Be Splendid: Chinese Cities Promote Better Manners

Be Splendid: Chinese Cities Promote Better Manners

The ongoing summit is the biggest showcase for the city of Beijing, even the whole of China, since the 2008 Olympics. The government has fought to reduce air pollution and create ‘APEC blue’ skies for the occasion despite public objections, but a better environment is not enough to meet officials’ high standards. Te-ping Chen at The Wall Street Journal reports that Beijing launched a major campaign to improve citizens’ manners this summer:

Here in China’s capital, riding the ’s sprawling subway can sometimes be a contact sport. Morning rush hours turn into mosh-pit-like scenes in which riders compete to board packed trains. Shouts and curses ring out. Elbows are thrown. Occasionally, passengers who squeeze their way in are flung out again by the crowds.

Now, as President Barack Obama and other world leaders descend on for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit next week, authorities have launched a behavior-modification campaign: A contest to promote grown-up deportment onboard.

Started this summer, the “Be a Splendid Beijinger and Welcome APEC—Civilized, Polite Passengers” competition aims to identify and honor the top 100 best-behaving bus and subway passengers. It’s a kind of “China’s Next Top Model,” except for public transportation. [Source]

The battle for greater civility has being ongoing for years. As China rapidly urbanizes, many formerly rural Chinese have struggled to adopt city-dwellers’ “civilized” ways. Various efforts ranging from grassroots initiatives to government organizations have sought to standardize urban behavior; according to Adam James Smith at the Guardian, the former “ghost town” of Ordos recently launched its own behavioral re-education campaign.

Yuan Xiaomei, a community supervisor in Kangbashi, China, tears open a cardboard box and hands out brochures and promotional fans to crowd of locals. The fans are emblazoned: “To build a civilised city, we need you. Thank you for your participation.” The residents fan themselves and flip through the brochures. One woman explains to her friend who can’t read: “It’s telling you how you should act in the city. Don’t spit, don’t throw rubbish on the streets, don’t play loud music, don’t drive on the pavement.”

It’s a lot to take in for people who, weeks earlier, were living in remote villages spread across the sparsely populated region of Inner Mongolia, China.

[…] When Yuan Xiaomei began working for the Ordos government in 2011, her job mostly involved going out to villages in the countryside to convince farmers to relocate and to negotiate compensation for their farmland and property. It’s a less dramatic process than the forced relocations that happened for the Olympics: in some cases, Xiaomei has to go out to villages five or six times to persuade farmers to move.

As the villages emptied out, her role switched to helping the new city residents overcome urban challenges. Small challenges have been relatively easy: she urges residents who are used to cooking over wood fires to remember to turn off the gas in their new kitchens; she gives them tips on how to manage a bank account, and pointers on how to act appropriately in an urban environment. [Source]

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