Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Civilised behaviour

The Chinese government and regional authorities love their slogans. Perhaps it is a latent cultural belief in the power of language or perhaps a socialist tendency to try and control the people's thoughts - I don't know - but they're written everywhere to exhort the reader to change their behaviour. Old town walls are painted with old ones telling the virtues of birth control and having one child. In the cities: Be a cute Shanghainese! Be a happy Hangzhou'er!

The more recent ones though increasingly had one particular word: civilised (wenming). The powers that be have decided that Chinese aren't civilised enough and have to clean up their act especially before things like the Olympics.

Chinese often boast of their country's civilisation (one that goes back 5,000 years as almost anyone through their education system will tell you) so it seems ironic that there is this thrust. What is uncivilised? What do you have to do to be civilised? Fortunately for those who need instruction, they often have diagrams on what is and isn't civilised. Civilised people apparently wait for those on the subway train to disembark before they board. They offer their seats to the aged, sick, pregnant and lame to sit on the bus or train. They don't honk their horns constantly. They flush the loo after use. They don't pee on the streets or into bushes in public places. They don't spit huge balls of phlegm onto the pavement and the surrounds. These are what the Government signs say.

And wouldn't it be nice if those could happen. I saw so many instances when the above were not followed. I've walked into too many toilets to see the last patron's piece of work waiting for me. I saw so many people squeezing into trains while those leaving the trains were coming out. Phlegm! Seas of phlegm! Pee'ers galore. I did see some giving up of seats for the aged though.

Slogans are slogans, and a population told what to do by slogans tends to not even see them after time. At least that's what my Shanghai friend thought.

Xin's dad thought it would be 20 years before Shanghainese were 'civilised', and 50 years for the rest of China. Most people see it as a peasant problem. Peasants and farmers are coming into the cities in search of work and with them bring their uncivilised habits. While the peasantry do have a lot to learn, those in the urban centres do break the above mentioned rules of civility.

One interesting story is from another slogan: Make it click. On the long-distance buses, they'll always have a video played to tell you to put on your seatbelt, and also roads signs reminding you to do so. Of course, being China, on most of those buses, the seatbelts are usually busted, stuck under the seats or non-existent. The taxi back-seats are the same. Nonetheless, I saw the video on my way to Hangzhou and noticed I did have a working seatbelt and made it click. To be honest, with China's traffic you'd be crazy not to. The young man next to me saw me fastening the seatbelt and after about 10 seconds followed suit. So maybe there is hope after all.

1 comment:

James said...

Being civilised means "thinking of the other". Is that definition too simplistic?