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Chinese Spitting Ban
May 27, 2003 5:48 PM   Subscribe

Why a ban on spitting is catching in the throats of Chinese. Apparently, spitting in public is very common in China. "They consider phlegm excrement," explained a coworker of mine who recently visited Shanghai. With SARS spreading in airborne saliva and mucous particles (aka respiratory secretions, China has had to tackle the challenge of outlawing a practice as "common as breathing."
posted by scarabic (33 comments total)

 
They'd have more trouble outlawing breathing.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 6:02 PM on May 27, 2003


It ain't just China.
posted by hama7 at 6:22 PM on May 27, 2003


"They consider phlegm excrement,"

Well, what the hell else would you consider it, a condiment?
posted by jonmc at 6:25 PM on May 27, 2003


As hama7 implied, it's common practice here in Korea too, and drives me completely bugshit.

It is entertaining in a distressing and somewhat mindboggling kind of way when some affluent-looking 50 year old matron in a dress and fur coat sniffs, horks, and launches an oyster onto the pavement in front of you with complete nonchalance. That said, it's mostly the men, who are species unto themselves.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:30 PM on May 27, 2003


Well, what the hell else would you consider it, a condiment?

LOL. Kraft Squeezable Expectorate? No, not exactly.

I think the alternative would be "bodily fluid." My friend was trying to explain why they don't swallow.

Anyway, I'm glad you appreciate the excrement point of view. I was trying to include some rationale for spitting, so it didn't appear I was taking a shot at the Chinese and their norms.
posted by scarabic at 6:42 PM on May 27, 2003


Glad you boys have found something you can agree on... (",)
posted by dash_slot- at 6:44 PM on May 27, 2003


when I first heard about SARS I thought, the epidemic must be spreading like wildfire with all the spitting the Chinese seem to do all the time. when I first traveled to China a friend had already warned me about it, but I wasnt ready anyway, it kinda shocked me -- it is an appalling national habit.

they probably have an Olympic Team or something
posted by matteo at 7:17 PM on May 27, 2003


Spitting seems rather capitalist. It's looking out for yourself, disregarding the hygienic needs of others in society.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 7:23 PM on May 27, 2003


In Japan, where we Westerners often think the ethos of clean prevails, they spit like crazy. Turns out this clean thing only applies to the inside. Which is part of why they take off their shoes before going inside. The streets are gross. Could this be part of why the city exteriors are so ugly?
posted by kozad at 7:31 PM on May 27, 2003


I consider shit and piss to be excrement, too, but you don't see me evacuating either of my corresponding orfices in the public streets.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:33 PM on May 27, 2003


Maybe the WHO can air drop spittoons on Beijing?
posted by wfrgms at 7:48 PM on May 27, 2003


In Japan, where we Westerners often think the ethos of clean prevails, they spit like crazy.

Oh, rubbish. Japanese aren't into spitting. Sniffing, yes. Pissing on the side of the road into my porch, yes.
posted by dydecker at 7:53 PM on May 27, 2003


dydecker...maybe I'm out of date...but fifteen years ago when I lived in metro Japan, loogies were all over the sidewalks, and I saw locals expectorating everywhere.
posted by kozad at 8:00 PM on May 27, 2003



What Stavros and five fresh fish said! The first time I saw it happen (about two hours after landing in Asia for the first time) I couldn't believe my freekin' eyes!!!

On a related note. I study at a University that has a lot of foreign Asian students enrolled. In the bathrooms they have "Please don't squat on the toilet seat" signs.

Cute. Makes me laff!
posted by uncanny hengeman at 8:03 PM on May 27, 2003


Spitting seems rather capitalist. It's looking out for yourself, disregarding the hygienic needs of others in society.

I lived, for the past year, in Beijing, and I've got to say that you've hit on the biggest irony I saw. Case in point: traffic. In Beijing, you can have traffic jams that form spontaneously for no apparent reason. Why? Because everyone inches forward, in the hopes of getting just that much closer to where they're going, with no regard for order. In the West, there is etiquette which governs when you go and when you stop (stop signs, at least). Same with lines: there is no queuing in China - everyone just presses forward.

So here's the irony: the world's most iconic capitalist society (America), has somehow bred behavior in which individuals in groups tend to look out for the good of the group. (Except in business, of course.) This springs, I think, from the notion of individual rights and individual worth. If the person next to you has the same rights and worth as you, then you aren't allowed to take from him - you have to follow the rules as laid down by the group. On the other hand, the world's most iconic remaining communist society has produced citizens that are pushy, selfish (in interactions with a group of people - the Chinese themselves are very generous) and massively individualistic. Why? Because they believe that the "group" good is what matters, and they are as much a part of the group as the next person.

Also, and probably more importantly, scarcity plays a part: whereas America has long lived with a general abundance, the history of China is filled with times in which it was difficult to fill the rice bowl. Having stuff makes it easier to share with your neighbor.
posted by gd779 at 9:28 PM on May 27, 2003


I've been in Tokyo for about 2 months now and I have not noticed any more spitting here than I did in New York City (born & bred!) That's a MeFi data point for you.
posted by gen at 9:43 PM on May 27, 2003


Didn't the same thing happen here? I have this vague impression that repeated outbreaks of diseases like tuberculosis around the turn of the 20th century led to American society clamping down on public spitting. I have a reproduction sign from the period which warns of a $50 fine for spitting. Not sure of the context in which this sign was used (though I think it was a railway station) but fifty clams was a lot of money around 1900 -- to put it in perspective, that'd be on the order of a $1000 fine today, which makes it seem likely that they really meant business.
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:04 PM on May 27, 2003


I lived for two years in China (one in Beijing, one in Nanjing) and the spitting never made much of an impression on me. Though I remember once travelling by bus just outside Tibet, where the entire bus was hawking loogies on the bus floor as we were waiting for the bus to depart. They could have at least spit out the window, but no, it had to be the floor of the bus that we were to spend the next three days in. Also, the preferred method of clearing a stuffy nose (press one nostril, blow hard through other) infuriates me.

I liked how with the outbreak of SARS, it was the first time that you saw people actually using bleach to clean public spaces. For instance, bathrooms often stunk like crazy because the janitors would only use water to mop, which just spreads around the filth.
posted by alidarbac at 11:17 PM on May 27, 2003



* Looks skyward and thanks the Gods he wasn't eating lunch as he read alidarbac's post*
posted by uncanny hengeman at 12:01 AM on May 28, 2003


spitting has been outlawed in most of china for some time now. especially in the big cities. it is when you get out into the smaller cities you see it more. my stomach still turns when my dad talks about the spittoons at some of the factories he has visited that are full of phlegm. it's the thought of having to clean them up that really makes the stomach clench.
posted by chrisroberts at 12:08 AM on May 28, 2003


My two cents regarding Japan:

Spitting: No. Occasionally you will see someone spit but this is not the norm and it is not socially acceptable.

Sniffing: Yes. Unfortunately, a lot of people would rather endure a running nose than pull out a tissue and blow their nose in public (which would be considered rude). I do my best to erode this institution by offering a packet of tissues to people I encounter sniffing in public. Most will accept the packet but I have yet to see one of them use it. :) For those of you in Tokyo, the next time you are on a train, close your eyes and actively listen to the sniffing of runny noses. Strange feeling...

Coughing and Sneezing (without covering their mouth): Yes. This is especially unnerving in light of SARS - especially when you are sitting in a crowded train and the person standing right in front of you is doing so without even attempting to cover their mouth.

Smoking (without manners): Yes. This is one issue the people of Japan people should address more aggressively - especially smoking while walking (dangerous to children who's eyes are the same height as a burning cigarette in an adult's hand) and throwing cigarettes away while they are still lit (which causes over 90% of all fires). I usually give these people a friendly reminder. A few times this has led to unfriendly encounters but such encounters are very rare in Japan.

Peeing in Public: Yes, and strangely so. Japan has public toilets *everywhere* and, unlike some places in the UK and China, they are all free. Every now and then, however, you will still see people shamelessly relieving themselves roadside or on the sidewalk. Whenever I see them I give my horn a light toot-toot hoping that they feel a modicum of shame or, failing that, pee on their own shoes when they look to see who's honking. ;)

My .02 regarding China:

There is one practice that I didn't find very appealing: Imagine a basin filled with white, cloudy water. In this water float several bars (or shards, more precisely) of soap. This water is used to wash one's hands and face but everyone uses the *same* water and I rarely saw it changed. Didn't seem very sanitary. Could SARS also be spread in this way? Is this practice still common in China?
posted by cup at 12:42 AM on May 28, 2003


the preferred method of clearing a stuffy nose (press one nostril, blow hard through other) infuriates me.

Known in Canada as the 'farmer blow,' also regrettably common here. Also consistently nauseating are the palm-sized watery pancakes of mucousy spittle left on the toilet floors at my university by students who sit on the pot smoking and are presumably too damn lazy to aim their salivary overproduction between their legs into the bowl.

Of course there are big puddles in the middle of the floor, too, so it's not just a sitting-down thing.

Combine this with the appreciable percentage that are somehow still locked into the (justified) mindset that prevailed a couple of decades ago, that toilet paper was simply an unreasonable burden on poorly-made sewer systems, and who as a consequence wipe their bums and deposit the paper in a open basket beside the toilet, and it's understandable why I prefer to complete my functions of elimination in the comfort of my own home.

See also : spit self link and pee self-link.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 12:48 AM on May 28, 2003


SARSFilter! (My first MeFi "in joke")

It ain't just China.
Spitting seems an almost universal sign of contempt or disgust; and spitting obviously represents the rejection of anything offensive from the mouth. Shakspeare makes the Duke of Norfolk say, "I spit at him— call him a slanderous coward and a villain." So, again, Falstaff says, "Tell thee what, Hal,—if I tell thee a lie, spit in my face." Leichhardt remarks that the Australians "interrupted their speeches by spitting, and uttering a noise like pooh! pooh! apparently expressive of their disgust." And Captain Burton speaks of certain negroes "spitting with disgust upon the ground." Captain Speedy informs me that this is likewise the case with the Abyssinians. Mr. Geach says that with the Malays of Malacca the expression of disgust "answers to spitting from the mouth;" and with the Fuegians, according to Mr. Bridges "to spit at one is the highest mark of contempt."
Darwin, " Expression of Emotion in Man and Animals," citing H. Wedgwood, ‘On the Origin of Language,’ 1866, p. 75.
posted by hairyeyeball at 12:58 AM on May 28, 2003


The prize for most disgusting post goes to alidarbac. :)

BTW, the dirtiest restroom I ever encountered was on a project site in Puerto Ordaz, Venezuela.

It was during a water shortage *and* a power outage.

Darkness magnifies smell. :)

On Preview: Thank you for the links, stavros, and good work on a beautiful web site.
posted by cup at 1:00 AM on May 28, 2003


I was in China for two months, and the spitting never bothered me. I can see why you might worry about it for health reasons, but it's not as if they spit _on_ you. Frankly, I think the prevalence of spitting in the cities has more to do with the fact that everybody smokes everywhere. Since I both smoke and spit myself (albeit I don't do either indoors), I don't see the big deal. The toilets weren't too bad either, though they were primitive. I mean, I wouldn't sit on one, but neither would the Chinese. You're not supposed to, after all. You might as well complain a rake is inadequate for sleeping on.

And to be fair, McDonald's taught the Chinese to line up. They're perfectly happy to do it once you make it clear that it's part of the experience of "going for fast food". I've seen mobs turn into queues instantly with a sharp word from some chap in a KFC uniform accusing them of being "dark-skinned peasants".
posted by Pseudoephedrine at 1:13 AM on May 28, 2003


Hong Kong has had its problems with spitters.

The government plans to double the fine for spitting shortly, as a result of the SARS outbreak ,which now is thankfully almost under control.

It's a disgusting habit, and I hope that people here can be broken of it.
posted by bwg at 4:45 AM on May 28, 2003


I find that African American thugs in the U.S. spit like criminal volcanoes. On the street, slowly opening a car door at a stop light to give offering to the ground. Walking around, spitting. Bangin', spitting. Spitting whilst you creep.
posted by The Jesse Helms at 5:47 AM on May 28, 2003


the preferred method of clearing a stuffy nose (press one nostril, blow hard through other) infuriates me.

Known in Canada as the 'farmer blow,' also regrettably common here


soccer players do it all the time, live on national TV, producing the most amazing cables of snot for the horror of viewers everywhere.

heh. DisgustingFilter.
posted by matteo at 6:27 AM on May 28, 2003


Why is spitting so common and nose blowing not so common? Or is the sniffing just to get the snot into correct allignment to be spit out?
posted by anathema at 7:16 AM on May 28, 2003


I've been in Tokyo for about 2 months now and I have not noticed any more spitting here than I did in New York City

The operative part there is than I did in New York City. I think that's skewing your data a bit, gen.
posted by Vidiot at 8:01 AM on May 28, 2003


I liked how with the outbreak of SARS, it was the first time that you saw people actually using bleach to clean public spaces. For instance, bathrooms often stunk like crazy because the janitors would only use water to mop, which just spreads around the filth.

I don't know if this is the case in China, but in Taiwan, because most of the buildings do not have modern-sized plumbing, people threw toilet paper that they used into a trash can by the toilet instead of flushing them down the toilet, so as to not clog the pipes. Having exposed fece in the bathroom can't help the cause.
posted by gyc at 10:56 AM on May 28, 2003


In 1996, I was at a McDonald's in Beijing and people were shoving behind me in the line, or trying to cut in.

I'll be honest. I would push them back, glare, and holler at them in English, to "Get the &!$# in line." They pretty much knew what I meant.

I had no patience for the non-queueing behavior in other places but could do nothing about it... but at a McD's, I expected it.
posted by linux at 12:36 PM on May 28, 2003


the jesse helms: how would you characterise the spitting methods of the good ole boys who spit? what does "banging" mean in this context? do white thugs "bang"? do they spit? at traffic lights, or at the sidewalk signals?

You know what I mean *nudge nudge*
posted by dash_slot- at 3:43 PM on May 28, 2003


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