July’s propaganda: the “Eight Don’t Asks” and civilized traffic

A knife sharpener, from today on the way to lunch:

“Welcome the Olympics, be more civilized, establish a new atmosphere.”

“Civilized traffic”
When we first arrived and Tianjin was clearing out all the street markets, “hygiene” (卫生 / wèi shÄ“ng) was the big theme in most of the local propaganda banners. But this year “civilized” (文明 / wén míng) is about the only propaganda theme we see – and we see it everywhere; you can’t go outside and not see a civilized slogan on a building or vehicle or advertisement. It’s like they think people need to be told or something.

Today, on the way back from buying a pet cricket, I saw “civilized” on the flag used by the traffic cop who was standing in the bike lane at an intersection, making sure the bikes actually stopped for the red light, which is well before the time we usually stop. Red lights aren’t the same here. In North America, a red light is like slamming the door shut; it marks a very well-defined line. In Tianjin, a red light is like an early warning signal: “Hey those other people are gonna start going now, so you’d better speed up if you want to get in their way before they make it 2/3 the way through the intersection and get in your way.” At a green light, the cars and bikes start going, and then stop part way through the intersection because other cars and bikes and buses are blocking the way. Once those all clear, then you can go. Intersections are more porous here. Anyway, this traffic cop’s flag had something about “civilized traffic” written on it, and he used it to make us all stop at an arbitrary white line on the road because a little light changed colour, instead of just letting us go fill up the empty space in the intersection before us.

The “Eight Don’t Asks”
Mainlanders, especially the ones in government, love expressing policy in neat little lists: the Three Represents, the Four Modernizations, etc. They’ve been doing this for decades. Now, we have the “Eight Don’t Asks” (八不问 / bā bù wèn). If you’ve read Jessica’s most recent few posts, then you can already guess what the “Eight Don’t Asks” are targeting: eight things you shouldn’t say to foreign visitors during the Olympics. Someone else at Peaceful Rise has already translated a 八不问 poster:

Today I happened across a new series of posters on the neighborhood propaganda bulletin boards about etiquette to be observed during the Olympics. … Most delightful was a list of eight questions Chinese are not to ask us, which if observed, would leave these curious and enthusiastic hosts with essentially nothing with which to make conversation.

Here they are:

  • Don’t ask about income or expenses,
  • don’t ask about age
  • don’t ask about love life or marriage,
  • don’t ask about health,
  • don’t ask about someone’s home or address,
  • don’t ask about personal experience,
  • don’t ask about religious beliefs or political views,
  • don’t ask what someone does.

I’m sure our neighbours are disappointed. I sort of am, too. It seems like overkill. If they’d just said, “Don’t tell foreigners they’re fat or have big noses, or ask about money” that would have covered it. And what else is there to talk about – the pollutionweather? As long as people are friendly about it (and 99% of the time they are), it can actually be kind of fun playing outside your culturally acceptable boundaries.

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