Boorish Beijingers? Yes. Spiteful? No

Boorish Beijingers? Yes. Spiteful? No

BEIJING - There is perhaps no more telling sign of a city's boorishness than an annual, government-funded exercise measuring how civilised it is.

Since 2005, the Beijing government has published a "Civilisation Index" that tracks Beijingers over five broad categories. According to the results, they have been steadily civilising from 2005, when they scored an average of 63.79, to the latest 83.25.

Looking through the most recent set of scores would spark incredulity in anyone who has spent more than a week here.

Supposedly, more than 80 per cent of Beijingers "speak softly in public places", "line up when entering and exiting the train", and "throw trash which enters fully into the bin".

Among the less-than-convinced seems to be the city government's civilisation unit itself, for which the latest high score failed to inspire confidence that the city is ready to host the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) summit in November.

It will be Beijing's biggest international event since the 2008 Olympics, and luminaries, from United States President Barack Obama to Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, are expected to grace the capital.

Earlier this month, the civilisation unit launched the "Embracing Apec, Wonderful Beijinger Civilised Behaviour Promotion" in a bid to get the "quality" of its people, renmin suzhi, up to par for the summit.

"Say 'thank you' and 'sorry' readily, don't run red lights or cut into someone's path; reject open-air barbecues and don't make a racket in public places" go its opening exhortations.

It also asks residents to bone up on Apec knowledge so as to be able to interact with the visitors - an order perhaps even taller than the ban on open-air barbecues.

All of this isn't just empty lip service to a peculiar obsession of the Chinese government. The exercise of civilising Beijing is one of tremendous scope and scale.

The civilisation index alone involves a survey of 12,000 randomly chosen residents along with 1,200 long-term expatriates every year.

This is then combined with 3,000 hours of observation of 200,000 pedestrians and 190,000 vehicles across 360 public places in the city.

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