Archive for April 20th, 2007

Sterilizing Beijing

Construct skyscrapers and irradicate traditional neighborhoods? Check. Revamp the Forbidden City and throw in a Starbucks? Check. Cleaning up the chain-smoking, lugey-hocking, ill-mannered Beijingers…Check?

In preparation for the 2008 Olympics, Beijing has done a lot – much of it, in my eyes, is negative in the sense that it damages the city’s culture (which is another debate). And a new government PR campaign aimed at cleaning up Beijing’s manners is to me another attempt to sterilize Beijing as a destination for the West – an excerpt from NYT on the new movement:

Citywide campaigns are trying to curb public spitting, discourage public cursing and littering and also promote lining up. There is even a campaign to rectify the often hilariously bad English translations on signs and restaurant menus. Given that Chinese leaders regard the Olympics as a milestone event to showcase China to the world, they obviously do not want to be embarrassed.

“Public awareness of manners needs to be improved,” said Wang Tao, the soft-spoken, exceedingly polite civil servant who has become a local celebrity for his efforts to curb public spitting.


Still, some Communist Party officials have publicly fretted that Beijing may not measure up. One delegate at the country’s annual political meetings in March recommended heavy fines and a public education campaign to curb spitting, cutting ahead in line, smoking and foul language.

“They are stubborn diseases that stain the image of the capital city,” Zi Huayun, the delegate, told the country’s English-language newspaper, China Daily.

[Read the rest on NYT]

While curbing public spitting may not be the most horrible excercise of government power, one has to wonder into what other avenues this “cleaning up” will be applied – for example, will the destitute and homeless be swept under the rug? What about the city’s hodge-podge open air markets? What else will be washed away to fabricate an image of being sleek and modern?

Beijing ought to improve on its own terms, and for the purpose of improving the lives of all people of Beijing – not to simply put on a show for the West.

(Edited: 04/21/2007)


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