Shanghai goes the extra mile in campaign against jaywalking
City leaders are breathing life into the old political practice of mass campaigns with the addition of a new twist: fines, writes Bill Savadove
As mainland political campaigns go, Shanghai's crackdown on jaywalking does not compare to the past, when the government rallied citizens to 'eliminate the four pests' and 'smash the four olds'.
But the latest campaign is the only game in town and officials are trying to make the best of it. Authorities have sent out thousands of police, saturated the media with propaganda and fined more than 45,000 people since the drive was launched last month.
Shanghai leaders say hosting the World Expo in 2010 has made it imperative for people to learn good manners. Critics say the city should concentrate on bigger problems like car and motorcycle drivers, who present a greater safety hazard.
The mass campaigns of the 1950s to 1970s, which mobilised large numbers of people in a highly politicised environment, were thought to be fading into the past as the mainland embraced a market economy. But Shanghai is breathing life into an old political practice with the addition of a new twist: fines to encourage compliance.
The drive has thrust into the spotlight a virtually unknown government body called the Shanghai Spiritual Civilisation Office. It is enjoying new-found power because of the expo and President Hu Jintao's campaign to build socialist morality, 'Eight Honours and Eight Shames'.
Chen Zhenmin , the office's deputy director, is the main enforcer of the anti-jaywalking campaign. He hits back at criticism that Shanghai is being overzealous and using tactics reminiscent of past campaigns, such as during the Cultural Revolution.
'It's not like before, when people shouted slogans and waved flags. The people have requested improvements to the quality of life,' he said.
As part of the campaign, authorities have publicly posted photographs of jaywalkers to shame offenders, sent out 2,000 volunteers to distribute leaflets and allowed citizens to videotape jaywalkers. At least five people have been detained for fighting with police over fines, which can be up to 50 yuan.
The most controversial move has been to hand over evidence to employers so they can dock the pay of workers identified as jaywalkers in photographs, which some say violates the rights of individuals.
In an incident shown repeatedly on local television, a female office worker argued with police, refused to pay a fine and was detained in front of the cameras. She was reportedly fired by her company.
Liu Xianquan , a professor at the East China University of Politics and Law, takes a hardline stance, saying the mainland needs to build a country ruled by law, adding that Singapore should serve as a model for Shanghai.
'The government is trying to deal with these bad habits by law. The lesson from past campaigns is that education and persuasion were not enough to push people to change,' he said.
But critics say the government should be going after hardened criminals and corrupt government officials. 'With the legal system far from being perfect in today's China, is it meaningful to launch a massive campaign on such a small issue like jaywalking?' asked one person in an online discussion.
Shanghai officials trace the campaign back to 1995, when the city announced the 'Seven Nos' - spitting, littering, damaging public property, harming the environment, jaywalking, smoking and swearing. With weak enforcement and lack of a legal framework, jaywalkers got off scot-free, until now.
One government official puts part of the blame on Chinese culture. 'Chinese society is relationship-based. In public places where no one recognises you, you can throw trash, spit and jaywalk,' said Mr Chen, of the Spiritual Civilisation Office.
Gu Jiahong, a crossing guard at the corner of Nanjing Road and Huashan Road, might have the toughest job in Shanghai. Armed only with a whistle and a yellow flag, but without the power to fine, he must convince pedestrians, cyclists and drivers to obey the law.
'Some people hate us because they think we're too strict and we waste their time. Actually, what we're doing is for everyone's safety,' he said.
Mr Gu, 58, has manned his corner for three years. In that time, he has braved road rage, choking pollution and even injury. While jaywalking is a problem, he believes cars and motorcycles are worse.
Shanghai officials refuse to say when they might relax the jaywalking campaign, to avoid showing their hand. But they warn the city will look for other targets, such as cars and motorcycles which refuse to yield. 'This will take years of efforts,' Shanghai Vice-Mayor Yang Xiong said.
Mao Zedong launched the 'smash the four olds' campaign at the start of the Cultural Revolution to destroy old ideas, old culture, old customs and old habits, while the four pests drive was an earlier Mao campaign against rats, sparrows, flies, and mosquitoes.