As the countries of Asia become more democratic with free markets, their perceptions of American culture change. In China, the people have just recently been able to practice free trade with other countries and within their own. For this reason, they have a lot of catching up to do and look toward America as the epitome of success. Korea successfully became a modern, economic power without much outside help. Koreans have developed a national pride, and they are encouraged to resist Western influences, even though they have adopted a Western style of democracy. Japan, like Korea, has become democratic, but since America and Japan have been practicing mutual, cultural exchange since World War II, American culture seems less exotic to the Japanese. In short, China views Americans as people to look up to and imitate, while Koreans view Americans as invaders to be treated cautiously, and Japan views American culture as very ordinary and a part of everyday life.
Since the Mao era of China, the country has been becoming more capitalist, and it appears that Communism is slowly on its way out. It has been realized that Communism does not work while Capitalism does, and China has been looking to Western societies for inspiration. Yunxiang Yan supports this argument when he writes, “There is a new tendency to absorb foreign cultural influences, a trend that the Chinese political system resisted during the Maoist ear (1949-78).” The government is not absorbing foreign influences because China thinks foreigners are more correct or superior than China; the Chinese government is only interested in the ideas of the West because they want to achieve economic success.
However, the people of China view Americans differently than the government. Young citizens think of foreign influences, such as McDonald’s as a culture they want to be a part of. Americans are thought of as modern, exotic, and exciting. McDonald’s is in fact thought of as a promise for the modernization of China. In the eyes of the Beijing residents, McDonald’s represents Americana and the promise of modernization. McDonald’s highly efficient service and management, its spotless dining environment, and its fresh ingredients have been featured repeatedly by the Chinese media as examples of modernity. In contrast to American culture, as perceived through McDonald’s, Chinese fast food is thought of as dirty and uncivilized. McDonald’s advertises their cleanliness while nobody knows “what goes on in the kitchen” at Chinese vendors, which are considered less modern and more risky to eat at. It’s hard to tell if China will continue to be open to American culture in the future, but it’s obvious that America is actively influencing the Chinese while China is modernizing.
In contrast to China, American influences are not accepted as openly in Korea. Korea once had a struggling economy, but they have modernized almost entirely on their own and now have the ability to compete with foreign markets. In the 1980s, after years of economic struggle, Koreans were finally producing enough rice to fulfill the needs of their country, and eating domestic rice has become a symbol of patriotism in Korea. Many Koreans chose domestic rice because eating foreign foods, especially McDonald’s, is considered almost treasonous, and “despite careful presentation and planning, many Korean critics perceive McDonald’s as the vanguard of encroaching American capitalism, the inevitable accompaniment to U.S. political and cultural influence.” To prevent America from dominating and taking over Korean culture, some Koreans completely reject McDonald’s. Opposing the Chinese opinion of McDonald’s being healthy and clean, rumors of food contamination were spread to promote nationalism. Sanymee Bak explains the reasons why American influences concern Korean and why Koreans avoid foreign food when he writes, “Price-gouging and profiteering, low nutrition and sanitary standards, and social irresponsibility are often cited as the main reasons to avoid foreign foods.” In Korea, Americans are thought of as dirty capitalists that are only interested in profit and dominating the marketplace.
However, although perceptions of America may not change in the near future, it’s unlikely that American culture and institutions like McDonald’s will be resisted by Korea as Korea continues to modernize. As Kim Dae Jung writes, “As an inevitable consequence of industrialization, the family-centered East Asian societies are also rapidly moving toward self-centered individualism.” While American culture may still be seen as intimidating to adults in Korea, American culture is seen as a chance for young Koreans to freely express themselves.
Out of Korea, China, and Japan, Japan has been the most stable since World War II. Unlike the other two countries, Japan has not had a civil war or a major change in government. Japan has adopted democracy for the sake of modernization and has become a dominant economic power in Asia with help from the cultural exchange between the U.S. and Japan. Since American Culture seems so common in Japan, it is not exotic or exciting, and since Japan has been so successful, the Japanese are not impressed by America. Ishihara points out that if America has any problems with competing with Japan, “America’s problem is not Japan’s economic strength but its own industrial weakness.” This quotation helps to show that unlike China or Korea, Japan does not feel inferior to America. Ishihara also thinks that Japan has less discrimination on the basis of class or income than America, which allows more equal opportunity in Japan, even though Korea and China view America as a land of equal opportunity.
However, although Japan is not as perceptive of American influence as China or as adamantly against McDonald’s as Korea, American culture still impacts Japan. Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney explains how Japan still tries to adapt to and blend in with Western culture by becoming more civilized in Western eyes when he writes, “With government pressure, breast feeding in public has virtually disappeared. The male habit of urinating in public has not, although it is less common than it used to be in Japan.” Not only has Japan changed by eliminating practices not accepted by the West, but Japan has also adopted practices to help blend in with American culture. Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney elaborates with, “From a Japanese perspective, meat was the distinguishing characteristic of the Western diet, and thus ‘barbarian’ cultures… But certain reformers favored an unabashed imitation of the West and advocated the abandonment of rice agriculture and the adoption of raising animals for meat.” Meat has been thought of as the reason why Americans are so strong and caused a rapid increase of meat consumption during the 1970s and 1980s. Japan feels equal to Americans politically and economically, but culturally, Japanese try to blend in with American culture. Americans are not intimidating or exotic to the Japanese; they are merely competitors from a different country.
While China tries to imitate America, Koreans tries to avoid becoming too American, and Japan has a symbiotic relationship with America. Changing political parties, trade relations, and diplomatic relations have influenced these differences. The closer the U.S. has been to East Asian countries, the more common American culture is. Although developing countries may be more perceptive to American culture than stable countries that are trying to keep their own identities, almost all countries are influenced by American culture, even if they don’t want to be.
Sources:Bak, Sangmee. “McDonald’s in Seoul: Food Choices, Identity, and Nationalism.” Golden Arches East. Edited by James L. Watson. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1997.; Jung, Kim Dae. “Is Culture Destiny?: The Myth of Asia’s Anti-Democratic Values”. Foreign Affairs 73, no. 6 (1994): 189-94.; Ishihara, Shintaro. The Japan That Can Say No: Why Japan Will Be First Among Equals. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1991.; Ohnuki-Tierney, Emiko. “McDonald’s in Japan: Changing Manners and Etiquette.” Golden Arches East. Edited by James L. Watson. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1997.; Yan, Yunxiang. “McDonald’s in Beijing: The Localization of Americana.” Golden Arches East. Edited by James L. Watson. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1997.