By Rong Jiaojiao (China Features)
He looks well-groomed, and like a professional, wearing a suit and walking down the street in the middle of the day.
His head turns slightly and there's a slight hoicking sound from the back of his mouth. Then, he spits on the street.
It's a flagrant violation of the law that occurs thousands --possibly hundreds of thousands -- of times each day in the Chinese capital, but as Beijing tries to spruce up its image for the 2008 Olympics, the city government and the civic-minded have the practice in their sights.
During the week-long Labor Day holiday this year, which began on May 1, more than 100,000 paper bags were handed out to the public for people to spit into. The local authorities also meted out fines ranging from 20 yuan (2.7 U.S. dollars) to 50 yuan (6.7 U.S. dollars) to 89 people for spitting in public.
A most recent official campaign against spitting in public was in 2003 to raise the public awareness of the spread of SARS.
But spitting is proving difficult to eradicate. Beijing's dusty climate and high levels of pollution mean many people consider it necessary to spit in the streets just to clear their throats.
Wang Tao, 35, who works at the Xicheng District Health Bureau, decided to do something about it.
He started his first battle to fight spitting in the streets in May 2006. At weekends Wang and his growing band of Green Woodpeckers, formed mainly of student volunteers, patrol on Beijing's streets, trying to show spitters the error of their ways.
"We give tissues to the people who spit and ask them to wipe up the spittle," he says. "If they refuse, we do it in front of them. This kind of action is effective on most people."
He is not alone. With less than a year to the opening of the 2008 Olympics, Beijing continues its endeavors to improve the character of the city as residents are on the alert to mind their manners.
"Hosting the Games means a lot more than building grand stadiums," says Zhang Huiguang, director of Beijing's Capital Ethics Development Office, the official etiquette watchdog.
An official estimate of 500,000 visitors and athletes will come to China for the Games. "Both China's positive and negative sides will be amplified -- and bad impressions last," she says.
Changing bad habits ahead of the Games is "crucial in providing a cultural and historical legacy to China and the world as a whole", says Zhang.
Dubbed the "Ms. Manners" of the Beijing Games, Zhang Huiguang is racing against time to improve the city's decorum. She and her team use daily TV commercials, newspaper cartoons and street posters to try to change the ingrained habits of the 15 million people living in and around the city.
"Promoting civilized behavior among Chinese travelers and residents is a long-term task. For the Games, we need to focus our resources on the main problems," Zhang says, citing spitting, queue-jumping, swearing and smoking as the four "new pests" against the "four pests" of rats, flies, mosquitoes and sparrows during Mao's era.
One measure to "eliminate the four new pests" is the "promote queuing" campaign, which was launched in February 2007, and is held on the 11th day of each month as "11" has come to symbolize "one after one".
Volunteers are dressed like Penguins, mascot for Beijing's queuing day,
to remind people to wait in line at the airport on Apr. 11, 2007, Beijing, China.
Uniformed queuing inspectors, waving flags, appear at bus stops and subway stations on "queuing day" to ensure people line up. The traditional swarming mobs at the doors of trains and buses are less common these days.
"In March, we focused on bus stops and subway stations. In April, we focused on hospitals," says Zhang. "We gave flowers to patients standing in line to show our appreciation for their good behavior."
Beijing has also issued 2.8 million pamphlets about daily etiquette to local households and offered polishing courses to all civil servants and 870,000 people working in the service sector, such as cab drivers, waiters and waitresses, and bus conductors.
"Sentences like 'No means no, it doesn't need an explanation' and 'We can't help you. Go ask someone else' are strictly prohibited," says Zhao Guiling, a 36-year-old cab driver.
Yao Kuo, vice director of the municipal transport management bureau, says his bureau has devised a 12-point evaluation chart for taxi drivers, which includes no smoking while driving, no overcharging, no spitting and no littering.
"Cab drivers must remember that their service is a window on China's capital, and they contribute powerfully to the city's image," Yao says.
A college volunteer hands out pamphlets to pedestrians to publicise daily etiquette on March 17, 2007, Beijing, China.
Progress is being made. A survey released by Renmin University of China at the end of January found that in 2006, 4.95 percent of people still spat, down by 3.5 percentage points from 2005.
From November 2005 to November 2006, the poll covered 10,000 local residents and 1,000 foreigners who had lived in Beijing for more than two years. The survey team also gathered observations from 230,000 people at 320 public venues and 180,000 automobiles.
The survey revealed that the occurrence of littering in public had dropped from 9.1 percent in 2005 to 5.3 percent in 2006 and queue-jumping dropped from 9 percent to 6 percent.
The "civic index" of Beijing residents scored 69.06 in 2006, 3.85 points higher than 2005. The index takes into account public compliance with rules in public health and public order, attitudes towards strangers, etiquette in watching sports events and willingness to contribute to the Olympic Games.
However, the "civic index" still fails to meet the standard required for the 2008 Olympics, says Sha Lianxiang, professor of the Department of Sociology, Renmin University. She expected the index to rise to 72 to 78 during the Games.
"On the one hand, we are developing and making progress now, while on the other, we still have many problems. Raising public etiquette and civility is not something we can do in one or two months, or even one or two years," she says.
Zhang Faqiang, vice chairman of the China Olympic Committee, agrees. "We are still away from meeting the standards of a really civilized Olympic Games, so we will continue to do important work on this."
"The Olympics is an opportunity to learn, but this is not just for the Olympics. We are trying to get the public to be more civilized in the long run. Ultimately, China's modernization rests on the quality of its citizens."