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Extreme China Makeover

Extreme China Makeover

Listen to this 'Talk of the Nation' topic

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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.

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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?