Election Season

I believe it’s fair to say that the Presidential elections we undergo every four years in America have a significant impact on the daily life of the average American.

I’m talking the process of candidates campaigning and then participating in an election, not the results of the election. Clearly, who gets elected is going to have some impact on the lives of every American, as the initiatives they promote, ideology they push, and issues they proscribe can have long-felt and lasting effects. Our country’s leaders impact every American, no doubt, but the process of picking them impacts Americans as well.

Think about it: for the past year (or longer?! Mitt Romney announced his candidacy on June 2, 2011) you’ve been bombarded with campaign slogans, attack ads, and political arguments from almost every media source known to man. You can’t even step out on your own front lawn without seeing the campaign signs your neighbor stuck up. You find yourself turning against friends and family as they promote (or argue against) candidates and issues you disagree with, both online and in the real world. I have literally seen friendships fall apart because of political disagreements (and I’m sure other people have seen this as well).

So, yeah. The Presidential elections affect your life. We can all be glad it’s over now.

Meanwhile in China, the country is gearing up for an event of even greater magnitude than the US Presidential election: The 18th Party Congress, an event that happens once every five years and sets the tone for the policies the Party and government will adopt in the coming five years. And this Party Congress is particularly significant as it’s also the beginning of a leadership change, which happens about once a decade in the PRC. (For a really incredible overview of the political structure of the PRC and the upcoming leadership transition, check out this primer by Patrick Chovanec, a professor at Tsinghua University)

This is big, right? I mean, it only happens once ever ten years! That’s, like, two-point-five times as often as an American Presidential election!

An ad for the 18th Party Congress

“The success of Scientific Development is glorious – Welcome the Party’s 18th victorious convening – Happily welcome the 18th Party Congress!”

Well, not so much. Yes, it’s important, but my feeling is that it has very little impact on the daily life of the average Chinese. You can still see signs announcing and “welcoming” the upcoming Party Congress, just like the campaign signs in the United States. There are even ads on TV welcoming the Party Congress (although they’re all short, boring, and probably less common than political ads in America – and certainly less negative).

Apart from that, however, life goes on. No one talks about politics, or gets in political arguments, or loses friendships as a result. In fact, the only complaining about how annoying the leadership transition you’ll hear will likely come from we foreigners, who have more difficulty using the internet than usual. That’s about it, though.

I’m not saying that China’s system is better than America’s. Rather (as many others have pointed out much more eloquently before me), it emphasizes harmony over freedom. It’s possible that’s a reflection of the society the system is built around. It’s also possible that it’s merely a reflection of the desires of those who built the system. Most likely, however, it’s a bit of both.