China becomes Miss Manners with travel advice

September 04, 1993|By Robert Benjamin | Robert Benjamin,Beijing Bureau

BEIJING -- Attention, all Chinese going abroad on your own:

Don't spit, squat, trim your nails, belch, stretch, yawn, litter, pick or blow your nose, scratch, remove your shoes or clean your ears, eyes or teeth in public.

Be sure to duck any probing questions from foreigners about China's internal affairs. And above all, watch out for spies.

These detailed admonitions are contained in a four-page guide issued here by officials to the increasing number of Chinese going overseas on private business.

Labeled "Political Affairs Study Material," the guide evidences a deep official paranoia about the potential allure of capitalist decadence and the trickery of foreign spies -- along with a decidedly condescending view of everyday Chinese behavior here.

"Don't point at people," says a lengthy section of the guide titled "Etiquette When Associating with Foreign Counterparts," stressing the need for "dignified" and "noble" comportment at all times.

"Don't make a racket. Don't laugh loudly. Don't yell at people from a distance. . . . Don't squat on the ground when waiting for cars. . . . Females, don't spread your legs.

"When speaking, don't talk about illness or anything depressing. . . . Make sure not to foam at the mouth or spit when talking.

"In public places, don't trim your nails, pick your teeth, pick your nose, blow your nose, pick your ears, rub your eyes, wipe your skin grime. Don't scratch, take off your shoes, belch, stretch, whistle. When yawning, cover your mouth with a handkerchief. Exhale through the nose to avoid making noises."

Doubtlessly not alone in his reaction, a Chinese artist in his 20s, who is about to leave here for the United States, takes offense at the official behavior guide.

"For people who are educated, this is quite an insult," he says. "Any decent family would have taught their children these basic things when they are young."

But, he says, "I have to admit the standard of civility of most Chinese is very low. It is true a lot of people here spit in public and pick their noses. Because of our education in communism, there was a big neglect in plain social etiquette.

"A regular citizen in a good society should know this etiquette as part of daily life -- not as a show for foreigners."

Much of the guide is preoccupied with the issue of national security, which officials apparently believe is threatened by the "lure of foreign spies, kidnappers and the corrupted."

"Resist capitalism and decadence," the guide orders. "Don't venture to lowly, pornographic areas. Don't read and watch dirty books, magazines or videos, and don't bring them back home."

The guide repeatedly warns Chinese not to talk about "state secrets," even when visiting Chinese embassies or organizations abroad.

It admonishes Chinese not to take internal reports or even written notes with them overseas.

It tells them to "lock up immediately" any letters received from China and to refuse requests to carry materials abroad "to avoid being pulled into a foreign intelligence trap."

When a foreigner begins asking questions about Chinese internal affairs, the guide advises, always respond with a noncommittal answer, such as, "It's not very clear."

"When faced with a person you don't know, don't initiate association," the guide says.

"Before knowing the foreigner's exact status, don't engage in deep discussions."

It even advises Chinese travelers to be "alert and careful" when in contact with "hotel personnel."

"When faced with something big and sudden, your attitude must tally with the homeland's foreign policy," the guide says.

"If a problem comes up or you did something wrong due to inexperience, be sure to report the truth of what happened as soon as possible [to the Chinese embassy] in case of the possibility of being taken advantage of by spies and special agents."

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