• Thu
  • Dec 18, 2014
  • Updated: 8:37am
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 16 October, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 11 November, 2013, 12:21pm

Chinese people must rein in the louts in their midst

Kelly Yang says a greater exposure to social etiquette makes it a duty of citizens to enforce social rules - but with a dose of human decency


Kelly Yang is the founder of The Kelly Yang Project, an after-school writing program for children in Hong Kong. At KYP, she teaches creative writing, public speaking and critical reasoning. She is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley and Harvard Law School. Follow Kelly on Twitter: @kellyyanghk

During a recent visit to Ocean Park, my son and I stood behind a group of mainland tourists. Leading their pack was a fierce-looking guide. "Keep to yourselves, people. No pushing. No spitting. Don't save spots in lines. If you can't find where something is, look on your map. Don't bother the nice people of Hong Kong with your questions," he barked in Putonghua to his 20-something disciples, who hung their heads like kids berated by their teacher.

"Mommy, why does that guy keep yelling at those people not to spit?" my three-year-old asked me. I tried to push the scenes of Chinese tourists misbehaving out of my mind but I had to answer honestly: "Well … because sometimes they do spit." My son's eyes widened and he asked, "Why?"

Good question. When I was 12, I knew why - then, it was the lack of etiquette education; the average Chinese person knew little about the West. Yet, every time I went back to China for a holiday, I saw beyond the spitting and shouting. I saw people's kindness, warmth and generosity. I saw a people thirsty for knowledge, people who may be a little rough around the edges but, inside, had hearts of gold.

No other person stood up to the smoker, not even the driver, because they were afraid

Seventeen years later, these hearts of gold are getting hard to see. Chinese people now dominate the list of incoming foreigners to the US at university level. Chinese children now know more than I do about Western culture through watching TV. Yet, still the spitting and littering continue.

Five tonnes of trash were left by the 110,000 spectators who went to Tiananmen Square to celebrate National Day. China's Silver Beach in Beihai , Guangxi , once known as "China's No 1 beach", is now littered with plastic bottles, condom wrappers and more.

What is it going to take to correct this lack of consideration? It's going to take courage from every citizen. Recently, my father was on a bus while on holiday in his hometown of Tianjin , when he noticed a man smoking. He pointed out the "No Smoking" signs and told the man to put out the cigarette. The man shrugged and kept on smoking. Even after my father pointed to the pregnant woman sitting beside him and the elderly man struggling to breathe amid the fumes, the man kept smoking.

No other person stood up to the smoker, not even the driver, largely because they were afraid the man might cause trouble for them if they complained.

Chinese people need to overcome this fear if they want to protect what remains beautiful in their lovely country. If they need instruction on how to stand up to inappropriate behaviour, they need look no further than Hong Kong. If anything, Hongkongers sometimes go overboard in the fight to preserve the rule of the queue.

A few months ago, when I was heavily pregnant, not a single person let me go in front of them in the taxi line. "What? Am I supposed to let every single huge pregnant lady get my taxi?" asked one annoyed businessman in Central.

Yes, perhaps you should. It may be jumping the queue. But it's the right thing to do, because sometimes human decency trumps rules. For the other 99 per cent of the time, we need rules and we need every man, woman and child to help enforce all these societal standards.

Kelly Yang is the founder of The Kelly Yang Project, an after-school programme for children in Hong Kong. She is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, and Harvard Law School. kelly@kellyyang.edu.hk


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This article is now closed to comments

Often surprised to hear that a lack of Western acculturation means bad manners and etiquette. It has nothing to do with the West or East, it has to do with common universal respect towards each other.
The idea that other people matter is foreign in China. Christianity has this "Love others as you love yourself" or in Chinese 愛人如自. China needs ethics.
The mainlanders, they are just what they are, they behave the same way in HK as they are in the mainland. By coming to HK they see the good practices and behaviours of HK people. As I understand, this is also part of purpose of some mainlanders coming HK, which is to learn from us.
As a HK people, we should continue to set good examples for the mainlanders to learn, for them to take back good HK practices to the mainland. In time we will see better behaved mainlanders, not just in HK but also in mainland China. We learn from each other, don't we?
Chinese also dominate the list of foreigners studying at our universities here in Hong Kong. In fact, if I'm not mistaken the single largest group of foreigners visiting Hong Kong is Chinese at 40% of all incoming visitors. That must be why we see so many of the bad habits that Kelly is talking about in her article.
I don't really see the problem. The adults going to work haven't lost their place in the queue. If they were, for example, 3rd, they are still 3rd. Two people still got there earlier than they.
Hongkongers sometimes go overboard in the fight to preserve the rule of the queue. Unfortunately, far more often Hongkongers display I'm-the-only-person-on-the-planet syndrome and simply ignore the queue altogether or act is if queues don't apply to them. Pot, meet kettle.
You see, the whole problem is, Ms Yang's piece might have caused the Hang Seng Index to slide down the chart a bit. It is either she is not making good use of her Harvard education, or she is making such good use of it that it simply becomes downright manipulative.
Who is this "us" in your question?
Yes, Kelly Yang, u are God damn right, CN has not decency, they have never been learn this from their birth... Sad people, this don't need to learn at school? it's need at home, by u Parents, What are this PARENTS CN??? copy copy copy from the bad manner... give it to, to next generation... how can u teach them??? A big challenge for whole CN people! or are they really want to learned from the western? I don't think so... I saw some men, are so ego-centrice, that he fell that he are the BEST of the viewer ... **** him...
GOOD Education from the beginning (birth) is a challenge for them...!!! Are they READY?
Freedom speak...
My only experience of walking side by side
with someone who spat freely left and right
in the streets of Shanghai, NY and HK
was a white American
chairman of a >$50m corporation
He got sinusitis
A nice fellow who disliked those
who got in a car and fiddled for ages
before starting the engine to move the vehicle
About giving up seat
Hangzhou, thirty years ago in a bus
a young woman grasped my lapel from behind
and lifted me up forcing me to give up my seat
Young PLA soldiers were laughing at the scene
As I saw that it was for her young husband I was made to concede
I freed myself and reclaimed my seat, as if nothing happened
It was kind of bizarre, mais c’est la vie
Interesting events abound
No lesson to be generalized
China government can take proactive roles to accelarate the education of social behaviour to its population. Just enforce educational advertisements on all TV channels as a requirement. Simple adverts about not spitting, not smoking, no queue jumping, no littering, no urinating and no loud talking in public places will be a good way to stop the constant negative comments about its nationals behaviour outside its country.
I find this article rather amusing, to tell you the truth. I am making a note to make sure my children, if I were to have any, will not enroll in Ms Yang's after-school programme. I would rather have them hanging out with the lousy basta*ds in New York.
Can you tell us why?


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