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Last Updated: Monday, 6 August 2007, 18:12 GMT 19:12 UK
Olympic crackdown on China's bad habits
In the second of a series of features on Beijing a year before it hosts the Olympic Games, the BBC's Michael Bristow assesses attempts to improve public manners in the city.

China's subway
Residents of Beijing are being encouraged to form orderly queues

Venues for next year's Beijing Olympic Games may be nearing completion but, it appears, work still needs to be done on improving people's manners.

Chinese Olympic officials fear bad habits, such as spitting, queue jumping, littering and bad language could harm China's image at next year's event.

To deal with this apparent problem, a number of campaigns have been launched to "civilise" the city.

But more than one official admits these are not always successful.

"The Olympic Games is not simply a matter of competitive sports - it is also a question of raising the quality of the people," said Zhang Faqiang, vice-chairman of the Chinese Olympic Committee.

"We are still a way off from meeting the demands for a real civilised Olympic Games, so we will continue to do important work on this," he told China Youth Daily.

Such important work includes banning male taxi drivers from shaving their heads and clearing beggars from the capital's main thoroughfares.

Beijing has also initiated "queuing day" on the 11th of each month to encourage people to wait in orderly lines.

And officials are so worried about "Beijing swearing" at football matches that one local club hired university students to teach fans how to chant politely.

'Spit bags'

But perhaps the most potent symbol of an "uncivilised" society in Beijing is spitting, an act as commonplace as eating Beijing Duck in the dry, dusty capital.

Olympic officials appear obsessed with preventing the city's residents noisily drawing up phlegm to deposit on the capital's streets.

Poster in Beijing encouraging good manners for the Olympics (file photo)
Promotional events are being held to encourage good manners

Beijing Civilisation Office recently revealed that it had spent 1,700 hours observing the spitting habits of 230,000 residents in 320 public places.

It concluded the incidence of spitting had dropped from 8.4% in 2005 to 4.9% this year. No explanation was given on how the figures were calculated.

In order to make sure residents do not leave phlegm all over the city's streets, volunteers have even been handing out special "spit bags".

Persistent offenders have been fined 250 RMB ($33, 16).

To ram home the message of these various campaigns, Olympic banners urging good behaviour appear across the city.

"Take part, contribute and enjoy yourself by welcoming the Olympics, being civilised and behaving better," reads one slogan.

Keeping face

Most ordinary people seem to welcome these efforts.

Improving the moral quality of its citizens is not, however, a new concept in China.

Professor Stefan Landsberger, a China expert at Amsterdam University, says the idea of moral education derives from the teachings of Chinese philosopher Confucius.

Giant billboards calling on citizens to nurture good hygiene habits in Shanghai in 2003
China has long tried to stop spitting, such as this 2003 drive

"This is very much engrained in Chinese political thinking. The state provides examples of how to behave that ordinary people then have to abide by," he said.

Modern China is also littered with examples of zealous government officials trying to curtail "immoral" behaviour.

In the early 1980s, after China opened up to the outside world, the government launched a campaign against "spiritual pollution".

Western liberal ideas were blamed for social problems such as crime, corruption and pornography. Even people with long hair were ridiculed.

It is not even the first time China has tried to eradicate spitting.

China's Communist Party has had several campaigns since it took power in 1949.

And even the Nationalist Party's leader Chiang Kai-shek, who ruled China before the Communists, made a stab at stopping people spitting in a 1934 campaign.

At heart, China does not want to "lose face" next year when tens of thousands of foreign visitors arrive in Beijing for the Olympics.

As the Chinese Communist Party's Spiritual Civilisation Steering Committee revealed, some types of behaviour are simply "not compatible with the nation's economic strength and its growing international status".

Expect more campaigns before the games begin.

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