The Nanfang / Blog


Shenzhen to unveil civility laws, do you think they’ll be effective? We asked some expats

Posted: 01/28/2013 7:00 am

After Beijing Cream reported that new civility laws would be introduced in Shenzhen March 1, The Nanfang asked several expats for their thoughts on the laws. Below we recount some of the most interesting responses.

As explained by Shenzhen Daily, the laws will mean that ten types of uncivilized behaviour, including spitting, littering, and smoking in non-smoking areas, will be punishable by a fine, the size of which will be at the discretion of the law enforcement officer. Violators will also have the option to apply for community service to offset up to half of the fine.

Concerns raised about the laws included whether it was right to try to change a culture through law; whether they could be enforced effectively; whether they don’t go far enough (for example, allowing your child to go to the bathroom on the street is not included); and whether law enforcers would abuse the power they were given.

Alex Hoopes, a 26 year-old executive assistant from the United States does not see Shenzhen succeeding in enforcing the laws: “I remember Beijing made a big deal about cleaning itself up in preparation for the Olympics, and had subsidies from the national government to boot, yet today there’s just as much litter, spitting, and public smoking as there was before.”

Hoopes thinks instead of underpaidĀ chengguan (urban administrators) taking action, individuals should take a stand against behaviour they consider inappropriate. If people know there is a stigma attached to what they are doing, then they will stop doing it, according to Hoopes.

Charles Kirtley, a retired businessman from the United States, opposes the laws. He once wrote an opinion piece in Shenzhen Daily titled “Let China be China,” expressing the view that the sight of people smoking in non-smoking areas is part of what makes China distinct.

The same goes for other types of “uncivilized behaviour,” said Kirtley: “I don’t believe seeing a child piss on the sidewalk does me any harm.”

Bar owner Dave Seymour has seen a marked improvement in public behaviour in his more than seven years in China. He welcomes the laws as he is personally annoyed by the types of behaviour targeted by the laws, but he does not see them being effectively enforced.

He also fears that chengguan will find it easier to target violators for who 100 RMB is a lot of money: “I think if some migrant construction worker covered in grime from working his ass off spits and tosses his baozi bag on the sidewalk, the chengguan will be all over him. If a guy in a huge black SUV spits out his window, and throws his KFC garbage out his window, they’ll just pretend they didn’t see anything.”

One school of thought on the subject of civility is that it is a middle-class value, so we need to wait until the majority of Shenzhen residents can be considered middle-class.

Miles Alberto, a project manager from the Philippines who resides in Shenzhen, disagrees with this and supports the laws. Being from a developing country, she does not see poverty as any excuse to behave in an uncivilized manner, and has observed that many Chinese people’s behaviour has not improved along with increased wealth.

She was also incensed by the fact that people allowing their children to go to the bathroom on the street was not being targeted.

Other opinions expressed to The Nanfang included that of singer Gary Hurlstone who thinks that the laws should focus more on the behaviour that damages other people’s health such as smoking indoors and spitting.

So, what do you think?

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