Article by Shane Cai
In the last two days, I’ve come across two different young girls around the age of eight peeing underneath a tree on the side of the road of a popular area, one even at an intersection. I don’t want to stereotype the incidents because I know they are not common in all parts of Xi’an, or China. I know it because I am a Chinese proud of his manners, even though I’m from a poorly-educated village. However, I do have to admit, in this city that takes pride in its rich culture and history, there are some parts that don’t fit its description.
Xi’an has been the capital of thirteen dynasties, dating back to Western Zhou around 1111 – 770 B.C. (not the commonly known Qin around 350 – 206 B.C.). Prehistorical tribes started their life here around one million years back. Yet in this place, in this civilization that invented the first toilet, urination or excretion in public on the side of a busy street is still found. What’s more, this is not the only thing that doesn’t fit Xi’an’s image.
Not long ago, my friend told me about her story encountering a very stalker-ish express delivery guy. If you had used express services in Xi’an, you probably know that there are small shop-like places where you can pick up your packages yourself. This delivery guy worked at one of these places. He took down the phone number from my friend’s package, and kept aggressively messaging “his new found Caucasian love” with auto-translated English. My friend had to bring out her boyfriend to save her from the harassment.
If you haven’t come across these extreme incidents, you must have frowned upon people who spoke too loudly in public or spat on the street; you might have dodged at least one puddle of urine or feces or something else disgusting that you cannot identify; you may have been stopped on the street to be asked to be taken photos of if you are a good-looking Caucasian. This list could go on for a while and I couldn’t possibly mention them all.
These ill manners keep giving bad impressions to people coming to Xi’an from different places, not limited to foreigners, though these impressions couse certain foreigners believe that it is what the whole of China is like. It is not, for sure. If you hadn’t noticed, there are way more people with better manners, but good manners are supposed to be something normal so they don’t stand out as much as those I have described above or whatever else you may have encountered.
I tried to research on the reasons for the existence of bad manners, and even though I found various reasons, I don’t really find them adequate. China is the only ancient civilization that never ceased to exist, and manners are always an important part of education in the long history of this civilization. Even though modern Chinese society formed less than 100 years ago, we couldn’t possibly remove every bit of its traditions even if we try.
Then I came across this article, called “Chinese Being Uncultured is Not All Bad,” where I learned that the people of the United States was also regarded as rude and uncultured in the eyes of Europeans over a hundred years ago. And, according to the writer V. S. Naipaul in his novel A Bend in the River, Europeans were more hypocritical than the eastern Africans. Even the model of good manners, Japan, is not perfect:
… but in Nakanoshima Park Osaka, I’ve also seen cigarette butts left scattered everywhere; when there were not a lot of pedestrians on the street at late nights or in early mornings, there were also people crossing the intersections when the red lights were on; where it was marked no parking, bicycles were still parked full; in Osaka, in the parks where bicycles were not allowed in, a couple of times, Japanese would still ride in without any care; in the subway of Osaka, more than a few men were still found in carriage for women only and they didn’t seem to care.
It’s worth pointing out that Japan started its strict regulating of manners during the Meiji period (October 23, 1868 to July 30, 1912). However, in this country whose people are so self-disciplined, you can still not remove bad manners. The article mentioned Freud’s idea of civilization being depressing. I have to agree to some extent. It’s not so pleasant trying to keep everything so neat and tidy, so maybe there is the need for a little chaos in the process to reach a highly self-regulated society?
Please note that in no way am I trying to justify any uncultured behavior in this city, or in China. I guess what I’m trying to say here is—the uncultured, bad manners and everything else that may contradict your education or the name of this old city, is also Xi’an. They are parts of it that cannot be separated and highlighted like they are some perverse identity of the city. Everything takes time to develop and change, so if you like it here, or you have to stay here because of whatever reasons, be tolerant and patient, give the city time. When you look back in the future, I believe you will see it’s getting better and better, and every citizen here will be grateful for you not giving it a hard time when it’s not great enough.
Wei, Zhou, May 3, 2016, Chinese Being Unculturedis Not All Bad http://dajia.qq.com/original/category/weizhou160502.html
Shane Cai is a translator/interpreter/whatever-else-life-requires-him-to-be. He is the kind who acts out of passion. That’s probably why he doesn’t seem so passionate most of the time.