Deciphering the Dreams of the Dragon Photo: endoftheamericandream.com

Deciphering the Dreams of the Dragon

The Chinese Dream, a new initiative of China's President Xi, is strikingly similar to the American Dream. But it looks like a shared dream is not the only similarity between the two nations.

The American Dream. We have all heard of it and we all know the images associated with it: the eagle, the perfect five-person family, the ascendance from rags to riches, the suburbs, barbeques, the whole shebang. But recently, a new state of nighttime comatose has entered the international arena by the name of the Chinese Dream’. In addition to a shared love of the colour red, the United States and People’s Republic of China (China) also appear to be sharing similar fantasies in the bedroom. The rest of this blog will be devoted to examining similar aspects of the Chinese and American Dreams, the concept of policy export, and the context that enabled policy export, particularly in relation to bribery, to occur.

But what is the Chinese Dream?

First visualized by the new leader of China, President Xi Jinping’s promise of the Chinese Dream will be the “guiding philosophy of the new leadership of the next five years.” The Chinese dream has been articulated by Chinese scholars and by government officials as the “dream of the people ". Envisioned as a way to unify China as one, the Dream offers the chance of equal opportunity, the possibility for every citizen’s dreams to come true, and rewards for hard work all in the hope of renewal of the Chinese nation and boosting the country’s appeal and influence around the world.

However, the new dream is not only political rhetoric. President Xi has emphasized specific areas for growth, particularly in reference to upholding justice and stopping people who are cheating the system. In response to culturally engrained business methods involving bribery, calls for using “justice and fairness as a guiding principle” have been echoed throughout the Chinese governmental apparatus and are starting to be reflected in policy creation, especially with regard to fraud and bribery. Ranging from economics to diplomacy, the Chinese Dream is articulated as a commitment to governmental “reform and opening-up.”

Sound familiar?

Well, that’s because it is. The Chinese Dream is taking on many of the same initiatives that the American Dream tried to tackle in the 1930s. The American Dream originally emerged in part to respond to calls to decrease bribery of foreign officials by top American business executives and to repair the American economic image. Similarly, China is currently facing complaints about the massive use of bribery and economic ‘cheating’. China is codifying many of the same laws and legal reasoning used by the United States in a process also known as policy export.

Policy export, “the process by which knowledge about policies, administrative arrangements, institutions and ideas in one political system (past or present) is used in the development of policies, administrative arrangements, institutions and ideas in another political system,” is a common global practice. One country sees a policy working in another country and wants to try it out in their own land. In this instance, the response to bribery allegations in China is virtually the same as the American response, only with a modernized twist reconceptualized to fit modern-day China. But exactly how similar are the new Chinese bribery laws to their American counterparts?

Extrasensory perception?

Legally speaking, the “American dream” was a demand for punishment. The changes in the American Penal Code during the rise of the American Dream reflect penalties “based on retribution… to determine… the severity of punishment.” Researchers Di Tella & Dubra (2006) found through an extensive literature review that an increased harshness in criminal law was due to the public belief that because hard work and effort can pay off, “only truly mean people would prefer to become criminals.”

Similarly, strengthening of the Chinese Penal Code is a core tenant of the Chinese Dream, most evidently seen in their bribery policies. Before the Chinese Dream was introduced, only the giving of a bribe was illegal while both receiving and offering (attempting) bribes were legal. Now, bribery in China can lead to imprisonment for life. Effective January o2013, Chinese bribery law now includes penalties depending on the amount of the bribe, denoted either “serious” or “extremely serious” if the amount is more than 1 million Renminbi (approximately 160,000 U.S. Dollars) or more than 500,000 Renminbi (approximately 81,500 U.S. Dollars) respectively. New bribery laws also include provisions for the number of people involved, government officials, illegal gains and offering bribes. “Extremely serious” bribery can be punished with life imprisonment and the government has now implemented a public database that “documents all cases of convictions for bribery and lists all parties involved, whether or not those parties have been criminally pursued” (Rosoff & Wang, 2013).

However, the concept of a database to publicly monitor bribery and fraud is not original. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is an American database of information about companies’ annual and managerial reports in addition to being a mechanism of civil enforcement of fraud, insider trading and other securities law violations. Although it is not a running registry of convicted and implicated bribers and bribees, many of the mechanisms for enforcement and legal action of the two databases are the same, supporting the policy export hypothesis.

Also, much of the language used in support of the establishment of the anti-fraud databases and new anti-bribery policies is rhetorically very similar. For instance, Chinese anti-fraud law is reminiscent of the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) because both call for a more active promotion of foreign relations through secure economic contracts and development of “friendly and good-neighbourly relations” with economic partners and developing countries.

Will it work like a dream?

Despite the vast cultural differences between the two countries, China appears to be in a position similar to that of the United States during the emergence of the American dream. Chinese calls for hard work and economic stability are reminiscent of the economic and policy changes taken by the U.S. in promotion of the American Dream. Nationalistic rhetoric, a strong call for harsher penal codes, and economic promotion were very important factors of the American Dream and are also main elements to the newly emerged Chinese Dream. A rising hegemon in a multipolar world, the Chinese dream could be the final piece of puzzle that propels China to the top of the world order, much like the American Dream did for the United States.

Works Cited

DiTella, R. & Dubra, J. (2006). Crime and punishments in the ‘American Dream’. National Bureau of Economic Research.
*Found via Web of Knowledge

Dolowitz, D. P. & Marsh, D. (2006). Who learns what from whom: a review of the policy transfer literature. Political Studies, 44(2), 343-57.
*Found via Web of Knowledge

End of the American Dream [Cartoon Image]. (2011). Retrieved September 19, 2013.

Jiechi, Y. (2013, September 10). Implementing the Chinese Dream. The National Interest.

Rosoff, W. L. & Wang, Y.W. (2013, August 6). Recent developments in Chinese antibribery laws and enforcement. Akin Gump.

U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) (2012, November 14). A resource guide to the U.S Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. U.S. Department of Justice.

Yinan, Z. (2013, March 18). ‘Chinese dream’ is Xi’s vision. China Daily.


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