Spitting, Lines, and China

First, a few more pictures from the Forbidden City.

Dragons and the number nine were associated with the emperor, and this is one of three nine-dragon walls in China.

Beijing Forbidden City Dragon Wall

Or half of the wall, anyway.

On the half that’s outside this shot, one of the tiles is wooden. It’s thought that a worker broke the original tile when the wall was being assembled and the wooden replacement was secretly made to avoid punishment.  The tile probably blended in perfectly when it was new, but as it aged, it faded more rapidly than the ceramic tiles and is now noticeably different.

This is a stage for Chinese opera.

Beijing Forbidden City Opera Stage

And for another lousy-but-possibly-interesting picture, this is one of several throne rooms in the Forbidden City.

Beijing Forbidden City Throne

The plaque above the throne says “just and honorable.”

Little figures like these are placed at the corners of palace roofs in both China and Korea.

Beijing Forbidden City Roof Figures

The more important the building, the more figures there are.

Some impressions of China.

When I wrote about my brief stay in Hong Kong, I said that among the Chinese cities I visited, Hong Kong was my favorite, because it didn’t suffer from some of the unpleasant aspects of mainland culture.

One of those unpleasant things is that people in China spit all over the place, including on the train and in buildings.  And it’s not just the rough, uneducated types; at the airport in Beijing, I saw a neatly-uniformed airport employee spit on the moving walkway.

Sometimes this casual disregard for cleanliness in public spaces was really bad.  In a modern shopping district in Guilin, a small child needed to pee, so his mother helped him with his pants and had him relieve himself on the sidewalk.  She could have at least had him do it by a tree or in the gutter, but nope, right on the sidewalk.

But as much as these things made me cringe, they’re not terrible, relatively speaking.  The worst problem on the mainland was that the vast majority of people had little concept of waiting one’s turn.  Most of the time it wasn’t noticeable, but it became infuriatingly apparent when I used the subway in Beijing and Shanghai.

I can say from experience that in Japan, Korea, and Thailand, people waiting for the metro form lines where markings on the platform say to, and when the train arrives, they let the disembarking passengers get off before they themselves board.  In China, I saw signs telling passengers to do this, but that’s not what happened.  Sometimes the people waiting on the platform did make lines (or were forced to by station attendants), but when the trains came, everyone would just crowd in front of the doors, and then they’d push their way on without letting anyone get off first.  There was no meanness in it, but the basic consideration for others embodied in waiting your turn was neither shown nor expected, and it made an utter mess of the already crowded subways.  The government had signs and posters everywhere laying out all sorts of etiquette, from “no spitting” and “wait in line,” to the practice of using one side of an escalator for standing and the other side walking, but while the escalator thing seemed to be catching on, the rest will probably be a long, uphill battle.

Speaking of government-sponsored ads (and to avoid ending on a negative note), it was four or five months before the Beijing Olympics when I was in China, and I saw a lot of billboards and TV spots not only hyping the Olympics, but also explaining them.  Most educated Chinese were thrilled to be hosting the Games, but evidently a lot of people (the “Zhou Six-Packs” of China, perhaps?) didn’t know much about the Olympics – I even saw a cartoon explaining footraces (why there are lanes, why runners start from a crouch, etc.) – so the government was doing its best to get people informed and excited.


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4 Responses to “Spitting, Lines, and China”

  1. blabbermouth Says:

    Wow, dude bro. You should probably stay home if you can’t recognize cultural idiosyncratic behavior for what it is are and get over it and your Euro-centric behavior. Your use of “civilized” reeks of colonial European attitudes toward the filthy rest of the world that doesn’t behave in a way that you understand. Next time, just order take-out.

  2. kevinjames Says:

    I agree that the word “civilized” can have problematic connotations and should perhaps be used with caution. [Edit: I was condemning the behavior, not the people, but to avoid misunderstanding, I’ve removed any aspersion from the sentence in question.]

    But as for “culturally idiosyncratic behavior,” whether or not the poor diet and sedentary lifestyle that has made about a third of American adults obese can be termed a product of American culture, it doesn’t change the fact that it’s unhealthy. Similarly, the unwillingness to take turns that is currently exhibited by the majority of people riding China’s metro systems makes using the metro unnecessarily difficult and unpleasant.

    Seriously, have you ridden the subway in Beijing or Shanghai? It’s a mess, but most importantly, it doesn’t *need* to be a mess. And as I observed, the metro/government is trying to change riders’ habits, but they hadn’t made much progress yet. It’ll take time.

    Now the habit of spitting is perhaps more defensible from the “If no one minds, then there’s no problem” angle, but people *do* mind *indoor* spitting. “No spitting” signs get posted, but unfortunately, many people ignore them.

    Behavior like spitting indoors despite “No spitting” signs and refusing to take turns display a selfish disregard for others that is simply not good. There’s no malice in this behavior, true, but it’s like littering. There’s no ill will intended when someone leaves trash on the ground after a picnic or throws a pop can out their car window, but they’re making a mess all the same.

  3. kevinjames Says:

    I would add, also, that aside from the subways, I greatly enjoyed my time in China. And I was not passing judgment on China, the Chinese, or Chinese culture at large; I was complaining about a particular *part* of current Chinese culture that I found unpleasant.

  4. mal Says:

    as a hong konger, with grandparents born in hong kong in the 1920’s, i can personally attest to the fact that this current trend of ill behaviour is traced directly to the PRC’s inception of china since the 1950’s. my grandmother only had a couple of years of formal education, but she had basic knowledge of hygeine growing up in hong kong (which was a really poor city during the early 20th century) and would never ever have done any of those things you have observed – spitting, unable to queue, littering etc… – and neither does anyone who was born and raised in hong kong, macau or taiwan.

    this has nothing to do with chinese culture (in a historical sense) but rather and the communist party’s brainwashing of the mainland chinese people for the last 50 years…

    since the handover, hong kong is now governed by the communists in PRC and there has since been an aggresive policy of assimilating mainlanders with hong kongers. tourism has been open for all mainland chinese since then, and around 4 million of them come raid our city every week. today, all sorts of rudeness and reproachable behaviour can be seen in hong kong, there’s really no need anymore to go all the way to the mainland to experience china.

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