Under this blog entry Beer Can by the Highway vs Spitting about bad behavior like spitting, traffic rules (jay walking) and pushing in China, Stephen left comments, and I posted my response. It seems it worth sharing with more readers in case you ignored the comment part.
Disclaimer: Although we hold different point of view, I’d like to thank Stephen for pointing out a valid point, and he has all my due respect for doing this.
JS, your comment is not only passive but evasive!
Look at Singapore, you can call the ruling party the dictator, but it represent an effective government.
Posted by: stephen on March 12, 2009 11:10 PM
My first response:
As I always insist, to compare China and Singapore is always the easiest mistake to make. Singapore’s total population (4.6 million as of July 2008) is just like a district of a city like Shanghai. A pretty small city is bigger than Singapore. If there were only 4.6 million people in a city, and there is a immigration system to choose who can come into the city, that is much easier job to do. (Imagine twice as many migrate workers rushing into Singapore in one day)
China is a very diverse country. You can see the span of very uncivilized behavior mixed with very nice people – that is all about the different stages. The more people you are, the more diverse they are, the more time people need to move forward.
Having said that, I am not saying that everything is exactly right, or the government shouldn’t play a better role to speed up the civilization process. Yes. I do believe one of the root cause of some of the bad behavior comes from the bad government, not working education system, and many other things. However, I am optimistic about positive changes in the future. To understand that everything needs time to change, instead of cannot change is a big step. When I do some study about what China looks like before 1940’s, and talk with some very old people who were educated before 1940’s, I was shocked to see how good their behavior are. The current behavior of people were made by poverty, wars, culture revolution, broken communist dream, and the dramatic society change after opening up again… There is a history behind everything. You can never talk about something without looking at its history, especially when you are talking about 1/4 of the earth’s population.
Posted by: Jian Shuo Wang (external link) on March 12, 2009 11:32 PM
Then Stephen’s response:
JS, thank you for your explicit comment!
I cannot envisage the present social norm is the result of the past history of China.
The City of Shanghai deployed an army of traffic assistances to guard the major intersections to prevent jay-walking and the result is encouraging.
I don’t see people smoking in a confined space when a ‘no-smoking’ sign is posted.
So don’t think the installation of contemporary norm and moral standard in China is a daunting task.
Posted by: stephen on March 13, 2009 1:08 AM
The traffic assistants example is very interesting. In case you don’t know what it is, in most cross road (where there are traffic lights) in downtown Shanghai, there is one to two, sometimes 4 people standing there all day, just to use their arm to stop people who insist to go at red light, and sometimes give signs to the right turning cars not to rush into the people on the pedestrian, or horn too long to people before them.
Yes. I do think the army of traffic assistance helped a lot, but considering the quick change of people in the city (there are more people coming to this city than any previous year ever), the task is a long-lasting task. Shanghai is not isolated. This is all I want to say. You cannot just improve the level of people’s behavior within just one city. With the massive urbanization in China, the generation of Chinese people need to face the challenge of living in a city, which is never been faced before. Living in a city not only means the density of people is high, the requirement for public service is higher, it also means people need to get used to live with strangers (city is all about strangers, especially larger cities). So new norms need to be setup v.s the lives in villages. US has spent the last century changing the norms, so this is what you see what it looks like today. China need to do the transform, but it is a much bigger topic than deploying traffic assistant. The change is deep, and it takes time. China has already been forced to complete part of the change in 30 years, instead of several centuries. The quick change obviously resulted in some chaos, in the economy orders, and more obviously, in the disorder of social norms. Spitting, pushing, yelling in public, and traffic rules are just some of the more obvious sample of the disorder. The root cause and symptoms are far beyond that. Read the BBS post in major portals, can you can get some idea.
Again, having said that, I am still more optimistic about China’s future than anybody else. By understand how the current situation came into being, we understand that time will cure this. “Installation of contemporary norm and moral standard in China is a daunting task.” I completely agree, but I won’t be surprised or disappointed, if this process lasts for more than two generations. If that happens within the next generations, it is already be faster than I expected.
Posted by: Jian Shuo Wang (external link) on March 13, 2009 7:26 AM
I’d like more comments about this issue. My thought is always inspired by comments, and even better, by debates.