I came across a thought provoking article today which compares the political freedom of the United States with the other freedoms that China offers. It presents (part of) the other side of the story that anyone living in China knows. That is, that political freedoms aren’t all that equate to what we really feel and interpret as personal freedom.

It’s short so I decided to post it here in its entirety:

Question: What of kind person would look to China – yes, repressive, dictatorial China – as an example of a “free” country?

Answer: Any person who smokes, drinks, likes cheap movies, enjoys exotic foods and drinks, doesn’t like wearing a seatbelt, has a knack for motorcycles, wants to start a business with minimal hassle, wants to buy sex, has passion for purchasing Louis Vuitton knock-offs, or really really likes driving the wrong way down a one way street.

Obviously, to many in the West, the idea of China being in any way free would seem counterintuitive. After all, the impression that the Western media presents of China is one of oppression, of a complete lack of privacy, liberty, and freedom. In the political realm, this is certainly the case: China is an authoritarian military dictatorship. There are no elections. There are no opposition parties. Freedom of political speech is curtailed. Internet use is monitored and controlled.

Freedom or Tyranny

But people are much more than merely political. And when it comes to all of the little pleasures that make life worth living – those small pleasures that make us fully human – China is, in many ways, a more free country than our own United States.

Take anti-smoking regulations. Thirty-eight American states now ban cigarette smoking in essentially all indoor public spaces. In hyper-puritanical California, many cities and towns are now banning smoking outside as well. Meanwhile, cigarette prices continue to creep upwards. If you are an American smoker who travels to China, you will find that you are actually more free in the “repressive” Middle Kingdom. Even though some Chinese cities have passed partial limits on public smoking, people are still free to light up in bars, restaurants, and other spots of conviviality. Even in cosmpolitan Shanghai, it’s still common for people to smoke in taxis, hospitals, and retail stores. I don’t smoke myself, but I recognize that smoking is a pleasurable experience for many, and that smoking bans represent an infantalizing attack on a basic right. And when it comes to safeguarding that basic right, China far surpasses the “land of the free.”

It’s not only smoking. Fancy a beer at 4 in the morning? I’m afraid it can’t be done here in Oregon – no alcohol can be sold after 2:30AM. China, of course, imposes no such limits. Have you grown some fresh fruit that you would like to sell on the street corner? Here in the States, I’m afraid you’ll have to apply and pay for a license, and thereafter be subjected to inspections by any manner of pointy-headed government bureaucrat. Too bad you’re not in China: you could have just hopped on your bike and gotten to work. Or perhaps you’re feeling a hankering for a Lady Of The Night? Better be careful you don’t get caught, or you could be sent to jail. If you were in China, you could have headed to any of the technically illegal but wholly tolerated red-light salons and gotten your fix – as well as helped a young woman make her livelihood.

American Flag

America is increasingly becoming a nation that considers political freedoms to constitute the entirety of “freedom.” Political freedoms are important, and one can only hope that Chinese people will soon enjoy more of them. But there’s so much more to life than voting in elections and petitioning for pet political causes. And indeed, there are basic personal rights and liberties – the right to have a drink when you damn well please, for example – that the US should protect as well as China.

Here in America, we can pat ourselves on the back about being the “freest people on Earth.” But when you get thrown in jail for driving the wrong way down a one way street, don’t say I didn’t warn you.