Spit it out
By Zhang Feng (China Daily)
Updated: 2007-01-26 13:23
It takes a special person to solve a special problem. The former soldier leading the campaign to stamp out spitting in Beijing may appear ordinary, but his dedication to his campaign goes above and beyond the call of duty.
Wang Tao(left) persuades a peddler not to spit and invites him to be a volunteer urging customers not to spit on the street. [China Daily]
Wang Tao, 35, was born in a village in North China's Shanxi Province, joining the army when he was 18 years old.
After leaving the army and working in a hospital in Hebei Province in 2000, Wang moved to Beijing, looking after retired workers of the environmental sanitation management bureau of Xicheng District.
Last year, however, his ordinary life took an unusual twist, following his decision to lead a campaign against spitting and littering.
He initiated the "Green Woodpecker Action", a campaign calling for people to volunteer to help keep the city clean and persuade residents to give up rude habits.
He also founded www.jintan.org, China's first website for information and discussion aimed at eradicating spitting.
"Sometimes I feel lonely and upset when I get an unpleasant look as I persuade a person to wipe their phlegm off the street," Wang says.
But something must be done to make a difference before the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, he says, "when Chinese people's behavior will be exposed before the whole world. It should be a pleasant image."
Wang began his campaign in May 2006, hitting the streets for the first time.
At places crowded with people including bus stations, Tian'anmen Square and the city's parks, he approached everybody who he saw spitting on the ground.
He would talk to the person and explain that his or her action was unhealthy and harmful for others, as well as for the image of the city and the country.
And he would then give the person a tissue and ask them to clean the spit up.
"If he refused to do it, I would do it," he said.
He said that most people are quite nice to him, accepting his advice and cleaning up their spit.
Some people could not understand what he was trying to tell them, while others would ask in confusion: "If I cannot spit on the ground, where can I spit?"
Others felt ashamed and became angry with Wang.
After working alone several times, Wang began looking for volunteers.
In the last six months, about 100 volunteers including students and retired workers have participated in 10 street campaigns led by Wang.
"I really appreciate his courage, determination and action in doing such a thing. Millions of Beijing residents may realize that spitting is wrong, but few of them stand up against it," said Wang Daoyuan, a student from Beijing Union University.
She has attended almost all the street campaigns, and holds Wang in high regard.
"It is very hard to change human habits. Some people stop spitting in front of volunteers, but do it again once we walk away," Wang said.
She and Wang noted that 100 volunteers are far from enough.
Beijing has at least 15 million residents, including five million migrants who have no registered permanent residence in the city.
"At one bus station, you can easily see dozens of people spitting on the ground in one afternoon," Wang Tao said.
Spitters come in all shapes and sizes, he adds, and even young people spit
One letter, many Olympic dreams "We need more volunteers to supervise society in every corner of the city," he said. The key to broader success, Wang believes, is raising public awareness. In December last year he wrote an open letter to the Beijing Evening News calling on Beijingers to change the environmental image of city. In the letter, titled "What Beijingers should do for their own environment", Wang listed 10 impolite actions that are frequent in the city, including queue jumping, shouting in restaurants and spitting. His letter caused a big reaction among readers, and the Municipal Government of Beijing took notice of his efforts. They invited him to make a speech at the opening ceremony of a citywide campaign to choose the 10 cleanest streets, bus stations, communities and other sites through public appraisal. At the ceremony, held late December, Wang called on residents to supervise the environment around them and take an active part in the voting. The selection of the top sites will be finished a couple of months before the Olympic Games opens. But after his big speech, Wang had other things to worry about. "I don't get any financial support from the government or other institutes," he said, noting he even has to buy his own tissues. "I really need financial aid, new ideas and support to promote my campaign," Wang said. Wang's tips on how to stop spitting Recruit more volunteers to give lectures in universities, middle and primary schools to educate students. Call on parents to take their kids to the streets to persuade people to stop spitting and littering. Establish a joint program with taxi companies to promote good taxi habits Communicate with bus attendants and discuss how to effectively persuade people to give up bad habits. Distribute cards with information on sanitary behavior among migrant workers at construction sites and railway stations. Set up pilot "spitting-free communities" and spread them through the city. Carry out a series of environmental protection events to encourage people to recycle and use public transportation.