In the ostensibly dictatorial China, how are criticism and complaints handled?Very different from the tale you’ve been fed!

Laws in China are different, there’s a very good reason and that’s because people in China are different – this isn’t a racist statement it’s an academically proven fact, several psychologists, the most notable being Michael Harris Bond, Geerte Hofsted and Alphonso Trompenaars have all, independently shown that Chinese people, when responding to the same stimuli as an American, for example, will respond in a different way.

Chinese people are much less individualistic than Americans, slightly less so than Japanese and almost the same as South Koreans. In terms of power distance, the differences are slightly less stark but still noticeable. 

Explaining what this means in terms of behaviour, is something we don’t think about when we are attempting to impose our norms and our values onto a different group of people with different norms and different values, but is something we should think about when criticising people for acting in a manner we consider “strange”.

The following two bar charts come from Geert Hofsted’s Insights Country Comparison Tool.

Power Distance index

“Power distance”: expression of different value hierarchies

What they mean to us is that we often make mistakes in how we respond to China and we get things wrong when we act in our response. It could be the reason why there are so many problems between China and the USA (or more correctly, the Anglosphere world) right now.

In Power distance, where China is far higher than the other compared countries, it means people in that country have a respect for their position in any hierarchy, be that in the home, respect for parents; the school, respect for teacher; the workplace, respect for the boss; or the community, respect for the leaders. We often wonder why Chinese students are so diligent, some people think that Chinese people have been “brainwashed into compliance” but the fact is right here in this graph they are just different to us with different expectations and accept different outcomes. 

USA with the lowest doesn’t mean they are less respectful, it means they have a different place on the same scale, they will often confront or negotiate with their parents, their teachers and their bosses or community leaders, much more so than the Chinese person might. Neither of these are good or bad indicators, they are just different. And that’s something we need to constantly remind ourselves.


Communal or cooperative society versus individualistic society

USA is a much more individualist country than China, for the record, Canada, Australia and the UK are almost exactly the same, while New Zealand, and most people who care to take notice will agree, are slightly different to other Anglo countries, are 10 points lower but still much more individualistic than China. What this also means is that the opposite is true of China, they are a communal or a cooperative society where, working towards solutions for the many will eventually benefit the individual. 

So, when an American says that the CPC runs the life of people in China, they may be right and China’s actions might be quite offensive to the average American in LA or New York, but they would be wrong to assume that the Chinese person is subjugated, unhappy or under any kind of pressure or coercion to remain subjugated, they are in fact, quite comfortable with their position in the hierarchy and certainly don’t need rescue! By the same token, it also means that the one thing citizens of the USA fear the most, Communism, can’t possibly thrive in an individualistic environment, it needs a communality which is absent from the USA, so their fears are completely unfounded and not grounded in reality.

The desire to “liberate the Chinese” is based on a lack of understanding of the cultural differences between the West and China

When people tell us, as they often do in social media or mainstream media interviews, that they love the Chinese people and would dearly like to help “rescue them from the clutches of the autocratic CPC”, it clearly means they have no understanding of our cultural differences – what we would find oppressive in the West, is quite normal and even sometimes a requirement of governance in China.

The reason this needs to be understood is that things we would openly complain about in the West, would not necessarily be something a Chinese citizen would complain about. In fact, Chinese people often complain, but many people don’t realise it because they don’t understand the system of complaints and how they are managed in China. There is a myth that Chinese people “can’t complain” about the government. This is totally and absolutely untrue, not only can they complain, they often do. 

One aspect to remember though is that generally speaking Chinese people are quite happy with their respective lot in life. San Diego University surveyed 1040 Chinese people and found this was true, the Ispos Global Happiness Index surveyed 32 different countries and China came out on top. There are many Western academic research projects which have found China’s satisfaction rates to be high, much higher than so-called democracies would ever expect them to be including one notable one from Harvard University.

Time after time, we look at proper academic research with proven methodology and the reality is different from media reports we see on China. But, despite these reports, despite China being different to our expectations, despite the fact the people here are generally satisfied, there are complaints and protests do erupt from time to time.

Surprisingly, to many people who don’t understand China, the State protects them, Article 27 of the Constitution of China, states that “All State organs and functionaries must rely on the support of the people, keep in close touch with them, heed their opinions and suggestions, accept their supervision and do their best to serve them”.

Critics will say, these are just words but they are words in a legally binding Constitution and in order to facilitate them several steps are taken:

  • At every level: provincial, town and country and community an office has been provided where there must be a member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) present at advertised times to answer questions, take suggestions (complaints are worded in this way to make them less confrontational) and make a written record. Note the name of this group of people is a “consultative” conference. In other words, the information given to the leadership is coming from the grass roots;
  • In every city, there is a telephone number, it’s the same everywhere 12345, ring that number and register your suggestion(s), there is a legal requirement for the person taking the call to deal with it, no matter where you are in that city, you can register the issue and, if you are in a different city but want to report something somewhere else, just dial the STD code of the city where your problem exists and 12345; 
  • There are also Apps, which provide information on certain topics, for example waterways, there is an App to register a formal suggestion about local rivers or waterways, and this can be followed through on the App, it’s impossible for the government to do nothing as it’s electronically logged, it’s also illegal to do nothing under Article 41, as we shall see in a moment..

Article 35 gives people even more power: all citizens have the right of free speech, what a surprise this must be to people who call China autocratic and authoritarian, people also have the rights “of assembly, association, of process and of demonstration.”

Criticism to improve governance

Again, critics will wave this away as just words but academic reports say differently. A book written and published earlier this year called Contemporary China: A New Superpower? Describes the fact that there are literally thousands of protests every year in China. There are many links to academic surveys inside of China by important research universities such as one linked here by Tsinghua researchers describing the scope and content of protests and how they benefit and complement the country’s governance. 

Think about that! Chinese academics researching and writing papers on Chinese protests. That really bursts the myth of the narrative!

Readers who can view Chinese social media would be able to check sites such as TouTiao, Weibo and even WeChat and find multiple examples of criticism of the government but what they won’t find is calls to action, calls to violence or calls to extremism – the reason they won’t find them is because there aren’t any. People know their limitations and responsibilities and won’t make them, or, if they do, they are removed because they are illegal.

Double standards when it comes to free speech

Censorship is another issue the West doesn’t like about China but actively engages in itself. Anyone in Western mainstream media or social media supporting China is either suppressed or cancelled, it would be absolutely impossible to see this article reprinted in any mainstream media outlet it is simply ignored by the West because it clarifies a point the West would like people not to believe, understand or even know about. 

People supporting Russia over Ukraine are suppressed or cancelled. People who write about, work with or associate with China and Chinese are immediately suspect and afraid to speak out, numerous examples exist but that’s for a different article. This is about responsibility with freedoms and again, these are clear in China’s constitution where Article 38 expresses: “insult, libel, false accusation or false incrimination directed against any citizens by any means is prohibited”.

But the real icing on the cake when people say that the Chinese can’t criticise their leaders is Article 41 which not only gives all citizens the “right to criticize and make suggestions regarding any State organ or functionary…” it also describes what will happen if the complaint is ignored

Having proven that there is not only a right to complain, a means by which to do so, and a course of action to be taken if that complaint is not dealt with in an efficient manner, it is hard to believe, but true, that many will criticise this article, when they do, we should ask ourselves where do they come from and what is their motivation. If they are Chinese, are they in China; if not, why not? If they are not Chinese, what business is it of theirs?The system isn’t perfect, no system ever is, there will be people who slip through the cracks; it’s those who are found, amplified and exemplified by a media which would like us to believe something different to the reality: As Harvard University found in their almost 15-year study, China is a safe, stable, satisfied and healthy place in which to live for more than 95% of its 1.4 billion people. No so-called “democratic” country comes close.