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An End to Rude Behaviour? – Beijing




No Spitting On The Bus

The large sign reads “Raise your level of personal manners - Spit out the window”

A recent study by the National Survey Research Centre (NSRC) at Renmin University has concluded that Beijing has almost entirely eliminated “rude public behaviour such as spitting and ignoring traffic lights”.

The NSRC interviewed 11,000 people, and spent 8,000 hours watching “856,000 pedestrians, 584,000 motor vehicles and 454,000 bikes” around Beijing to create a public behaviour index.

This shows that only 5.5 out of every 1,000 pedestrians would ignore traffic lights when crossing a road and only 7.2 out of every 1,000 would spit in public places.

Those numbers seem quite low, but Beijing is home to 20,000,000 people and the 110,000 with no road safety awareness and 144,000 spitters seem to be following me everywhere.

Green Cross Code Man

Stop! Look! Listen!

I live in a reasonably upmarket part of central Beijing, but I’d say a worrying majority of people cross the road in a fashion that belies any sense of self preservation. People nonchalantly stroll into speeding traffic partway across a three lane highway, without looking up from their phones, or walk in the middle of the road, even when there’s a perfectly good pavement a few feet away.


This happens in many areas of life here. People are in a constant struggle to do things in any way but that which they’re told, even if it’s the most efficient or sensible. If there’s a bench they’ll sit on it back to front; if there’s a queue they’ll put so much effort into pushing in they may get halfway then get sent to the back, taking longer overall; if there’s a form they’ll scream, shout and argue -in fact anything other than just filling it in. Maybe years of oppression have brought out a rebellious streak, which is no bad thing, but in seemingly simple day-to-day situations they’re making life so much harder than just going with the flow and moving on to something more interesting.

This may also explain the continued use of chopsticks rather than a fork and spoon when eating soupy noodles.

As for the spitting, again I’d estimate the majority of people spit wherever and whenever they feel the urge, generally without looking where it might land. It’s more prevalent amongst men, as the women are too busy encouraging their kids to pee in the street.

By now I ignore most of this, but I was reminded of the study whilst sitting outside in the park eating some cold egg noodles for lunch. A petite lady on the bench opposite stopped mid conversation and forcibly emptied her nostrils onto the ground in two long yellow ribbons of mucus. She went back to the conversation. I didn’t go back to the noodles.

Men's Handkerchief

Instrument of Social Change?

At the same time, the Chinese are unimpressed if during a particularly spicy meal (throughout which they burp, slurp, slap their mouth and smoke) I feel the need to blow my nose on a handkerchief, which then goes back in my pocket, germs and all, until it’s washed a few days later.


They may have a point about hygiene…or they may secretly revere me as a handkerchief toting maverick, fighting back against the system and their oppressive disposable moistened tissues.

Photo via





Since leaving London in 2006 I’ve travelled, worked, volunteered and lived in over 90 countries. Highlights so far would be driving along the Silk Road from Beijing to Istanbul, a complete circuit of South America and volunteering with Habitat for Humanity in Costa Rica. I’m currently back in Beijing, as a base to visit more of Asia and attempt to learn Mandarin.


    • I’d like a survey of the number of vehicles taking no notice of pedestrians and traffic lights, motorbikes zooming along the pavement and groups of girls walking arm-in-arm slower than previously thought possible wherever there isn’t room to pass..

      • I’ve been to Beijing twice and find out that people in my capital prefer being regardless of the trafic lights when cross the interaction.
        I was shocked at first and tried hard to stand still waiting for the change of the lights, regardless of the fact that no one else would do that like me. At last I gave up and in that way became one of those who pretended not to notice the red lights though with depression yet selfcomfort.
        But in most of the cities I’ve gone to, Beijing seems to be a exeptation. Strange enough!

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  • There is great disgust among Chinese for people who *preserve* their mucus. I would imagine this extending to a handkerchief. Playing devil’s advocate here, I don’t see anything more or less gross about ejecting snot noisily onto the pavement and ejecting it noisily into a handkerchief and then cherishing it. But then I have a blind spot for spitting.

    • I’m a convert to the point about handkerchiefs being dirty – I’ve now switched to tissues since moving to Beijing.

      Also, I’m entirely over the spitting and pretty much everything else by now, although last week in a hot pot restaurant in Chengdu I was treated to the entire wedding party sitting at the table next to ours simultaneously emptying their nostrils onto the floor…

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  • Haha! Anyway, spitting and clearing nostrils is awful, however what Im really disgusted with is peeing and poopooing out in the streets. I take a great joy of taking pics of such behaviours and by now I have a whole collection of them, a kind of gallery, I mean it. The highlight is a mum of 2yo letting his son piss on shiny whites tiles in a supermarket alley, with yoghurts on the right and frozen food on the left. Right there. Poor me, I didnt have my camera with me on that day!
    Anyway, whats the most disgusting about emptying yourself out in the street is the concrete where you pooped on today might well be exactly the same place where you walk tomorrow. “Walking in your footsteps” – sang Sting, which in China has a wholly new meaning. Beyond my comprehension – still, true. 🙂
    My experience with China: teaching in Meizhou, Guangdong, since 2015.


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