Extreme China Makeover

Listen to this 'Talk of the Nation' topic

The countdown to the Olympic Games in Beijing continues, along with the stories of protests in Tibet, arms shipments to Zimbabwe, and China's connections to Sudan. Behind the front pages, though, is a country taking its role as host very, very seriously. William Langewiesche, Vanity Fair's international correspondent, spent some time flying around China, reporting on the many fascinating efforts at forced self-improvement, and discovering if any of it will likely pay off for Beijing. Here's just a snippet:

At the forefront stand the 15 million residents of Greater Beijing. In preparation for the Games, a municipal agency called the Capital Ethics Development Office is trying to whip them into shape, with campaigns against spitting on the street, using foul language (even though in Chinese), or getting rowdy while watching, for instance, Ping-Pong matches on TV. A survey conducted by Renmin University in 2007 showed that progress was being made (naturally), and that over the previous year public spitting had been reduced by 2.41 percent. According to the Chinese state news service, the survey was based on observations from 300,000 people at 320 public places and in 200,000 cars. Littering was down 2.44 percent. Meanwhile, the Civic Index was up by 4.32 percent. The Civic Index scores the Beijing population on its compliance with rules regarding public health and public order, attitudes toward strangers, etiquette at sporting events, and demonstrable enthusiasm for the Olympic Games. I myself have conducted a survey, based on 457.5 observations, and have concluded that 98 percent of the Chinese lack any measurable sense of irony. This is a preliminary finding only, and further funding is required, but there is no doubt that the Chinese Earnestness Index is extremely high.

The glimmering new airport terminal, "Queuing Day," and karaoke all make appearances in the piece, and it's well worth the read. We'll talk with Langewiesche on the show today about the trip, and what China's doing to buff it's image ahead of the games. Any of you been to China recently? What kind of preparations have you seen, if any?

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As noted by one of your last callers, the Beijing Hack, as he called it, is not only a characteristic of Beijing. It in fact exists in most of China, especially the Southern industrial area around Guangzhou. For years several of us from our company have traveled there several times a year for product development and it is just expected to get Kennel Cough and to keep it for 2 or 3 weeks upon returning to the States. Even Thai counterparts working and now living there have it constantly, it seems only the locals have been able to acclimate to the conditions that we all find almost intolerable.
Just for your note.

Sent by Matthew McCluggage | 3:59 PM | 4-22-2008

The guest William Langewiesche commented that China should allow it's citizens to express the intelligence that citizens have. I would like to reply by saying, if it were possible for everyone to express intelligence so vividly in our time, then perhaps the makers of some technological instruments that are used to spot people from helicopters in the darkness or technological wonders such as portable helmet cameras that use night vision technology would like to express how one can make this technology better. Cheaper. Accessible to the world perhaps? It would seem that it is not easy to express great ideas or intelligence in a society like our own in the world. So why bother China? Perhaps the guest was simply referring to freedom of expression when the expression comes from willing intimate subjects. Maybe we can come up with a system that could Barter intelligence for marriage.

Sent by Joee Vivalde | 4:16 PM | 4-22-2008

Don't want to say more. Send this poem to you and hope you can share it with your listeners.

"What do you want from Us?"

- A Poem Dedicated to the last 150 years of this
planet.
By a Silent, Silent Chinese.

===
When We were called Sick man of Asia, We were called
The Peril.
When We are billed to be the next Superpower, We are
called The threat.

When We were closed our doors, You smuggled Drugs to
Open Markets.
When We Embrace Freed Trade, You blame us for Taking
away your jobs.

When We were falling apart, You marched in your troops
and wanted your "fair share".
When We were putting the broken pieces together again,
"Free Tibet" you screamed, "it was an invasion!"

( When Woodrow Wilson Couldn't give back Birth Place
of Confucius back to Us,
But He did bought a ticket for the Famine Relief Ball
for us.)

So, We Tried Communism, You hated us for being
Communists
When We embrace Capitalism, You hate us for being
Capitalist.

When We have a Billion People, you said we were
destroying the planet.
When We are tried limited our numbers, you said It was
human rights abuse.

When We were Poor, You think we are dogs.
When We Loan you cash, You blame us for your debts.

When We build our industries, You called us Polluters.
When we sell you goods, You blame us for global
warming.

When We buy oil, You called that exploitation and
Genocide.
When You fight for oil, You called that Liberation.

When We were lost in Chaos and rampage, You wanted
Rules of Law for us.
When We uphold law and order against Violence, You
called that Violating Human Rights.

When We were silent, You said you want us to have Free
Speech.
When We were silent no more, You say we were
Brainwashed-Xenophobics.

Why do you hate us so much? We asked.
"No," You Answered, "We don't hate You."

We don't Hate You either,
But Do you understand us?

"Of course We do," You said,
"We have AFP, CNN and BBCs..."

What do you really want from us?
Think Hard first, then Answer...

Because you only get so many chances,
Enough is Enough, Enough Hypocrisy for this one world.

We want One World, One Dream, And Peace On Earth.
- This Big Blue Earth is Big Enough for all of Us.

Reposted from www.wforum.com/gbindex.html. Feel free
to forward, but please give credit to where its due.

Sent by Cinti Chen | 4:28 PM | 4-22-2008

This VF correspondent was certainly full of himself.

He laid the "queuing days" at the feet of China's dictatorial government. Apparently he isn't aware that the Beijing Chinese are truly aggressive line-jumpers and need a course in orderliness.

He was also aghast at "spitting" reduction. The Chinese hawk out huge loogies right and left whenever they please. Yech! They need to reduce that practice!

This guy was full of it.

Sent by Hubert Smith | 7:03 PM | 4-22-2008

Mr. Langewiesche's comment's on the Chinese Olympic is biased without in depth analysis of the numerous facets he tried to cover in his article. Mr. Langewiesche's claim that his article is only from a casual traveler's point of view, this is disturbing because Mr. Langewiesche is a reporter and as a reporter for a major magazine (Vanity Fair), his report should be anything but unbiased and professional. I am no fan of the Chinese political system nor what they are doing to Tibet but I do respect a country trying to put on the best performance it can for an international audience. It is funny is it? I didn't hear Mr. Langewiesche complaining about the 1984 Olympics with all the flag waving and wearing going on then. We had our moment, let's let other people have theirs without being petty.

Sent by Rick | 3:33 AM | 4-23-2008

I am a descendant of the Chinese Diaspora--Overseas Chinese--raised in Malaysia, now residing in Washington state. Precisely because Mr. Langewiesche is NOT A CHINESE (he broadcast it unequivocally) therefore his personal perspectives are anything but lacking authenticity (do more research), shallow (too cursory), objectivity (he repeats what other journalists are mouthing constantly), empathy (he wears biased-tarnished western glasses) and worse his so-called letter from China is peppered from A to Z with sarcasm, insults, insinuations, pessimism and arrogance, unfitting a true journalist. Whereas I stripped myself of all pre-conceptions about China, the country of my ancestors from extensive readings, movies, documentaries, exchanges, et cetera, and exposed myself to seeing China objectively for the first time...impressed and intrigued by the economic, social and cultural miracles now taking place in China since the economic reforms of the 70s! Yes, I saw the same Beijing as Mr. Langewiesche but wondering How did the Chinese Government perform such miracles within the last 30 years? And non of the ostentation or self-aggrandizement that he is babbling about! I am beginning to understand more how difficult it is for any government (besides India) to run a country of over a billion people? A simple thing like not allowing the use of credit cards by the masses in China. See what is happening to our cash-deprived USA with millions of the plastics out there? Yes, China has to be stringent in running her country much to Mr. Langewiesche's dismay. I bet he'll love to return to write about the glories and progress in China if only he'd care to read about the ups and downs of China's long troubling history. No wonder the Chinese today are happy and smiling because they are living in the present, with all the possibilities and opportunities for social, cultural and economical betterment...in every niche and nook in China. (I'd love to come on the show to share my views...an authentic Chinese one, at that! (Author of FOR MY HANDS ONLY--what it means to grow up a poor chinese in a poverty-stricken chinese village in malaya)

Sent by Stephen Eng-Huat Ling | 12:21 AM | 4-28-2008

I have followed Langeweische's writing for over 10 years and appreciate his concise directness. His research is so thorough that I trust his hard-line conclusions. In this age of euphemisms, it is refreshing to find a journalist willing to offer a strong opinion or conclusion; and they must be accurate ones or the likes of Atlantic Monthly and Vanity Fair would not keep him around as they have. The Vanity Fair article that spawned this NPR interview was in fact a personal letter that was later published as an article. It was not meant to be presented as an in-depth discussion, only a representation of initial observations, albeit, from a Westerner's perspective.

Yes, spitting and lack of queuing skills are social problems found in China, and habits that would be considered appalling to Westerners wealthy enough to attend the Olympics. Perhaps that is why the Chinese government is taking action to teach its populace to curtail such behaviors. The Vanity Fair article, Beijing's Olympic Makeover simply points this out as a unique means of preparing for the big event.

I have not been to China, but have done much reading about the country and culture, most recently having read, China Road. The book was interesting, but provided little in the way of insight into the future of China. Langewiesche's brief letter and interview provided much more insight than the entire book. Langewiesche does not need me to defend him, read his work and you will find the truth yourself.

By the way, the above poem is beautiful.

Sent by Juliette Hulen | 4:07 PM | 5-27-2008

Stephen Eng-Huat Ling please contact me about Caron Wang. bobweber at att . net

Sent by bob weber | 9:07 PM | 8-11-2008

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