Thomas F. O'Neill
One of the first things I noticed when I moved to Suzhou, China is the influence the American culture is having on China’s youth. From the style of clothing their wearing to the coffee they drink the western influence is here to stay in China.
The western culture is also big and it’s getting bigger with each passing year. From the foods the Chinese are eating to the popularity of the American film industry - it’s a reflection of how China is embracing our western way of life.
I quickly learned that KFC is the most popular restaurant chain in China and the Buick is the top selling car in their country. Western music is also extremely popular among the Chinese and in their large metropolitan cities - there are endless western bars and restaurants at times you can’t help but feel you’re in Manhattan or Chicago.
Many companies in China are also trying to feed on their consumers’ trendier westernized tastes. The Chinese culture for instance often takes Western influences and makes them its own. For example, the first time I walked into a KFC here in China I looked on the menu and saw an egg tart, rice porridge, the menu was almost unrecognizable for someone that is familiar with KFC in the States.
When visiting large public squares in Beijing or Shanghai you will notice young skateboarders practicing their impressive skateboarding moves. The internet has made skateboarding extremely popular along with rollerblading.
Many of China’s youth watch their American Idols online and they watch how their favorite entertainers dress and perform. The youth in China enjoy practicing, and imitating their Idols styles of entertainment.
The way their western Idols dress influences how the Chinese youth dress. Watching their Idols online inspires them to think more about America’s freedom of expression especially in the entertainment world.
The western culture swept into China approximately 30 years ago when the country opened its doors to foreign trade. Western brands and Ideas exploded in popularity within the past decade. It was mostly influenced by the rapid rise of China’s middle class which is now larger than the entire U.S. population. China’s economic boom has also created a vast middle class with disposable income being spent on western brands and western forms of entertainment.
The Chinese Government within the past few years, however, is beginning to view the western influence as a threat. China’s Government has also set new limits on their mass media. For instance, they killed off some of their racier and wildly popular TV shows and pushed other shows out of primetime viewing. I for one rarely turn on the TV here in Suzhou, China - most of my entertainment comes via the Internet.
Many crime shows are also being killed off in China by the government because they were showing the Chinese audiences how to commit elaborate crimes such as robbing and stealing. They also don’t want the Chinese audiences to learn the criminal investigative techniques and how investigators analyze the scenes of the crime.
Other shows that were bumped off the airwaves were popular dramas with contents of immorality, moral and ethical betrayals.
Shows like ‘China’s got talent’ are hugely popular too and they were given the green light to remain on the air. China’s governmental regulators see these sorts of programs as wholesome entertainment and as having a social value for primetime viewing.
China’s extremely popular version of ‘The Bachelor’ was threatened to be axed for having a negative social impact on its viewership. The producers of the show, in order to stay on the air, brought older contestants on the show, and added a professor from a Communist Party school as a third host. The producers were forced to eradicate racy but highly entertaining comments from the shows contestants.
Many in China are angered and frustrated by their government’s new regulations and how it infringes on freedom of expression.
The internet in China is also seeing a fusion of western influences. The Chinese government out of fear has band Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and various other social media sites. They in turn however created their own Chinese versions so that they can be monitored and controlled by Chinese regulators.
There are over 500 million internet users in China and it has become more popular than television. The internet censorship, however, and government crackdowns can and will in the end stifle much of the creativity that is needed for their country to flourish.
The internet seems to have evolved into its own culture and it’s blossoming more fully with each passing year. The Chinese government controlled internet has many popular social media sites but the user comments are being deleted faster than they can be posted. Posts about pollution, corruption and government negligence spread like wildfire. A few summers ago, many Chinese Weibo users criticized the government after a notorious high-speed train crash killed nearly 50 people.
Last year, China’s netizens attacked Beijing’s government for withholding the truth about air pollution. They reposted and discussed at length the U.S. Embassy’s independent air data. In the end, Beijing’s government caved and started publishing more pollution stats on its own website.
The internet is having a huge influence on China’s youth but not just when it comes to fashion and entertainment. It’s also opening up discussions in China’s Universities about the contrast between China’s online censorship and America’s freedom to post and express themselves without fear of government reprisals.
A real concern for China’s Government is the possibility of them losing control of the internet. They are now presenting that concern as a pushback against the negative influences of our Western culture but in the end it’s all about control.
China’s governmental control of their television airwaves has many turning to the internet for their entertainment as well. They can watch video clips of previous broadcasted programs. Many Chinese are offended, though, by how the government rules were rolled out, forcing many popular shows off the air and with no public input.
I like to tell my students at the ‘Suzhou International Foreign Language School,’ in Suzhou, China that this is an exciting time to be alive because many people in China want their voices heard.
Many of China’s youth envy our American way of life too because it’s all about Freedom and that Freedom is what draws many to embrace the American culture. They want to emulate our Freedom and express themselves openly and honestly without fear of being silenced.
The Chinese Government on the other hand is finding it difficult to change their ways and in the process they are stifling the creative spirit that dwells in the hearts and minds of China’s youth.
Always with love from Suzhou, China
Thomas F O’Neill
U.S. voice mail: (800) 272-6464
China Cell: 011-86-15114565945
Other articles, short stories, and commentaries by Thomas F. O'Neill can be found on his award winning blog, Link:
Click on author's byline for bio and list of other works published by Pencil Stubs Online.