BEIJING — There have been no official Chinese polls to help tease out what the world’s most populous nation thinks of the American presidential election.
That doesn’t mean people in this rising world power and U.S. rival aren’t watching the tumultuous race between Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump — they are.
“People can vote according to their will,” said Wang Jiayi, a recent college graduate from Inner Mongolia. “Everyone can be president. It’s what’s different from our country.”
That contrasts markedly from China, where local "elections" involving only approved Communist Party candidates ensure the reins of political control remain in the grasp of the Party and the increasingly powerful president, Xi Jinping.
The ongoing and very aggressive public contest in the U.S. has caught artisan Xuan Kuanjiao’s attention.
“They need to go through repeated debates and convince the public with their speeches,” the 26-year-old said. “Many Chinese have made fun of their attacks on each other.”
The rough-and-tumble of the unprecedented U.S. race will have made an impression on many in China, according to Jia Qingguo, a professor at Peking University’s School of International Studies.
“A lot of people [here] have been left with the impression that democratic politics can be chaotic," he said.
As for the actual candidates, Chinese people were tilting in Clinton’s direction, according to a study released last month by the Pew Research Center.
A roughly comparable share of respondents held positive and negative views of Clinton. Meanwhile, 40 percent viewed the Trump unfavorably — versus 35 percent for Clinton. Just 22 percent claimed to like him.
Trump has struck a hardline tone on China, accusing the country of “raping” America.
China's trade policy has been a frequent target of the Republican frontrunner. In the past, Trump claimed the country's currency devaluation would "suck the blood out" of America. While widely seen as more conciliatory on China, Clinton is linked to President Barack Obama’s “Asia pivot” aimed at bolstering ties with Chinese regional rivals.
Still, the Pew survey results should not be construed as Chinese warmth toward a Clinton presidency.
Clinton is known for her high-level engagement with three generations of Chinese leaders, as well as criticism of China on human rights, crackdowns on the internet, and Beijing’s territorial ambitions in the South China Sea.
“There’s never been a U.S. presidential candidate better known to China’s 1.3 billion people than Hillary Clinton,” said a South China Morning Post analysis of Clinton's history with China last month.
Several Chinese foreign policy experts tell NBC News that Clinton will likely take a tougher position on China than Trump, but that she is at least more predictable than her Republican rival.
“I actually like her personal charisma,” said Wu Derong, a 61-year old statistician from southern Hunan province. “But as a Chinese, I cannot accept her policy on China. I think it is directed against an ever more powerful China and intended to contain our rise.”
Li Bo, a 40-year old worker from central Shaanxi province, confesses he does not know much about the U.S. political system or particularly care about the competition between Republicans and Democrats.
“Whoever wins will have to deal with China,” Li said. “So it won’t affect China in a drastic way. It’s all the same.”