Friday, February 25, 2011

Obeying the Rules in China

We are back in China for about 6 weeks, living in our former apartment building in Beijing where we spent about 18 months in 2008-2009.

One vivid memory is the struggle to make sense of which of the (many!) rules in China we would be wise to observe. Noone pays attention to traffic lights; should we? Only some people submit their bags for subway security; what about us? The law says that as foreigners, we should carry our passports at all times; yes or no? We shouldn't wear pajamas outdoors in Shanghai; wouldn't think of it! Please don't spit,  please line up, please don't get out of your seat until the plane stops at the gate; OK!

I ran into two new references to rules, just today, both of which suggest that the Chinese worry about rules as much as I do, and that they have just as difficult a time sorting out which rules to observe and which to ignore.

The first comes from the China Daily, reporting on Shanghai's new rule of one dog per household. The headline caught my eye, as several of the young Chinese I have met recently have proudly told me stories about their new pets. One young woman in Shanghai was waxing on about how her new xiao gou, "little dog", is both a luxury and a challenge of new adult responsibility. My new tutor in Beijing told me she has 4 dogs now, one she bought herself, two from friends, and the fourth a mutt she found wandering the streets. How could she manage, I wondered, in what must be a very small living space.

The China Daily reports on the various stipulations about pet licensing, vaccinations, annual exams, fines, loopholes for grandfathering in already-registered pets, discounts, and a temporary suspension of issuing licenses. It continues in equal detail about debate over who will enforce the rules, how will they find the scofflaws, what the punishment will be for breaking rules, and how effective the rules might be anyway. "I'm going to either give my second dog away to friends or relatives or just keep it, all depending on how strictly these regulations will be carried out," comments one pet owner named Wang, who is identified as the owner of two currently unregistered dogs.

The second rule-reference comes from CCTV, on a feature aired this morning about the growing popularity of beauty contests in China. Not surprisingly, pageants were a no-no during the Mao era, but they are becoming "in the vogue" now, the commentator noted. Indeed, there was much excitement in Beijing this week at the arrival of Miss Universe, a beauty from Mexico, who stopped here on her world tour. Those enthusiastic about the chance of a Chinese Miss Universe extolled the beauty, intelligence and confidence of, for example, the "smart ladies" who now study at Beida and Tsinghua Universities,  China's equivalent of the Ivies. The naysayers offered up their worries: that beauty pageants are a foreign infiltration and, that they demean women.  Also worrisome, they noted, is the question of who will write the rules for these pageants and how will they be enforced.  I wondered which got more notice -- the worries over rule-writing or the telephone number announced to call in for further information.

(image from People's Daily)


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