Howard French, in a recent article, wrote:
Chinese people are being urged to be “civilized,” that being a word plucked directly from many of the slogans and banners. China’s nanny state implores them to stop spitting, to form lines, to respect traffic signals when crossing the street, and on and on.
Fine ideas, but there is something touching about the sudden rush to drum these messages home in time for the massive arrival of foreigners: It leaves one with the feeling that face and image matter more than substance in such things. After all, rampant grubby behavior had been just fine up until now.
If making the right impression is paramount, however, I would like to contribute another suggestion that could go a long way. Living in Shanghai, China’s most cosmopolitan city, for the last four years I have been continually struck by the vast gulf that seems to exist in people’s minds between Chinese and foreigners.
I first discovered this through my hobby, photography, which led me to wander through the city’s working class neighborhoods, where at every turn I hear cries of “lao wai.”
The words constitute a slightly uncouth slang for foreigner. Literally, they mean “old outsider.”
Quite often, these murmurings are accompanied by a mocking, sing-song uttering of the English greeting “hello.” The tone is unmistakable, and it is not friendly.
Now, many accuse Mr. French of being lazy when it comes to his reporting. For my part, I’d have to go along with that on occasion, but he does at least possess the uncommon virtue of actually knowing what the hell he is talking about, when it comes to China. Few reporters or journalists understand what is really going on, what things really mean, and then have the balls to go ahead and write about it – but for this Mr. French gets my support and a voucher for a free martini any time he decides to pay me a visit.
But does he go far enough? It’s one thing to simply say that the Chinese are not civilised, but should one not also offer suggestions and advice to the savages on how to be civilised? As more civilised peoples, do we not have an obligation to those living in the darkness, to bestow upon them the light of reason?
Of course we do.
Personally, I think it’s wonderful that the Chinese Communist Party is telling people not to spit everywhere, to learn to queue, and to cross the road only when the light is green. And of course, Mr. French is correct when he says that abusing foreigners in the street is not the hallmark of a civilised society. I’ve got a few more small points I’d like to add…
1. There’s this wonderful new device, which the Chinese themselves claim to have invented in 1498, just fifteen centuries after the Romans stole the idea from them. It’s called a ‘toothbrush’. I’m not entirely convinced that the Chinese invented it (after all these are the people who claim to have invented oxygen, the Olympics, and grass), but it is a safe bet that 99% of the worlds’ toothbrushes are manufactured here. Which is odd, because I’ve yet to meet a single Chinese who understands the concept of brushing ones teeth. Ever. C’mon chaps and chappettes, give it a go – surely life would be more civilised if you didn’t have a mushroom farm growing in your mouth? It would certainly make you nicer to sit next to on the bus, if you didn’t smell like a rotting goat carcass every time you opened your mouth. Remember: nice breath = civilised breath.
2. Washing – yes, that’s right. Modern science has shown that washing is actually not going to attract devils and demons, despite what your so-called culture claims. Furthermore, it might actually improve your heath and reduce the number of diseases you carry, contrary to what your witchdoctors have claimed. It’s not hard to do, either – simply use water to remove the dirt from your body (drinking a cup of piss tea does not count, sorry). Learn about a mystical substance known as soap. Civilised people have used it for thousands of years.
3. A word on using the toilet: Just Do It. The process is really rather simple – first, find a toilet (note: gardens, walls, roads, holes in the ground, and the hand-basins in KFC are NOT toilets). Raise the oval-shaped lid to the upright position. Leave the ring-shaped lid where it is (Chinese girls will want to use it, and so should Chinese ‘men’). Sit down (don’t squat on the seat), after first removing your pants. Excrete away. Use paper to wipe your arse if you have done a poo-poo, or shake your Tiny Tim free of droplets if you have done a pee-pee. Under no circumstances wipe your arse with your hands, your trousers, or your shirt. Stand up, pull up your trousers, and flush the toilet. Examine the bowl – is it free of waste? If not, flush again. Lower the oval-shaped lid to the horizontal position. Wash your hands (refer point 2). You have just committed a civilised act. That wasn’t so hard, was it?
4. The word ‘litter’ refers not only to your offspring, but also to the crap you are forever and endlessly dumping on the ground without regard to society, sanitation, or Mother Nature. Actually, the meaning is identical either way. Look around – see if you can spot something called a ‘litter bin’. It’s a large container (usually green or yellow or blue), with a hole in the top. Place your refuse inside this container. Please be aware that you are not supposed to then empty the contents of the litter bin all over the footpath in a search for old bottles. This is not considered civilised behavior.
5. Your mobile phone is an amazing piece of technology – it contains a small radio transceiver that allows you to communicate, via a series of other radio transceivers, with another person using another mobile phone, at great distances. Even though the other person is far away, they can hear you perfectly well, thanks to this miracle of modern technology. You don’t actually have to shout in order for them to hear you – that isn’t civilised.
6. Try listening to other people for a change. Listening is the process of closing your yip-yapping fucking mouth for long enough that someone else can get a word in edge-ways, and then allowing what they are saying to penetrate your tiny little mind. Hold on to that for a moment or two. Allow the words time to sink in. Don’t open your mouth yet – consider the possibility that the other person might actually have said something that you could learn from. When you do open your mouth again to speak, don’t simply ignore what you just heard and start yip-yapping again. That wouldn’t be civilised.
7. Contrary to 5,000 years of experience, domestic violence is not a good thing. Beating your kids to a bloody pulp is not a good thing to do, and giving your wife a jolly good thrashing is not a long-term solution to anything (even though she probably deserves it, especially if she is a Shanghainese aged 35-50 with her hair tied up in a bun). Wives, the same applies to you (even if he is a useless twat with erectile dysfunction and a gambling habit). Using the excuse that “this is China” will not carry any weight here, folks – domestic violence is not civilised.
8. Here’s a thought: try not telling your kids that all foreigners are called ‘Uncle Big Nose’, or any of the other delightful names you have for us. In particular, I address this point to my neighbour, whose kid is now very close to getting my M-11 tactical knife through his cheeks. Frankly, we’re all a bit tired of constantly hearing your racist expressions, and don’t consider them either funny or civilised.
9. How is it that you can believe your so-called culture is so superior to that of us barbarians, despite all the evidence to the contrary? Check out the map – China actually isn’t the only place on it. In fact, make a point of looking at the map very closely. There are in fact large chunks of land and sea that you think of as China, but which have belonged to other people “…since ancient times”. I refer, of course, to Tibet, East Turkestan, Mongolia, Taiwan, Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Burma, Australia, New Zealand, Hawaii and pretty much everywhere else you tell your schoolchildren is theirs by right. This isn’t one of the hallmarks of a civilised society.
10. Finally, a short comment regarding standing up. When your ancestors came down from the bamboo stalks two generations ago, they realised that they could squat on the ground like baboons, and perch on seats like pigeons. This isn’t the way it happened in civilised places – everybody else straightened their legs and stood up. Standing upright is something that you are capable of, trust me on this.
In humans, the thigh bone slopes inward from the hip to the knee, placing our feet under our center of gravity. We also have muscles on the side of our hips that contract to prevent our bodies toppling to one side when all our weight is on one foot in mid-stride. We have a number of other adaptations to walking upright, as well. Our foot is specialized as a weight-bearing platform, with an arch that acts as a shock absorber. Our spines have a characteristic double curve, which brings our head and torso into a vertical line above our feet. The surfaces of the joints in our legs and between our vertebrae are enlarged, which is an advantage for bearing weight. And the hole through which the spinal cord enters the skull, called the foramen magnum, is near the centre of the cranium in humans, allowing our heads to balance easily atop our spines rather than toward the back of the cranium as in chimps.
So, there you have it. Give it a go, and with luck you too can join the Community of Civilised Nations in as little as 5,000 years.