COVID vaccination-A magnifier for the cultural differences between China and the U.S.?

By Yiting Huang

A little after 7 p.m., the family had just finished dinner when, under the warm yellow light, came the sound of the news on the television, talking about Covid-19 vaccines. Jim, a 58-year-old Illinoisan who always watches TV after dinner, sat on the couch and said, “I think I don’t need to take the vaccine because I usually don’t get sick. I mean I am tough.”

American tough guy VS. Chinese lady

Jim is a manager of the IT department at a U.S. university. He has repeated his standing point many times “I don’t think I need the vaccine because I am healthy. So there is no reason for me to take it.” But, based on the actual situation that he’s already got the vaccine this May, he has his own explanation: “I took the vaccine because it will increase the insurance I need to pay if I don’t take it, and it might affect my job as well. ” he says reluctantly. After a period of contemplation, he concludes that  “it totally depends on people’s opinions or circumstances. I mean, they have the right to make any decision about whether to take it or not.” He believes that everyone should make their own decisions about vaccination, not based on other reasons, such as the government or the society. Taking the vaccine isn’t his true internal expression, which might be a manifestation of his exposed culture.

Research results show culture is a broad term that is formed and influenced by different political ideologies, social media, scientific views, and, what’s more, educational backgrounds. More specifically, these factors can cause differences in behaviors or attitudes toward a specific event, like vaccination.

 In this case, a proud American like Jim, who has embraced American culture almost all his life, believes that every person has the freedom to choose and any conditions should not rock. In other words, he firmly holds the belief that to vaccinate or not to vaccinate is more a matter of personal will, not something like convergence theory, where people acquire some of the same/similar characteristics in the same environment of existence.

However, Mrs. Jin from another side of the earth proposes different opinions about vaccination. This 40-something-year-old lady who lives in Zhejiang, China, points out that “Even though I understand the logic that people have the freedom to choose. Still, it’s probably safer to get vaccinated.” Furthermore, by addressing it seriously, she said, “the government is also advocating vaccination and calling for people to take it. If taking the vaccine can prevent the outbreak  and  bring back normality, I think it’s reasonable to take it.”

Mrs. Jin, who grew up in Chinese culture, believes that people not only need to “make plans for themselves”  but also need to take ” the safety of others” into consideration. The formation of her attitude toward vaccination might also relate to her culture.

China has always advocated the Confucian culture, the central idea of which contains – virtue, benevolence, righteousness. “China is the most responsible country, and the Chinese people have a high sense of responsibility for society and the nation. Considering the wellness of the whole country, most Chinese people are willing to actively cooperate with the government to take actions, such as wearing masks, staying at home,  not going out, etc., which is why this pandemic can be controlled so well” a content smile emerges on her face when she says so. According to her words, it is obvious that the Confucian culture is closely related to her perspective of China and what has the country (aka the government, not only a fact in nowaday China but also a core concept of Confucianism)

 Although they shared the same action towards taking vaccination, Jim and Mrs. Jin shares distinctive starting points——the education they received, as well as the media propaganda they bought in, and the dominant political ideology of their motherland, all are proof that different cultures do take an essential role in the way they think or behave.

One country, one culture?

Both as  Chinese immigrants, Juliana and Sun also have discrete ideas about vaccines.

During a call with her best friend Sun, Juliana asked about Sun’s thoughts about the vaccine; after hearing what her twenty-year bestie had said, Julian was shocked. Sun told her that“ We should believe the vaccine and take it. We all have to believe in the power of science, right? ” She replied with a confused face, “I don’t think vaccines should be taken. Through some studies and information from the media, some people pointed out that vaccines can be harmful, and others say that vaccines are just a conspiracy. The fact that vaccines don’t pass rigorous tests gives me concerns that it might cause unpredictable damage  later.”  In the case of these two bosom friends, although they both are immigrants from China to the U.S. almost twenty years ago,  it is clear that their standpoints on vaccines are polarized.

Juliana always shares the information she gets from online tabloid news or YouTube videos. “It is the government and its political administration that causes all the conflicts or troubles such as Asian hate. So the vaccine could be another one. Who knows. ” this witness of the Cultural Revolution said. By saying so, she not only doesn’t believe the vaccine because of the negative political information she binges from the media about China but also feels upset about the American society, which she thinks it’s ruined by Liberals. In contrast, Mrs. Sun’s ideas are mainly influenced by her doctor husband and her early education as a nurse.

As a result, when political information and scientific theories are received differently, people tend to have divergent sights. At the same time, these political messages and scientific theories are also part of cultures.

American Society VS.  Chinese Society  

Chinese society has nonidentical ways from American society in the way they promote vaccines. In the US, vaccine-related propaganda is done more on social media, such as Youtube, Instagram, Facebook, etc. To be more specific, in the U.S., the propaganda for vaccines only “persuades” people that it is good to get vaccinated, but no one is forced to get it.

Screenshot on the top left corner: 

Screenshots on the top right and left down corner: 

Screenshot on the right down corner: 

 In China, besides the ubiquitous propaganda, the government and some organizations will send people text messages, emails, and even stick posters on the front doors of their compound. Zhao, who now lives in Shanghai, found a poster about vaccines posted at the entrance of her residence. On this poster, it says: The vaccination rate of our unit is only 16%. Additionally, this kind of poster is on the enter-gate of every building, thus creating a “competition of vaccination rates” between residents of buildings. Zhao said because of the relatively low rate of vaccination of her building, which makes some residents feel the “shame” of not getting vaccinated. In other words, she feels this poster is one way of public shaming for those who have not been vaccinated. By feeling so, there will be more people to take the vaccine shot.

Source from Zhao 

Through the distinct ways of recommending vaccines in these two countries, a clear image of a ‘tighter’ Chinese culture VS a looser American culture is vividly shown.

Besides, based on the recent report: over 630 million people have been vaccinated, which leads to China’s vaccination rate has exceeded 40%[1], while at the same time, and there are still about 1,000 counties in the United States that have vaccination rates less than 30%.[2] .

To sum up, based on all the contrast above, under the influence of Chinese and American culture, COVID vaccination is just like the magnifier that amplifies the different reactions of people.

We Are Young & We Are Not That Different

A large percentage of high school and college students in the U.S. now post their vaccine cards on social media platforms after they get their vaccinations. Especially during April and May, the most common question in the conversation between students becomes to “did you get the vaccine yet?” Moreover, after the vaccine came out, the word “vaccinista” became a buzzword on social media platforms in the U.S. Many young people who support vaccination are proud to say they are vaccinista, which has become a herd trend.

Source from author’s Instagram 

There is a similar phenomenon in China. In China, after being vaccinated, the color of people’s health code (which is identical to the vaccine card in the US) will change from green to gold. On WeChat, many young Chinese share screenshots of their gold health codes as a particular way of showing off. Gradually, it has become a popular trend for post-90s and 00s (The Chinese term for Gen-Z) to share their golden health codes. In essence, young people in China and the United States like to share proof of their vaccinations. It’s more of a show-off to prove that they are following the trend. At this point, both Chinese and American young people like novelty and bragging about things, just in many ways.

Source from NetEase News

The Advance made in education levels and rise up in information exchange – the cultural bridge is building up.

Yuqing, a  Chinese student at UCLA, smiles friendly and says, “I think Chinese and American attitudes toward vaccination are very similar. There are always people who feel that they should not get vaccinated because of concerns about the safety of new vaccines. Others may feel that they should do it for the sake of society as a whole and their health. Both kinds of people exist in China and America.” She pauses for a second, leans back in her chair, and proposes, “However, the most important thing is that I hope everyone can do some research before getting vaccinated to know if the vaccine is suitable for them.”  She turns her head, looking at the lab report of her medical examination, says slowly but thoughtfully, “We still need to trust science.”

Chloe, an American girl who takes biochemistry engineer as her major at Rose Hulman University, says, “Everyone can make their own choices. It is essential that you need to do the research before you take anything and don’t just listen to the news or others. The decision you make should be based on every side of this thing.”

Nowadays, youngsters are becoming more ‘armoured’ with science because of the increasing access to education, technology, and the advancement of information exchange, even if they are from various cultures.

Close To You”——Expectations For The Future

According to my personal experiences, during my first year as an exchange student in the United States, I attended a public high school in Illinois. When I first arrived at that school, many American students were strongly interested in questions, such as  “Do you know how to do kung fu?” “Do all Chinese people eat dog meat?”. Since I frequently received these questions, I struggled with the way of telling them that not all Chinese eat dog meat and know kung fu. Gradually, I realized that there is a big gap between Chinese and American culture. It pains me that some Americans would turn some ‘imaginary facts’ into actual basic facts, and this motivates me to do something to optimize it.

Even though things like eating dog meat are cruel to American students, from another angle, they were willing to talk to me and ask me about it. They gave me the opportunity to make my voice heard. I could see they are curious to learn about different cultures. Therefore, even though there are significant cultural differences between China and the United States, more and more young people are now showing the willingness and the possibility of eliminating those cultural gaps by learning from each other.

It’s challenging to promote Chinese and American culture face-to-face due to the pandemic, but people are paying more attention to information on the Internet. Therefore, I believe it is very promising to bridge the cultural gap between China and the U.S. by adding more basic cultural awareness on social media or news. In addition, as a high school student and as an international student who wants to bridge the gap between cultures, I would like to see more events held inside the campus. Students from different cultures can interact to express their views on another culture, and receive feedback from students from that culture in these events. This will be a fun event or even a catalyst for bridging the cultural gap and bringing the whole world community together.

“But I really want to learn more about Chinese culture because I want to know more about my wife,” ‘tough American’ Jim said, looking affectionately at Juliana.

Date resources:

[1] CCTV, China

[2] CNBC


巴渝风景线. (2021, May 11). 健康码上新“金色皮肤”!注射疫苗即解锁金色健康码,你解锁了吗. 网易.

COVID Vaccine TV ad [TV series episode]. (2021, May 10). In Public Health Agency (Executive Producer).

Get back to what you love [TV series episode]. (2021, March 23). In Google (Executive Producer).

How It Starts: 30 | COVID-19 Vaccine Education Initiative | Ad Council [TV series episode]. (2021, February 25). In Ad Council (Executive Producer)

Statistics and Research Coronavirus (COVID-19) Vaccinations. (2021). Our World in Data. Retrieved June 27, 2021.

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