BAD MANNERS IN CHINA
Mother and peeing child Chinese have a reputation for having bad manners: spitting in streets, making loud slurping noises when they eat, walking around in public without a shirt; cutting in line; urinating in public; jostling aggressively. This wasn’t always the case. In imperial times the Mandarin class in particular was known for its refined tastes and manners. Confucianism taught people to treat others with courtesy and respect.
Chinese tourists traveling outside of China have been warned not to embarrass China with uncouth behavior such as walking around in hotel lobbies in pajamas, tossing chicken bones on the floor of restaurants and talking loudly. Chinese state-supported travel agencies warn their customers that “spitting, slurping foods and jumping queues merely disgust people at home. But is intolerable in other countries.” Chinese tourists are also coached not to roll up their trouser legs and strip off their shirts to keep cool.
Overseas Chinese are among those who find mainland behavior to be the most uncouth. A Hong Kong newspaper ran a picture of a mainland mother helping her child pee on a wall at Hong Kong Disneyland and reported that many benches at the theme park were unusable because middle-aged Chinese men were sleeping on them. A Hong-Kong-born, London-based Chinese wrote a guidebook in which advised Chinese “Don’t ask foreign women how old they are” and “Don’t clean your ears in public.” Some mainlanders find mainlanders to be intolerably uncouth. In the essay the The Ugly Chinese writer and social critic Bo Yang criticized his countrymen for being too loud and too crass.
Georg Arit, a German sociologist who has studied Chinese tourists, told the Los Angeles Times, "Chinese are rude to people they don’t know. Unfortunately, when it comes to tourism, you don’t know most of the people you meet." He also said Chinese tourists were notorious for consciously breaking rules. “You’ll see people flouting ‘no smoking’ signs in luxury outlets, knowing few will complain when they’re spending $10,000. There’s also a feeling that ‘foreigners have been trampling on us for 200 years, and now it’s our turn.'”
Links in this Website: CHINESE CUSTOMS Factsanddetails.com/China ; EATING AND DRINKING CUSTOMS IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; CONSUMER CUSTOMS IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; CHINESE PERSONALITY AND CHARACTER Factsanddetails.com/China ; CHINESE PERSONALITY TRAITS AND CHARACTERISTICS Factsanddetails.com/China ; REGIONAL DIFFERENCES IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; CHINESE SOCIETY, CONFUCIANISM, CROWDS AND VILLAGES Factsanddetails.com/China ; CHINESE SOCIETY AND COMMUNISM Factsanddetails.com/China ; JAPANESE CUSTOMS Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; JAPANESE HOME, EATING AND DRINKING CUSTOMS Factsanddetails.com/Japan
Good Websites and Sources: Kwintessential Kwintessential.co.uk ; Oriental Style ourorient.com ; Etiquette and Protocol protocolprofessionals.com ; Common Customs of China jobmonkey.com : Gift Customs Chinatown Connection Chinatown Connection ; U.S. China Business Solutions uschinabiz.com ; Bad Manners article on the subject osdir.com ; U.S.A. Today article usatoday.com ; Eating and Drinking Customs : Everyday Eating Customs cuisinenet.com ; Chinese Food Culture asiarecipe.com ; Drinking Customs sytu.edu.cn ; How to use chopsticks makemysushi.com ; Chinese Chopsticks Etiquette culture-4-travel ; Chinese Banquet Eitiquette orientalfood.com ; Chinese Banquet cuisinenet.com
Recent History of Bad Manners in China
Some blame China’s bad manners on Mao for setting a bad example. On Mao, Mao friend and writer Edgar Snow wrote, “Some people might have considered him coarse and vulgar” He then described how Mao liked to scratch himself and conduct meeting naked when it was hot. He also said Mao occasionally “absent-mindedly turned down the belt in his trousers and searched for some guest”—namely fleas and lice.
During the Cultural Revolution good manners were condemned as bourgeois and a means of inhibiting people and keeping them down. At that time it was considered a compliment to be call a dalacocu—“a big, rude guy. “
Deng Xiaoping, a notorious spitter, didn’t set a very good example either. He was not shy about hacking and spitting in public, and he often had a spittoon situated next to his chair when he met with world leaders.
Some people have said that the lack of civility in China has broken down a basic sense of trust and the only thing that seems to have replaced it is a love of money. An author of a book on Chinese etiquette told the Los Angeles Times, “You see people...overnight they’re millionaires. They have no education but the have money. They still forget to take a bath for three days."
Some blame the lack of manners on the quick pace of market economics. Sha Lianxiang, a sociology professor at Beijing’s People’s University, told the Los Angeles Times, “The problem is the market economy happened so suddenly that people got involved in the harsh competition....China didn’t have the time like Western countries to develop the civility that should go along with a developed economy.”
China Bans Bad Breath, Scars in Space
According to story in Fox News: ‘Candidates for China's manned space program must be cavity-free and have no history of head colds or sore throats. In fact, candidates must show there has been no serious disease in the family going back three generations, Sina.com reported. Bad breath can disqualify you from becoming an astronaut in China, but even if your breath is minty- fresh, you won't be seeing orbit unless your wife says you can go. [Source: FoxNews August 3 2009]
“Bad body odor will affect the colleagues in the narrow confines of a space shuttle,’ Shi Binbin, a doctor with the 454th Air Force Hospital in the east Chinese city of Nanjing, told AFP. Preliminary tests are being conducted on potential candidates. A hospital employee at the No. 454 Hospital told China Daily Sunday that 100 fighter pilots with college degrees were among the hopefuls being tested at the hospital, according to Sina.com. “ [Ibid]
China's future astronauts must also be scar-free. ‘Scars on the body, for example, might burst and bleed when spaceships are accelerating,’ Shi told Sina.com. Stringent requirements, he said, will help make sure the astronauts can handle the harsh environment of space. “ [Ibid]
“The candidates who go through all the tests and meet all the requirements can really be called super-human beings,’ Shi said. And the lucky few who qualify will have one final obstacle to overcome — their wives. If a potential astronaut's wife does not want him going to space, he will not be allowed to enter the program, Sina.com reported. “ [Ibid]
Etiquette Campaigns in China
The Chinese government is well aware of China’s reputation for bad manners. It has taken a number of measures to try and improve them. Slogans are painted on village walls urging farmers to do their part by participating in “courteous community” events. Universities hold etiquette contests.
In the late 1990s, the government under Jiang Zemin launched a “Spiritual Civilization” campaign in which people were encouraged to be more cultured and shed their bad habits. The airwaves were filled with moralizing lectures, billboards listed the "Nine Commandments" beginning with "Love Your Country." Husbands were told to help around the house and children were told cook "soft and mushy" meals for their elders. Some places even banned swearing and impolite behavior and created "civilized citizen" pledges.
Shanghai launched a "Seven Nos" campaign (no spitting, no jaywalking, no cursing, no destruction of greenery, no vandalism, no littering and no smoking). An effort was also made to clean up the city's public toilets. Businessmen encouraged their employees not to use phrases such as "Don't have it," "Can't you see I'm busy," and "Hurry up and pay." In Dalian, citizens were promised cash rewards for reporting rude taxi drivers; travelers were fined for spitting; scavengers were banned from bagging doves and pigeons in the central squares; and soccer fans were told to tone down their insults of players on opposing teams.
As part of it effort to win the 2008 Olympics and improve the manners after the bid was won, local authorities in Beijing have launched several etiquette campaigns. A book called Etiquette for Modern Chinese has been issued; courses on manners are run on television; and slogans are plastered on billboards See Civilization Campaigns Before the 2008 Olympics, Sports
The Spiritual Civilization Steering Committee of the Communist Party orchestrates the etiquette campaigns. According to researchers at Renmen University the residents of Beijing have become “more civilized” according to a “civic index” survey taken in February 2008 but still need some “fine tuning” to be ready for the Olympics.
An etiquette campaign launched in Shanghai called “Let’s Become Lovely Shanghaiese” produced a “Citizen’s Guide” that listed 100 ways that residents there could improve their manners in anticipation of the World Expo in 2010. Among the suggestions were: 1) “Don’t walk outside in pajamas or with a naked torso”; 2) “Trim your nostril hair short.” There was also advise on eating and politely using cell phones. The campaign was launched far in advance of the 2010 Expo in hopes that it would sink in by 2010. Shanghai has also passed law against swearing and smoking in public.
In January 2010, a low-income housing development in Guangzhou unveiled a point system to crack down on loutish behavior in which offenders who rack up 20 points within two years could have their home taken away. Spitting and urinating in public carries a fine of three points, which means that a person caught spitting seven times could have lose their home. Other point-earning infractions include chewing gum and tossing fruit peels.
As was true at the Beijing Olympics, a manners campaign was launched one the eve of Expo 2010 in Shanghai to discourage people from hanging their laundry outside, jaywalking, spitting on the streets and wearing their pajamas in public, a longtime Shanghai tradition. One man who often wore his pajamas when he went shopping told the Washington Post, ‘Now, everybody knows. If I forget and wear my pajamas out on the street, my neighbors will stop me.’
Details of Beijing’s Etiquette Campaign
A major effort was made to raise the ‘civilizational levels’ of the city's average Zhou. Authorities focused on five major faults: Beijing-style name-calling, casual spitting, littering, disorderly queuing and not smiling. Among the measures taken were placing red banners reading ‘To queue is glorious’ strategically around the capital and imploring taxi drivers to wash more regularly, put on clean shirts andavoid eating inside their cabs.’ [Source: Pallavi Aiyar, Asia Times, August 8, 2008]
Pallavi Aiyar wrote in the Asia Times, ‘Beijingers were subjected to random fines for spitting, dazzled by smile campaigns and exhorted to form queues... For several months, the 11th of each month has been designated Queuing Day, with government employees fanning out to hundreds of bus and subway stations urging people to eschew their preferred survival-of-the-fittest push-fests in favor of forming orderly lines.” [Ibid]
The city government has also instituted a ‘civility-evaluation index’ that ranks neighborhoods according to the level of refinement they are able to achieve by the time of the Olympics. The resulting competition between neighborhoods has been intense. Anxious to secure the coveted epithet of ‘civilized community’, neighborhood committees across Beijing have been vying with each other in organizing weekend discussions on edifying topics such as ‘Host the Olympics with civility’ and ‘Smile in Beijing’. “ [Ibid]
Manuals with ‘guidelines for the building of courteous communities’ have been distributed; criteria outlined include sharing housework, speaking a foreign language, regular reading of newspapers, large book-collections and balconies displaying potted plants. Also mentioned are a number of ‘forbidden’ activities such as alcohol abuse, raising pigeons, rearing livestock at home, noisiness and spitting. “ [Ibid]
Another common Beijing practice that is under threat as a result of the Olympic-friendly image that is being promoted is the use of kaidangku (literally open-crotch pants) for babies. For decades Chinese parents have opted for the maximum convenience, with minimum coverage provided by the use of these pants that are slit around the buttocks, enabling kids to answer the call of nature anywhere on the streets without the fuss of actually having to pull their trousers down. “ [Ibid]
Neighborhood committees have however been pressed into persuading parents to eschew bare bottoms in favor of diapers, at least for the duration of the Olympics. Signposts abound sternly asking what kind of impression foreign visitors will take home of Beijing if they see public spaces being used as open-air toilets. “ [Ibid]
All this ‘civilizing’ activity appears to have paid off. According to a survey conducted by the People's University's Humanistic Olympics Study Center, the ‘civic index’ of Beijingers was 73.38 in 2007, up from 65.21 and 69.06 in 2005 and 2006, respectively. The index reflects compliance with rules involving public health and public order, attitudes towards strangers, etiquette at sports events and a willingness to contribute to the Olympic Games, explained Liao Fei, a sociology professor who worked on the survey. “ [Ibid]
“A citizen's behavior embodies and reflects on the entire nation's culture,’ she said, adding that the average Chinese needed to modify his manners to be more in line with the changes created by the country's zooming economy. ‘With economic reforms changes in China happened very rapidly and people didn't have time like in Western countries to develop the manners that should go along with a developed economy,’ Dr Liao continued. “ [Ibid]
Lines and Littering in China
Chinese are not big on waiting in lines. People often butt in line or try to bully their way to the front or use contacts to get special treatment. There is often a great deal of pushing and jostling around ticket booths and bank clerks, where "huddles" rather than lines tend to form.
The Beijing Spiritual Civilization office launched “Learn to Queue Day” aimed at doing something about the mobs that developed around stopped buses and subways. The campaign employed teams of volunteers to teach riders how to wait in line at bus stops and let people get off subways before the begin crowding in.
The Chinese are relavtively neat in the way they dress and organize their houses, but they are notorious litterers. There is a lot of litter at tourist sites. In a survey in Beijing in 2006, littering were ranked among the top five most disgusting habits.
Theroux once recorded the following items on the floor of train: duck bones, fish bones, peanut shells, cookie wrappers, sunflower seed husks, teacups, tumblers, thermoses, wine bottles, foot tins, spit, orange rinds, raw shells and used diapers.
Spitting in China
Chinese men hack and spit everywhere: on the streets, all over the sidewalks, in buildings, on the floor of trains, and even on the floors of restaurants and homes. Doctors and staff routinely spit on the hallway floors in hospitals. Be careful when walking past a bus full of Chinese. Passengers often spit out the window. Women also spit but not as much as the men.
In one survey, two thirds of all the adult Chinese asked admitted to spitting on a regular basis. If that figure is true around 900 million people in China are habitual spitters. Many men smoke and have hacking smoker’s coughs. The first thing many of them do when they leave their houses in morning is clear phlegm from their throats and spit. Some Chinese men spit on the wheel rims on their cars to see if the brakes are rubbing on the hub.
Spitting has been linked in the past with anti-foreigner sentiments. A banner raised during the Boxer Rebellion in 1900 read: "Certainly foreign soldiers are a horde; but if each of our people spits once, they will drown." Up until fairly recently Chinese leaders had ceramic spittoons next to their chairs at ceremonies and banquets where they greeted royals, diplomats and foreign leaders. Mao had a spittoon at his feet when he met Nixon.
The Chinese, wrote Theroux, "spat all the time...With their cheeks alone they made the sunctioning: hhggaarrkh! And then they ground and positioned their teeth, and they leaned. You expected them to propel it about five yards, like a Laramie stockman sitting over a fence. But no they never gave it any force. They seldom spat more than a few inches from where they stood. They did not spit out, they spit down."
"Chinese spitting is not half as bad as throat clearing," Theroux wrote, "the hoick can be heard for fifty yards...They cleared their throats so loudly they could drown out conversation—they could sound like a Rota-Rooter or someone clearing a storm drain, or the last gallon leaving a Jacuzzi ...After that, the spitting itself was rather an anticlimax."
Phlegm in China
David Sedaris wrote in The Guardian, “After arriving at Beijing International Airport one of the “the first thing one notices is what sounds like a milk steamer, the sort a cafe uses when making lattes and cappuccinos. "That's odd," you think. "There's a coffee bar on the elevator to the parking deck?" What you're hearing, that incessant guttural hiss, is the sound of one person, and then another, dredging up phlegm, seemingly from the depths of his or her soul. At first you look over, wondering, "Where are you going to put that?" A better question, you soon realise, is, "Where aren't you going to put it?" [Source: David Sedaris, The Guardian July 15, 2011]
I saw wads of phlegm glistening like freshly shucked oysters on staircases and escalators. I saw them frozen into slicks on the sidewalk and oozing down the sides of walls. It often seemed that if people weren't spitting, they were coughing without covering their mouths, or shooting wads of snot out of their noses. This was done by plugging one nostril and using the other as a blowhole. "We Chinese think it's best just to get it out," a woman told me over dinner one night. She said that, in her opinion, it's disgusting that a westerner would use a handkerchief and then put it back into his pocket. "Well, it's not for sentimental reasons," I told her. "We don't hold on to our snot for ever. The handkerchief's mainly a sanitary consideration."
Reasons for Spitting and Anti-Spitting Campaigns in China
Many Chinese who spit say they do so for health reasons. Many Chinese have phlegm in their throats as a result of chronic bronchitis, colds that never get better and respiratory problems caused by heavy smoking, air pollution, and cold weather.
The hacking and spitting is merely a way of clearing the lungs and throats and respiratory system of phlegm and other nasty things that have accumulated in them. According to Chinese beliefs, phlegm is considered a manifestation of natural imbalances in the body and getting rid of it is regarded as a healthy act. Some people claim that chronic spitting spreads disease and helps create the problem it is trying to solve.
Spitting is much less common than it once was. Twenty years ago spit was all over the place. Now it is just all over some places. Many Chinese are embarrassed by the spitting habit of some of their countrymen. They view it as a sign of ignorance and backwardness. According to one survey 80 percent of Chinese disapprove of public spitting. In another survey, in Beijing, spitting was ranked among the top five most disgusting habits.
The omnipresent anti-spitting posters, which are seen throughout China, don't discourage people from spitting but rather encourage them to spit in spittoons. Most anti-spitting campaigns are launched before important events or the arrival of foreign VIPs—such as the committee which selected where the Olympics would be held. Most campaigns—including one linking spitting with the spread of AIDS—have had limited effectiveness.
In Beijing, the fine for spitting is around $6.60, less than fine for failing to dispose of dog excrement ($25) and hanging laundry facing major roads ($25). Volunteers there with the word “mucus” printed on them give out small white plastic bags in parks, shopping malls and other places for people to spit in. Uniformed inspectors patrol places like Tiananmen Square looking for spitters and litterers. When a spitter is caught in the act he is forced to bend over and clean up his mess. After a small crowd has gathered he is lectured by the inspector on the consequences of spiting: spreading diseases, causing pollution and embarrassing China.
History of Anti-Spitting Campaigns in China
Disgust over spitting is nothing new. Before the Communists came to power in 1949, Chiang Kai-shek ordered troops onto the streets of Beijing to stop people from spitting. In the 1980s, Deng Xiaoping launched a massive campaign against "this unhealthy practice" and enlisted a force of 200,000 health inspectors to levy fines on spitters in Beijing alone. One thousand anti-spitting centers were set up around the city; posters displaying bacteria found in spit were plastered around town; and banners were hung with slogans like "Keep fit. Don't spit." One newspaper intoned: "Efforts to eliminate spitting will not only clear the capital ground of phlegm, but purify minds and raise the nation's moral standards."
In the 1990s, when more and more Chinese began traveling abroad, the government published a booklet on proper behavior. It advised, "Do not spit in public. If you must...spit in your palm." Perhaps the most serious anti-spitting campaign was launched during he SARS outbreak in 2003, when spitting was considered a health hazard as well as a nasty habit. As part of the “Directive on Launching Activities to Transform Vile Habits” launched by the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee’s Spiritual Civilization Office, stiff fines were imposed, newspapers were filled with anti-spitting stories and street committees were told on the look for spitters. There were even reports of old women spraying sidewalk spit spots with disinfectant.
In the campaign to win the 2008 Olympics an effort was made to get Chinese to stop spitting. The argument was made that Chinese will lose face and foreigners will look down on them unless they curb the habit. A book called Etiquette for Modern Chinese exhorted readers not to spit if China was to be perceived as an advanced nation.
In 2006, Beijing stepped up its anti-spitting campaign in an effort to eliminate the habit by the start of the 2008 Olympics. The effort involved setting up trash boxes every 100 meters on major streets and providing sanitary bags for people to spit into on buses, taxis and in public areas.
Puking, Urinating, and Blowing One's Nose in China
Blowing your nose in public is considered highly offensive. If you have the sniffles or are stuffed up, it is best to excuse yourself and blow your nose in a rest room. Even so Some Chinese blow their noses into their fingers and on curtains. Yawning loudly and chewing gum in public are also considered rude. A guidebook for Chinese advised them: “Don’t clean your ears in public.”
Although less common than it once was, public urination and public puking for men is no big deal. According to Theroux the Chinese have a "prayerful way" of puking, "softy and slowly vomiting, with their heads down and their hands folded."
Pulled Up Shirts and Exposed Bellies in China
On hot summer days in Beijing and other places, it is a common sight to see men running around without shirts or with their shirts rolled up under their armpits exposing their bellies. They hang around, play cards, drink tea, stroll on the sidewalks without their shirts, exposing their less than ideal bodies. Flabby tummies and spares tires are the norm, not rippling abs. They also like to pull up their trousers past their belly button, with the legs rolled up. One Chinese academic told the Los Angeles Times, “Foreigners who visit always ask why are there so many half-naked men in Beijing."
Chinese men expose their bellies to the air as a means of cooling themselves. Some also hike up their pant’s legs. Even though men from a wide range of ages engage in the custom those that do it are smirkingly known as bang ye (‘exposing grandfathers’). One man spotted with his flabby tummy exposed told the Los Angeles Times, ‘I don’t know, it just feels cooler. Look, you just shake your shirt to create breeze.’ [Source:John Glionna, Los Angeles Times, August 2010]
Many younger, more sophisticated Chinese don’t like th custom. A man who works at department store in told the Los Angeles Times, ‘It lower’s Beijing’s standing as an international city. If my dad reaches for his shirt when I’m out with him, I threaten to go home. It’s just so embarrassing.’
The habit is actually a sort of compromise to the custom of men going totally shirtless. A Chinese medicine doctor told the Los Angeles Times, ‘People chose to expose their belly because they feel so hot in summer but feel embarrassed to take off their shirts completely.’
Authorities began to crack down on the no-shirt habit during the pre-Olympic run up. During that campaign the Beijing Truth Daily ran pictures of men who went around shirtless, often with less than attractive upper bodies, in an effort to shame them into dressing respectfully.
Wearing Pajamas in Public in China
Especially in Shanghai it is not uncommon to see men in pajamas and women in nightgowns at busy markets or walking around in the street or in hotel lobbies. Some people slip into their pajamas when they come home from work and go shopping. Others get comfortable on long distance train rides by wearing pajamas.
In Shanghai, wearing pajamas in public began in the early 1990s, when people traded in their Mao suits for more comfortable and fashionable clothes. One Shanghai resident told AP, “Only people in the cities can afford clothes like this. In farming villages, they still have to wear old work clothes to bed.” A 17-year-old high school who likes to wear a pink nightgown with a kitten face said, “Pajamas look and feel good. Everyone wears them outside. No one would laugh.”
Gao Yubing wrote in the New York Times, ‘Pajamas — not the sexy sleepwear you find at Victoria’s Secret, but loose-fitting, non-revealing PJs made of cotton or polyester — have been popular in Shanghai since the late 1970s, when Deng Xiaoping, then China’s leader, sought to modernize the economy and society by opening up to the outside world. The Chinese adopted Western pajamas without fully understanding their context. Most of us had never had any dedicated sleepwear other than old T-shirts and pants. And we thought pajamas were a symbol of wealth and coolness.’ [Source: Gao Yubing, New York Times, May 17, 2010]
Shanghainese began wearing them to bed — but kept them on to walk around the neighborhood, mainly out of convenience. At that time in Shanghai, people lived in crammed, communal-style quarters in shikumen — low-rise townhouses in which families shared toilets and kitchens. Through the 1980s and ‘90s, the average person had less than 10 square meters of living area. To change out of one’s pajamas just to walk across the road to the market would be too troublesome and unnecessary.” [Ibid]
Besides, as a retiree told a news reporter: Pajamas are also a type of clothes. It’s comfortable, and it’s no big deal since everyone wears them outside. and Mrs. Wang, who lived on the street where I grew up in Shanghai, used to stroll after dinner in their pajamas — nice matching costumes for a loving couple, now that I think about it. Then Wang would go out to buy cigarettes. In the mornings, Mrs. Wang, still in her pajamas, would dash to a street stall to pick up sheng jian (fried buns) for breakfast...My own family, a little particular about clothing and slow with fashion, happened not to be part of the pajama troupe.” [Ibid]
Kaidangku are pants for toddlers with a slit in the seat that allow a child to relieve himself without removing his paints. Sometimes foreigners are shocked to seem them but many Chinese defend them as comfortable and healthy, plus they make potty training easier. Sex shops sell adult versIon of kaidangku that are “transparent, green and charming” and “convenient for you and your partner.”
Anti-Pajama-Wearing Campaign in Shanghai
For Shanghai’s many pajama wearers, the start of Expo 2010 also signified the start of a nightmare,’ Gao Yubing wrote in the New York Times. ‘Catchy red signs reading Pajamas don’t go out of the door; be a civilized resident for the Expo are posted throughout the city. Volunteer pajama policemen patrol the neighborhoods, telling pajama wearers to go home and change. Celebrities and socialites appear on TV to promote the idea that sleepwear in public is backward and uncivilized. “ ” [Ibid]
But even those of us who never wore PJs in public are unhappy about the ban. Two journalists from Hong Kong’s Weekend Weekly magazine have already challenged it. They marched in their silk pajamas along Nanjing Road, a major shopping area in central Shanghai, and sat down in a restaurant. They met only one pajama-wearing comrade, and many people made fun of them (maybe because on a rainy day they were wearing silk jammies rather than the quilted or heavy flannel styles normally worn in cool weather). It wasn’t what they expected in Shanghai. “ [Ibid]
Yang Xiong, the executive vice mayor of Shanghai and a director of the executive committee for the Expo, has acknowledged the practical limitations that led to pajama wearing, but still insists it is now inappropriate. The Expo, the logic goes, offers a perfect opportunity to kick the habit; with a large influx of foreigners in town (though, in fact, they are expected to account for only 5 percent of all visitors to the Expo), we don’t want to ruin our cosmopolitan image. “ [Ibid]
Yet even foreigners are disappointed about the pajama ban. Justin Guariglia, an American photojournalist who showcased Shanghai’s lively pajama scene in his 2008 book, Planet Shanghai, says the fashion adds to the city’s character. A British friend of mine told me last winter, before traveling to Shanghai for the first time, I want to see the Bund, the Jin Mao Tower and Shanghainese women in pajamas!
The historic buildings along the Shanghai Bund will be there for a long time to come. So will the 88-story Jin Mao Tower. But street pajamas may disappear as everyone moves into modern, spacious apartments. By then, some Chinese fashion designer might, as Dolce & Gabbana did last year, send models down the runway wearing pajamas — and how the audience will applaud! “ [Ibid]
Shouting, Noise and Laughing in China
The Chinese like to shout and make noise and can be quite loud and boisterous.. What sounds like a bitter argument is often just a normal conversation, especially in southern China. What sounds like a loud party is often just an ordinary get together.
According to the Lonely Planet guide of China, "there seems to be a competition for who can speak the loudest, turn the radio or TV up to the highest volume and detonate the most firecrackers." Many scenic and otherwise serene spots in China are embellished with loud crackly music blaring from speakers nailed onto temples and trees. Chinese vitality is sometimes described with the word renao, meaning “hot and noisy.”
The Chinese, Theroux wrote "talked very loudly in that deaf, nagging and interrupting way, as if no one ever listened to them and they had to shout to be heard. The radios and televisions were always tuned too loud, too, the volume at maximum. Why? Was there a national deafness, or was it just a rather unfortunate habit?" [Source: "Riding the Iron Rooster" by Paul Theroux]
Chinese often cackle when they laugh. "The Chinese laugh," wrote Theroux, "is seldom a response to something funny—it is usually Ha-ha, we're in deep shit or Ha-ha, I wish you hadn't said that or Ha-ha, I've never felt so miserable in my life."
Even though Chinese can be loud and physical themselves they often frown upon Western-style loudness and boisterousness. Screaming and yelling by a foreigner rarely helps them achieve their objectives. Expressions of emotion are often considered ridiculous and uncouth. Plus, Chinese consider it a loss of face to give in to an argumentative tourist. The best strategy for foreigners in a touchy situation is to be patient and wait it out for a "compromise." The Lonely Planet guide advises: "it is pointless to steer a collision course toward these barriers, but it is often possible to manipulate your way around them."
Image Sources: 1) urinating child, USA Today; 2) shirtless men BBC; 3) spitting sign flumesday blog
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
© 2008 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated February 2011