Heading in to work recently, I turned on the radio (yes, just a good old-fashioned FM car radio—I’ll bet you didn’t know those were still in use!) and caught the news mid-story. This is what I heard:
(Interviewee) It was great, the first time I vote for the American president. It’s very amazing, and I’m honored.
(Reporter) So who did you vote for?
(Interviewee) President Obama.
And I thought, “Nice to hear them interview a first-time voter, and they sound so excited!” And then I heard this:
“Even though this is not the real vote, I feel excited because I have the right, it’s very important.”
I know we’re often cynical about the value of our vote, but most of us don’t discount its inherent legitimacy. I quickly learned that this interview was taken at the US Embassy in Beijing, where a mock-voting booth was set up to give interested Chinese citizens a chance to see what it feels like to vote, American-style.
Appropriate or not, this event reminded me of something from my own childhood. Remember Kid’s Voting? I know I do; it was the first I voted. The year was 1992. Being a socially-conscious six year-old, I knew what I was going to do: I was going to vote for Bill Clinton! It was completely lost on me that this was simply a mock vote created to educate kids like me about the election process. I legitimately believed my vote had helped Clinton win his first term in office, until my mom informed me my vote wasn’t a real vote yet.
But getting back to Beijing. Although I know that a popular vote is not a determining factor for the National People’s Congress or any of the positions on up the ladder to top echelon of Chinese power, I can’t help but feel guilty at just how politically spoiled we are as Americans. We get to vote all the time, for all kinds of things! Presidents, governors, senators and congress members, down to the local school board—we’ve got no shortage of opportunities to exercise our right to vote.
And even though I know this part, too, I can’t help thinking that it’s flat out wrong that even once in ten years Chinese citizens aren’t allowed to participate in their own political process. I might have been mad at age six when I learned that my vote wasn’t real, but at least I had solace in the fact that one day it would be real and it would be counted.
China is hugely dynamic, highly politicized, and getting more influential every day. Its citizens have always been hungry for change, and that’s true now more than ever. There is more and more talk among everyday Chinese about the need for personal and political freedoms, for objectivity, and I think this candid interview snippet sums it all up: China needs more freedom and China wants more choice. Everything is changing, and this needs to change, too. It’s time for people to actually have a say in who’s running the People’s Party.
Image source: The AP via USA Today