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CHINA

Insults, Spitting, Pigeon Poaching Not Allowed

'Spiritual Civilization' campaign promotes orderly behavior--and helps control citizens of a nation making the transition to a market economy.

January 25, 1997|RONE TEMPEST | TIMES STAFF WRITER

DALIAN, China — "Numbskull!" "Turtle egg!" "Tumor brain!"

In Dalian these days, this kind of rough talk just won't do. At least not while Mayor Bo Xilai is within hearing range.

Mayor Bo--ambitious son of a Communist legend--has made a goal of turning this bustling Yellow Sea port into another squeaky-clean Singapore. The central government in Beijing, meanwhile, has adopted Dalian as poster child for its national "Spiritual Civilization" campaign that stresses Asian values and devotion to the motherland. As a result, there is no room for gutter talk like Dalian's trademark insult nao you bing--which translates roughly as "numbskull" or "mush for brains."

Citizens are urged to report rude taxi drivers, with cash rewards when they do. Travelers at the Dalian train station are fined two yuan--25 cents--if they spit on the ground. Urban scavengers have been banned from bagging doves and pigeons in the central squares.

Above all, Dalian's traditionally boisterous soccer fans, whose beloved Wanda Soccer Club won its second national championship this fall, have been told to tone down their insults of opposing teams.

China's leadership, which only recently allowed the formation of soccer fan clubs across the country, has been embarrassed by nationally televised matches punctuated by obscene insults often involving slang words for animal genitalia.

In Beijing's mind, soccer club rowdiness is just a step away from mass political action. The leaders want Dalian to set the moral tone on and off the field.

"Soccer fans are a very important reflection of the spiritual status of a city," said Zhang Jiashu, secretary of the Dalian Soccer Fan Club. "Asians pay more attention to our spiritual ethics. We don't want our soccer fans to be hooligans like in England. Our fans should be civilized."

Fans' chants, he said, are limited to "change the player" or "change the coach."

Under the leadership of its handsome young mayor, Bo Xilai, son of Communist Party elder Bo Yibo, Dalian does stand out as one of China's cleaner and more well-ordered cities.

Recently, the civic cleanup campaign in Dalian has been showcased in official newspapers and television broadcasts.

At the heart of the Spiritual Civilization campaign is an attempt by the Beijing government to maintain control over a citizenry that is increasingly distracted by the leisure-time diversions of a transitional economy wresting itself from Maoist totalitarianism.

The campaign uses as its model the Confucian-based political philosophy of former Singapore Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew. By outlawing dissent and legislating huge fines for littering and other civic violations, Lee turned Singapore from a rowdy seaport into a safe, spotlessly clean metropolis.

But despite the yearlong harping on the Spiritual Civilization theme by President Jiang Zemin and other leaders, the methods employed to establish it in the provinces are mostly borrowed from the old dogma and tactics of the Communist Party.

Zhu Fenxiang, deputy director of the new Municipal Spiritual Civilization office here, said in an interview that one of the main signs of Dalian's success in establishing a spiritual civilization is that 5,000 students at Dalian Technical University participate in Marxist-Leninist "learning groups."

Zhu and other leaders here speak grandly of the Asian "collective" values they feel distinguish China from the West. But the underlying message is not lost on the city's residents--particularly the younger generation that has grown up during the transition from Maoism to a market economy.

"They talk about spiritual civilization and Asian values," said a young businessman over dinner in one of Dalian's expensive new restaurants. "What they are really saying is: 'Obey the government!' "

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