|Pang Li / China Daily
A lack of civility in urban China is a subtle testament to a much deeper rift in behavioral patterns that result from social divide.
A few days ago, staff of the Beijing Metro ruffled feathers when they called some passengers "locusts". A photo posted on the subway's micro blog showed an almost vacant subway carriage littered with paper and other waste. "This is Line 10 in the trail of ‘locusts'," it said, sarcastically, adding that "Beijing does not welcome those who willfully spoil its environment."
The remark was widely considered discriminatory. And the company removed it, saying it was the act of a few editors and implied that it was not properly authorized.
Authorized or not, the editors did give vent to frustration partly brought by the sustained wave of urbanization as large numbers of new arrivals find themselves in urban surroundings they did not grow up in. Sure, many of them are just tourists, not permanent settlers, but I do not believe the culprits deliberately wanted to "spoil" a public space in the city. Those who littered the subway carriage probably gave little thought to what they were doing. They were used to throwing things away in this manner even in their hometown, which I'm sure they have affection for.
Traveling from Beijing South Railway Station by subway just after the Chinese New Year this year, I noticed a family of out-of-towners who were sharing snacks and throwing stuff onto the floor. As I thought of gently saying something, the mother stunned me into silence when she seized the opportunity of the door opening and emptying out her tea bottle, with dregs, onto the platform.
What should I have told this lady, who could be a warm and friendly person in her daily life? No one has probably told her that she should put things she does not want into rubbish bins. Subway cars and platforms are not rubbish bins. Even though the subway does have cleaners, we all have a responsibility to keep it clean.
Even if she has heard of warnings of "Do not litter", habits do not change overnight. Well, in her hometown there may not be rubbish bins in public places after all. The litterbugs that Beijing subway griped about are a small reminder of the urban-rural gap that, though it has narrowed in the past few decades, still plagues China.