China out to clean up spitting image---The S M H
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China out to clean up spitting image
China expectorates everyone to do their duty … Dr Spit delivers his anti-spitting sermon and hands tissues to an offender.
Photo: Sanghee Liu
John Garnaut in Beijing
December 21, 2007
MS WANG had just arranged her bicycle tray of toffee crab-apples when the tickle in her throat became an uncontrollable urge. She walked three fateful steps across the footpath, cleared her throat, and let go of a full-bodied phlegm ball.
Ms Wang's missile was off-target, landing just short of the grass. Worse, she had sinned in full view of the city's most dedicated spit-catcher.
In a flash, the crusading Dr Spit handed Ms Wang a wad of tissues - donated and packaged by the Beijing Municipality Civilisation Office. He recited his anti-spitting sermon and she obligingly kneeled down and cleaned up the mess.
The crab-apple vendor gave a grinning, sheepish self-criticism: "I'm old enough to know better. I'm very embarrassed. But my throat was so itchy I could not control it."
As Beijing applies the last layers of its Olympic make-up, there is nothing that rankles foreign tourists and the city's rulers as much as the propensity for full-throated spitting.
The habit is rooted in a Chinese medicinal belief that phlegm is dirty and should be expelled from the body.
It is also bolstered by hundreds of years of expectorating role models.
But the city's law enforcement officials now have power to hand out spot fines of 50 yuan ($7.80).
Beijing has come a long way since the 1980s, when busy shopping streets would ring with the sounds of hearty hucking and mucus globules would freeze like stalactites from garbage bin rims. But progress has not been fast enough for Dr Spit, otherwise known as Wang Tao.
"Spitting not only spreads diseases but it harms China's image - it's a selfish thing to do."
Wang Tao admits he, too, used to enjoy a quiet huck in a corner until about five years ago, when his foreign friends showed him how offensive the habit was.
Now a volunteer army of young female converts follow Wang Tao's "Green Woodpecker Association" placard to various ambush sites at traffic lights and bus terminals.
Offenders are usually embarrassed and quickly apologise. If they refuse to take the tissues and clean up their mess, he does it for them. Only twice has he been threatened with violence.
Wang Tao is earnest and well-mannered. But his new, foreign-sourced moral code is uncompromising. Would the crab-apple vendor still have broken the rules if her spit had landed on the grass? No.
Do different rules apply to athletes, who cannot carry tissues on the sporting field? "They should learn to swallow," he says. "Spitting is bad on any ground, anywhere."