dream combines everyone’s wisdom and effort. The American dream relies on individualism.
To realize the Chinese dream, everyone’s power and hard work must be harnessed. The Chinese dream uses everyone’s intelligence and knowledge and directs it in one direction. The Chinese dream relies on a concrete concept of China’s force and wisdom. The Chinese dream depends on the entire nation’s cooperation. Looking through history, it’s not hard to discover that China is a splendid nation, but it is also a nation that squanders and self-destructs. Often, China develops for a short period and then stalls for a period; this is why Chinese development always retreats. To realize the Chinese dream, everyone must be aware of the overarching goal. The American dream is about everyone walking down their own paths, each seeking individual goals of wealth and happiness. As such, individual accomplishments contributed to America’s power. Chinese people can accomplish great things, but they must be united in their ideas.
Seven, the Chinese dream is about the people’s glory. The American dream is for the individual’s glory.
Since the Opium Wars, foreign powers have occupied China and made Chinese people suffer. After many treaties of national betrayal and humiliation, after many huge disasters, these are all scars the Chinese people bear. In modern times, many Chinese people sacrificed their lives for their nation’s honor and security, for the people’s safety and happiness. “Today, the People’s Republic stands strong in the East,” declared General Secretary Xi Jinping. Without this painful national history, it would be hard to understand the hopes of Chinese people. Since America does not have this type of pain, America does not dream the same types of dreams. The American dream stresses individual prosperity and success, and the individual’s rise in society.
It must also be understood that just as the American dream changes, so does the Chinese dream. With social progress, people’s hopes will also change and the dreams will not remain the same.
The above analysis argues that the “Chinese Dream” is comparable to a pair of shoes tailored for the Chinese foot. Although life in China is focused on dreaming [now], it is only with action that a person’s dreams come true.
——摘自詹姆斯 特拉斯洛 亚当斯(James Truslow Adams)的《美国史诗》
The original Chinese article can be found here.
Translated by Yang Fu.