Living in China. Let China Be Chinese

Recently there have been calls for legislation concerning civil behavior in Shenzhen. The question is what constitutes civil behavior, who decides, and how will it be enforced? Will it be based on public consensus or bureaucratic dictate? How will these rules, if adopted, be enforced? Are such rules even necessary?

Shenzhen has conducted polls of its citizens to see what they think is civilized behavior. The usual suspects such as spitting, smoking in non-smoking areas, street vendors, line breaking, and pushing on and off buses, trains and elevators came out on top. I’ve seen other suggestions like enforcing dental hygiene, no talking too loud in public places, and courtesy flushes in public toilets

Much of what foreigners consider uncivil behavior is what is considered accepted behavior in China. Most of these behaviors harm no one. So why the need to force Chinese to adopt western or other so-called civilized ways? In many, if not most cases, civilized behavior is no more than one person forcing their ideas upon another.

It is universally considered uncivilized to murder or steal from someone. There are a few other firm rules, but beyond these few rules, behavior is a personal decision. They should not be dictated by some to others.

There is something uniquely charming about sitting a in café and watching a young mother snatch up her baby to run him outside to a tree or a bush so he can urinate. This is surly considered uncivilized behavior, but what does it hurt? It is part of China.

The smoking Nazis are especially vocal in their demands to strictly limit smoking. But there has never been a legitimate study proving second hand smoke has any health effects on anyone. It may be rude to smoke in an elevator, but it won’t hurt anyone. A whiff of second hand smoke in a restaurant will not take a single second off the life of the person who breathes it. Still, smoking is in the cross hairs of the civilization fanatics. It’s true that it is a dirty habit that harms the health of the smokers, but it should be up to the smokers and the business owners, to decide who smokes where, not other citizens or the government.

On a personal level, a few days ago we were having dinner in a very nice restaurant. An old man at the table next to us spit on the carpet several times while I watched. No one at his table, the restaurant staff, nor other patrons said a word. I’m sure the old man didn’t think a thing about spitting on a carpet in a public place. He had probably been doing it all his life. Is it the government’s duty to stop spitting on carpets, or is it the job of the restaurant owners and staff? I think a well trained staff member should have provided him with a spittoon of some kind. No reprimand, law, or fine is necessary. Just an awareness that an alternative to spitting on the rug is available and desirable. I suspect the old man would never spit on a carpet again.

Street vendors have disappeared from my neighborhood. That is a shame because there is nothing better than street food, but it must for the general good. Also, outdoor tables at cafes are gone. One of the owners told me the police made them do it. Is this part of civilized behavior? Admittedly a street vendor has an advantage over a merchant selling the same things in a high rent store front.

On one hand no person’s behavior should result in harm to another person. On the other hand we don’t want a highly regulated society where everyone is forced to act the same. Does spitting on a sidewalk harm anyone? Doesn’t everyone wear shoes?

This is China, folks. It’s not Switzerland, USA, Singapore, or Israel. Enjoy China for what it is. Don’t to make China into Europe. The calls for rules of civil behavior or calls for everyone in the world to act the same. What a boring world that will be.

About Charles Kirtley

Have been living in SE Asia and China since 2007. I have an opinion on most every subject, and don't mind sharing them. Lover and collector of worthless facts.
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