Five tonnes of trash in Tiananmen provoke questions about patriotism

The five tonnes of refuse left in capital's central square seen as an unwelcome legacy of National Day flag raising ceremony

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 06 October, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 06 October, 2013, 12:26am

Last Tuesday morning, 110,000 spectators from around the country flooded Tiananmen Square in Beijing to watch a rain-drenched flag-raising ceremony commemorating the nation's 64th anniversary.

The crowd no doubt took home indelible memories, but the five tonnes of rubbish they left behind took a small army of cleaners half an hour to clear away.

Pictures of a sea of refuse covering one of the country's most symbolic public spaces angered many Chinese and prompted a flurry of discussion, criticism and reflection in mainland media.

Tiananmen Square is no ordinary tourist location but the centre of the capital, a sacred place for hundreds of millions of countrymen that is closely associated with patriotism, lamented a commentary at the Chongqing news portal Cqnews.net

Watching the flag-raising ceremony at the square on the National Day held some solemn meaning, but the tonnes of waste made us wonder how much further people could sink in terms of civil behaviour, it said.

The Oriental Morning Post referred to those who left their litter behind as "patriotic worms".

"For some, patriotism is the excitement of the national anthem and a red flag, an empty faith and the last asylum," it said on its official Sina microblog. "They don't know what a country is or that they are part of this country. They don't know that a country is made by how its countrymen behave."

An editorial by the Beijing Youth Daily asked readers to picture five tonnes of litter piled in the centre of the square and said it was a mirror to show how badly their countrymen behaved.

"How are you expected to become a qualified, law-abiding and responsible modern citizen and a patriot who does not hesitate to make sacrifice and be accountable when you cannot take away or put in rubbish bins food wrappers, fruit peel and waste paper?" it asked.

Inappropriate public behaviour is an oft-repeated topic in online discussions and the media, especially after several embarrassing incidents involving tourists overseas.

Meanwhile at home, pictures of dozens of water bottles littering a lions' den at Shanghai Zoo, reported by Xinmin.cn also prompted outrage that throwing bottles at animals set an appalling example for children.

Shenzhen-based Sunshine Daily said the heated discussions and harsh criticism that always followed incidents of bad public behaviour gave a false impression of self-discipline and hope, yet invariably similar incidents occurred again and caused another war of words.

"It is necessary to criticise uncivilised behaviour, but changing the reality starts with everyone," the paper said in an editorial. "Someone can appear to have a strong sense of righteousness, yet in reality they refuse to put out the cigarette smoked in the public space, or wait for the green light to cross the road.

"We should not be spectators but the ones who put words into practice and set an example."

The Beijing News said it was too harsh to call the Tiananmen litterers unpatriotic, as the incident had nothing to do with patriotism but public morality.

The authorities should also ponder why litter is left behind on the square every year.

"Putting more rubbish bins in the square and providing free garbage bags would probably be more effective than preaching on morals," the newspaper said.

The Shanghai Morning Post even put a positive spin on the incident, noting on its official Sina microblog that the rubbish mountain left in Tiananmen Square on National Day was declining and that even five tonnes of litter was a great improvement on past years.

Xinhua backed up the claim with news clipping reporting 20 tonnes of litter were collected on National Day in 2010, 6.3 tonnes in 2011 and 8 tonnes last year.