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9.18.2005

Who Can Civilize The Chinaman?

It would appear the Chinese are up to the task:
Even Miss Manners might blanch at the task at hand: charm school for a billion people, a good number of them convinced that life means never having to say you're sorry, excuse me or thank you.

This is no tutorial on fish forks. In advance of the 2008 Olympics, the government has embarked on a crash campaign to instill manners in the world's most populous country. The effort has left government planners struggling to break some deeply entrenched habits, including public spitting and urinating, driving that evokes a "Road Warrior" set, and an inordinate fondness for cutting in line.
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It also used to be much better. Historians note that China — a nation that perfected the subtleties of good taste and behavior thousands of years ago — now finds itself lagging. Some attribute this to poverty, limited education and the eradication of an upper class, the traditional champion of good manners.

Others point to the enormous imprint of Mao Tse-tung, a man who often enjoyed flouting convention. "Some people might have considered him coarse and vulgar," American reporter Edgar Snow said of Mao in his landmark 1938 book, "Red Star Over China."
Snow described how Mao would scratch himself, remove his clothes and conduct meetings naked when he felt hot, and on occasion "absent-mindedly turn down the belt of his trousers and search for some guests," namely lice and fleas.
In 1972, Mao attended the funeral of Marshal Chen Yi in his pajamas. And in 1954, he met former British Prime Minister Clement Attlee wearing worn trousers that were patched on the backside. Advised by an aide that he might want to wear a new pair, according to a biography by historian Chen Jin, he replied: "It doesn't matter. Who will look at my bottom?"

During the Cultural Revolution, it was a compliment to be called dalaocu, or big, rude guy, as leaders sought to upend anything associated with tradition. Nor were manners the only thing destroyed during those years, said Guo Shixing, author of a 1999 play about disrespect titled "Bad Words Street." By stripping away civility, China often destroyed the fundamental trust between people, a legacy its society is still paying for.

Today, wealth has come so rapidly to some Chinese that they haven't had time to absorb it. "You see people, yesterday they couldn't eat, overnight they're millionaires," said June Yamada, dean of a Shanghai-based "school of elegance" and author of an etiquette bestseller titled "Tell It Like It Is, June." "They have no education, but they have money. They still forget to take a bath for three days."
Hmm, am I to understand I ought bathe MORE than every three days? *Ptttoooeee*

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