Chinese getting manners in shape for 2008

BEIJING – The government is teaching citizens «the right way to spit.» A college teaches students the right way to sit. Two years ahead of hosting the Olympic Games, people across Beijing are on an all-out drive to mind their manners. China’s hard, gray, briskly communist capital has a reputation for brusqueness. Visitors are often startled to see its people spit phlegm onto the crowded pavement. Changing all that ahead of the 2008 Summer Games is «crucial in providing a cultural and historical legacy to the world» for China, said Beijing city official Zhang Huiguang. «We will work with newspapers, radio stations, TV stations, the Internet and mobile telephone carriers to teach people the right way to spit,» said Zhang, director of Beijing’s Capital Ethical and Cultural Development Office. Zhang said her office is running a «behavioral training» campaign that also includes lining up properly for buses and turning off mobile phones during meetings. But spitting is her No. 1 nemesis, she said at a news conference Wednesday. «You have to spit into a tissue or a bag, and then put it into a dustbin to complete the process,» she explained. Zhang said her office has organized a small army of volunteers who are hitting Beijing’s streets to hand out small «spit bags» and wearing bright orange uniforms with the Chinese character for «mucus» emblazoned in yellow on the back. Public spitters already face fines up to 50 yuan (5 euros), but «this year… we will require law enforcement officials to step up the frequency» of penalties, Zhang said. Others are taking a softer approach. Lu-chin Mischke was born near Beijing, married an American and spent 10 years in the USA. She said her heart sank when she and her family returned to live in her homeland and she saw the rampant spitting, littering and cutting in line. It prompted her to start the Pride Institute, a private group that runs seminars aimed at gently showing people the delights of being more polite. «I’m trying to wake up a sense of decency,» Mischke said. «I know it’s there.» She said hundreds of people sometimes crowd the talks at community centers, schools and businesses. «I saw our beautiful scenery covered with plastic bags,» she said. «Sometimes I think I’m the first one to see this littering and say, ‘Why do you treat our country like a garbage can?»’ «Many of them never really thought of it that way,» she said. The nearing of the Olympics is starting to raise awareness of the problem, she said. «The Chinese feel it’s an acknowledgment by the world,» she said. «They feel like it’s not a backwater anymore. It’s on the world stage.» China has always been bristly about foreign – especially Western-influenced – criticism of its ways. But Mischke said what she’s trying to teach is universal. «It’s not like I’m inventing any problems for China,» she said. «Most people hate these things, this bad behavior. I’m just trying to wake them up and show them they can stop.» Still others are trying to improve things in a far more traditional way. «All of China is looking forward to the Olympics,» said Zhang Hui, head of training at the Beijing Courtesy College, a typically institutional finishing school for young adults who want to study decorum, usually before taking their first major jobs. «It’s really important to improve courtesy» ahead of the Games, Zhang said. She believes in doing this the old-fashioned way. «Everyone knows how to walk, stand and sit,» she said. «But we teach them how to do it in a standard way.» That means things like sitting, back straight, on the «front one-third» of a chair, she said, primly demonstrating. «Women sit with their knees and feet together. Men may sit with their feet slightly apart. If you cross your legs, you keep the toe of your raised foot pointing downward.» «Every day we teach the students about Confucius and Laozi,» Zhang said, referring to the Chinese philosophers who lived some 2,500 years ago and are credited with shaping values often associated with China – discipline and not rocking the boat. «Every country has a basis for its culture,» she said. «Confucius and Laozi are our country’s basis.»