There are a series of cartoon public service announcements that I have observed on the subway and the television screens in the cabs here. The ads are all part of the movement for a “Civilized Guangzhou.” The national government gives the award to Chinese cities each year for making progress toward being cleaner, healthier, safer communities. The desire for the recognition is enhanced by the upcoming Asian Games to be hosted here in the Fall.
The ads usually feature a host of people behaving in “civilized” ways – standing off the side to allow people to exit the subway before trying to get on yourself, cars stopping outside of the crosswalk during a red light and people waiting for the walk signal and crossing in the crosswalk, people helping one another, not spitting, not littering, etc.
I find it interesting, ironic, and problematic that the behaviors depicted in the ads, so many of which are completely not the norm here, are depicted as “civilized” because really they are Western norms. I further find the English word choice (I don’t know the Chinese name for the ad campaign) problematic because it plays off of what I perceive to be a bit of a Chinese inferiority complex around development, modernization, and social progress. Sometimes it seems as if traditional norms and local practices are discounted out of hand because they do not emulate the West. Although I would not speak in absolutes about the subject, I have come over time to think of some plotlines, approaches, incidents as “so Chinese” and others as “so American or Western” (e.g. American – climax of the movie 2012 in which people breathe a sigh of relief when the ark and thousands of inhabitants are saved, but celebrate with cheers, hugs, and tears of joy when the lone hero escapes certain death in saving all the others. China – 50th anniversary of PRC celebration in which armed services were scoured for good-looking people of the same height to march and in which good-looking Han majority children dressed in the costumes of the country’s recognized ethnic minorities).
Are some social norms essential for the establishment of communities that are safer, healthier, and cleaner? How should we measure these qualities and what behaviors are really tied to their achievement?