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Shenzhen wages war against bad social habits

Publication Date : 04-10-2012


First, he heard a throat-clearing sound. Seconds later, a disgusting glob of saliva landed on the forearm of cabby Xiao Hongbing, 42, as he was driving through a Shenzhen highway toll booth.

The offending spit came from a passing truck driver, said Xiao, looking bemused as he recounted the incident earlier this year.

"I couldn't believe my bad luck," the central Hubei native, who has worked in the southern metropolis since 2007, told The Straits Times.

"But it shows you how widespread the spitting problem is in China."

So it's no surprise that Xiao is not harbouring high hopes of Shenzhen succeeding in eradicating bad social habits through new legislation that will be the first of its kind in China.

Other residents feel likewise, even though the proposed "Shenzhen Civilised Behaviour Promotion Regulations" are within - pardon the pun - spitting distance of being passed.

Chinese media reports said the Shenzhen legislature is reviewing the proposed regulations and may enact them later this month.

Inspired by Singapore's success, Shenzhen announced in late June that it was mulling over new regulations to put an end to socially undesirable acts such as spitting, littering and vandalism.

Those found guilty face penalties from fines to reduced credit ratings and even lower chances of landing a government job.

Those unable or unwilling to pay the fines may opt to perform community service - much like Singapore's Corrective Work Order scheme for litterbugs.

The Shenzhen authorities have held three public consultations and made tweaks following a public outcry over hefty fine amounts.

For instance, an offence punishable with a 500,000 yuan (US$79,000) fine - for causing damage to "precious old trees" - was dropped.

The maximum fine now is 10,000 yuan for those who damage public toilets, or occupy them as illegal squatters.

Minor offences like spitting and littering incur a 200 yuan fine, which can be paid on the spot. Those who commit three or more offences in a year will be fined an extra 1,000 yuan.

Even with the tweaks, many people, including legislative representatives like Chen Taiquan, are not convinced that the new regulations will be effective in curbing bad social behaviour.

One key factor is the authorities' ability to enforce the regulations in Shenzhen, which is nearly three times the size of Singapore and whose population is twice that of the Republic's 5.3 million.

"Such uncivilised acts take place every day, everywhere. How many more policemen or officers do we need to enforce the regulations?" Chen told local media recently.

Another factor lies in Shenzhen's population profile: Some 70 per cent are migrant workers from other provinces.

"Migrant workers are lowly educated and may not know the importance of civilised behaviour. Also, what can the authorities do if the migrant worker simply refuses to pay the fine and returns home?" said employment agent Wu Yong, 31, who is from central Henan.

Detractors aside, some people, such as Shenzhen University urban management expert Ma Jingren, believe the regulations are necessary and that civilised behaviour is not an unattainable goal for the Chinese people.

He suggested that the authorities, to gain the public's support, should have a trial implementation for the regulations, be flexible in enforcement, and ramp up public education.

"The use of law is not a bad thing. The question is how to make it feasible without disrupting people's lives and racking up high operational costs in enforcing the regulations," he said.

Agreeing, property agent Chen Jingcheng, 34, pointed out that many Chinese used to have no qualms about spitting, even in newly built airports.

But after the Sars (severe acute respiratory syndrome) pandemic in 2003 raised awareness of public hygiene, such "indoor spitting" has largely ceased, he noted.

"I believe that as society progresses, we will become more civilised. It just takes time."


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