Letter from China: Minding their manners, looking to the Olympics

Copyright The International Herald Tribune
(For the complete article, please see use this link: http://www.iht.com/articles/2006/06/28/news/letter.php)
Howard W. French The New York Times
Published: June 28, 2006
SHANGHAI Daily life in this country has persuaded me that China and America share more than is obvious at first glance.
Each believes with apparently inexhaustible optimism in the ability to change people.
For America, that often means converting the world to its values of democracy and private enterprise. For China, at least since the time of Confucius, the urge to remake people is turned inward, and since the start of the Communist era in 1949 this urge has done nothing but intensify, with campaign after campaign to make a New Man.
So it is now, too, with China’s preparations to host the 2008 Olympic Games, a political event as much a sporting event in the minds of this country’s leaders and a vast coming- out party meant to wow the world with China’s fantastic story of growth.
The Chinese government is determined to make just the right impression, and befitting an authoritarian system, is leaving little to chance, down to the manners of its citizens.
The unfolding war against the boorish, brutish and slovenly is so ambitious that it even has precise timetables, with a countdown to the Olympic Games that includes benchmarks of civility and politeness for citizens to meet. As a starter, 4.3 million copies of a new book on manners have been delivered to households in Beijing.
“There will be a breakthrough in making the basic norms of ethics known to all families, to every citizen, and the working style of government departments will improve, professional moral standards will improve in every industrial sector,” the deputy director of the Capital Spirit and Civility Office, Zhao Jinfang, wrote in a bulletin sent to all of the departments of city government earlier this year. “We shall see both the capital city and the citizens’ civility standards have been improved. There will be 100 model civility communities, 1,000 model civility villages and 10,000 model civility individuals.”
The etiquette guidebook, a kind of Emily Post with Chinese characteristics, is nothing if not ambitious, starting with sound fundamentals, like not wearing a hat in a movie theater, not slamming the receiver down at the end of a phone call, and this gem of a pointer: when paying someone a visit, knock first and “wait for the host to open the door or say enter.”

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