Think about the farthest, most remote place you have traveled to. You may have heard a different language being spoken, tried an unfamiliar food, and seen a new landscape or historical site. You may have even experienced a bit of culture shock, but you may not have been shocked to see America's influence on products, brands, and media had made its way to the farthest corners of the world.
Coca Cola installation in Wuhan, China. [Photo Credit: Getty Images]
Since the end of World War II, many aspects of American culture have found their way into the daily lives of people all across the globe, from films, clothing, and consumer goods, to politics, education, and language. America’s ability to spread its cultural influence over the last century is one of the many reasons it has been regarded as a global superpower for the last several decades. However, in recent years, another major player has emerged showing that its technological and economic advancements rival even that of the U.S. That country is China.
While American films and notable brands like McDonald’s and Coca-Cola are not disappearing anytime soon, China has been able to take the lead by prioritizing global technological advancements over political or ideological influence, as witnessed by the U.S.
English continues to be the most widely spoken language around the world, but Mandarin is not far behind with nearly 15% of the world’s population speaking the Chinese dialect. Demand for access to Chinese language studies continues to grow, with over 100 universities around the world offering courses and the number of Mandarin learners growing each year. What follows an interest in language is an increased interest in experiencing more aspects of Chinese culture, from the cuisine to the community.
Much of this growing interest in Chinese culture can be found in the United States itself. China’s cultural influence in America can be traced back to before the founding of the United States, with the founding fathers using Chinese social and economic innovation to influence the formation of the colonies, even taking from Chinese agricultural practices. Today, a sculpture of Confucius can be found on the entrance of the U.S. Supreme Court building, alongside Moses and Solon.
Sculpture of Confucius with Moses and Solon at the east entrance of the U.S. Supreme Court building. [Photo Credit: http://tiny.cc/qq8ng, Jeff Kubina]
China’s cultural impact can be seen in American movies, heard in American music, and tasted in its cuisine. The most notable cities in the U.S. have a Chinatown district where Chinese-Americans and immigrants are able to share and experience many different elements of Chinese traditions, celebrate holidays, and give outsiders an inside look into a new community. “Promoting Chinese culture abroad has been in the leadership’s orbit and turned into an extraordinary component of strategic and vital purpose, which Beijing anticipates the world accepts, approves and adopts China and its way of living,” explains Muhammet Ali Guler of International Islamic University in Malaysia.
Despite the growing interest in Chinese cultural traditions, one of the most notable ways that China’s influence can be seen and experienced in our day-to-day lives is through technology. The advancement of technology is rooted into China’s fourteenth five-year plan which outlines key areas for innovation, including in artificial intelligence and quantum science. In 2022 alone, China is expected to expand construction of its space station, allowing for even more research and development of both space and Earth, while simultaneously releasing faster supercomputers, new disease curing drugs, and low-carbon tech that will help slow global warming.
[Photo Credit: depositphoto]
While the adoption of cultural products coming out of China may be slower than its technological counterparts, Chinese culture is being spread through America, and the rest of the world, at a rapid rate. When polled on their sentiment towards China, Americans most often referenced the country's strong and growing economy, and of course, the delicious food!
There is no denying that the cultural exchange between the U.S. and China is significant, and is likely to continue to grow in the future. But the answer to the underlying question “who influences who?” may be increasingly difficult to answer in the coming decades.