On Politeness Part 1: Where is the Love?

Liu Qi of the Southern Weekend wrote a very interesting article on societal politeness called the "Seventeen Hates" that has been translated into English and posted on Danwei (the original Chinese can be found here). It is well worth checking out and reading in its entirety. I especially like 2, 7, 8, 9, 11, 12, and 13. Of course, there is also the last one, 17, in which the author states:
Giving a report at a work meeting, I say that China is a society of acquaintances, a society that fears causing trouble, still somewhat removed from a society of modern citizens and strangers. Apart from one's own home, one's own office, what's in front of one's own door, callous indifference used to be the norm - whatever, who cares. Now we know how to care, how to hate. This is progress, no question, but it is far from enough. In comparison, the people of western developed countries have a widespread sense of civic awareness and a fairly high level of public morality. Those foreigners over there are really strange - it's like everyone is really nosy. No matter who you are, if you harm the public interest, whether the matter is small or large, everyone is responsible and can voluntarily bother into your business. Us - it seems that only at crucial junctures involving the fate of the nation will we shout, "everyone has the obligation." Ask the heavens, how long does it take to awaken the public to civic action? At this point, the whole audience erupts into thunderous applause. After the meeting, the throng of presenters and audience members exit, only to come across a man plastering ads onto a wall. Everyone turns a blind eye, and we scatter like sand to the winds.
This is a point that has been made in general on a number of blogs in the past, most notably James Fallows blog (and article) about how China is making him a worse person. Its also true that so many of these annoyances are of a "minor" nature and become acceptable. To use an example that for whatever reason is still very clear in my head, I was in line for a subway ticket, about to step up and buy mine, when somebody jumped the queue and went straight to the window. Not only that, but to make matters worse, they were buying 3 or 4 tickets and paying with a 100 RMB note (4 tickets cost 12 RMB at the time). The ticket sellers are quick with the 1 yuan coins or 2 yuan notes as change, but when somebody gives them a 100 RMB note, it then becomes a total hassle. Despite the fact I wanted to punch the guy, did I do anything? No...Even with my typically very Chinese ways of adapting to this lack of politeness, something in me said it just wasn't worth it to make a big deal out of this with the provincial bumpkin (yeah, it was at the train station subway stop, I believe), but why? Why is it that we are so likely to stew and "accept" these acts which we shouldn't just let pass over us so easily. It is that some of us have higher aspirations for China to become a civil society where people follow the rules and yet for our efforts, we get stamped down by those who openly ignore them.

Or what about the guys at the bike parking lot at the subway station who, for whatever reason, tries to trick me out of an extra 2 fen by "accidentally" giving me a ticket from the day before? If I notice it, of course I bring it up with them, but if I don't, when I get home at night, is it worth taking the time to argue with them over this tiny amount?

Once again, I feel like I have to come out and state it, I love China, but this sort of crap is just so frustrating. Most of it is still brushed off with "callous indifference" and for those that "hate" these actions, they usually swallow the bitterness. There is a lack of human compassion that leads to a loss of innocence and makes one keep their guard up at every instant throughout the day. It's not that the bad eggs outnumber the good, but the good, in their attempt to maintain civil society in the face of these hordes, has yet to stand up, the majority is cowering at the hands of a minority, and its time for that to stop.


Anonymous said...

sigh~~ can't stop wondering the question where is our so-called "excellent traditional morality".

b. cheng said...

my personal theory, whatever remnants of that morality that existed after the hells of the post-Qing era were totally killed off by the Cultural Revolution.