13 hours ahead of New York City it’s easy to forget that Election Day is here, and that America is choosing its next president today. Especially with the distraction of keeping up with Hurricane Sandy’s effects amidst personal school, work and travel plans, the election is only on the fringes of my consciousness. But the American election is very much on the minds of the Chinese people here.
In Chinese circles the conversation inevitably turns to the American presidential election, and if I’m there they ask who I support. I ask a local student to help me with mailing my absentee ballot, and she first guesses then asks who I voted for. Another time, a Chinese friend asks me “if it is convenient to ask who I voted for.” The others with us then launch into a discussion about the candidates. Perhaps I am not as well-read on politics as they would like, for in this polarized age I base my decisions more on matters of faith than on government policy. But these conversations with the Chinese always shift to voting in China.
“In China, voting is fake,” some of my Chinese friends say. If they vote, they can only choose candidates from one party, and often know little about these candidates’ positions.
Local elections still occur. In Nanjing I passed by a group of grey-haired residents setting up tables and arranging posters of candidates. In the news are sometimes reported Chinese officials who have managed to actually use grassroots elections to make a difference in the community.
But since voting is not an integral part of Chinese society, elections are seldom the source of such national and indeed international discussion that America generates every four years. Everyone from the British to those in the Chinese countryside know who Obama is, and that Americans are choosing a president this year.
It is easy to slack and not trek out to the polling booth. No one is forcing you to vote. But as one young voter in a New York Times video pointed out, voting is an honor. His grandmother could not vote until she was 43. If suddenly you were not allowed to vote, or if you, like the Chinese, could only choose from one party, how would you view your vote then?
As I go to sleep on November 6th in China, Americans are just beginning to head out to the polls. When I wake up in the morning tomorrow, we may know who the next American president will be. It’s actually a bit exciting.