March 29, 2006

Games Hosts Try to Polish Chinese Manners

By Joel Kirkhart

BEIJING -- Some 30 years ago, no home in China was complete without the collection of sayings of Chairman Mao Zedong known universally as the Little Red Book.

By the end of this year, Beijing authorities hope etiquette guides, aimed at improving the manners of the city's inhabitants before the 2008 Olympics, will have found a similar place in the capital's 4.3 million households.

Bad manners were a significant threat to the success of the Olympics, He Zhenliang, advisor to the Beijing Games organizers, warned last week.

The series of books go far beyond encouraging citizens to cheer for foreign athletes and not take flash photographs at sporting events.

The "Basic Reader in Civility and Etiquette" is packed with suggestions on posture, crossing the street, ordering steaks and at least one tip that seems to have been plucked from a guide for swinging singles.

"Intimate gazing zones include the eyes, lips and the chest. Gazing at these areas can stimulate emotions and express love," it reads.


There is extensive advice on fashion and formalities, some harking back to a past era.

"Women's underwear should not be exposed and especially should not be worn on the outside... Pyjamas should not be worn in public areas," the book says.

"The proper way to greet a person from a Socialist or Marxist-Leninist country is with the term 'comrade'."

Sister volume "Rules and Propriety for Olympic Programmes" walks readers through all the Olympic sports -- each illustrated by cartoons with athletes represented as a chicken and a plump panda -- and explains when and how to cheer at different events.

Cartoons and strange fashion advice aside, the etiquette drive is no joking matter to Beijing.

"Beijing's audiences will represent the spirit and style of the city and the entire country," mayor Wang Qishan writes in the introduction to "Rules and Propriety."

"Along with the athletes and others, they will be like 'actors' appearing on billions of television screens around the world. It goes without saying this is a big problem!"

Beijing sports crowds have been known to get rowdy, to the embarrassment of the authorities.


In August 2004, angry soccer fans went on the rampage after hosts China lost to Japan in the final of the Asian Cup.

A July 2005 basketball game between China and Puerto Rico in Beijing deteriorated into a brawl, with fans hurling insults and missiles at the visiting team.

City officials admit that book learning will not be enough to get people to change their ways, so the Chinese capital is taking its etiquette campaign to the streets.

The city is mobilizing an army of volunteer "civility supervisors" charged with persuading people to queue for buses and stop spitting in public.

The volunteer patrols will be backed up by thousands of new trash cans bearing reminders to "spit civilly" and warnings that expectorating in public can fetch fines as high as 50 yuan ($6).

Past attempts to free the city of unsanitary habits such as spitting, including a big push when Beijing was in the grip of the SARS epidemic in 2003, have failed to have much impact.

"They spend lots of money on printing all those books but it seems like a waste to me," taxi driver Zhang Jie, a 45-year-old Beijing native, told Reuters.

"There are just too many people in this country. How are you supposed to be able to control the actions of that many people?"