Enhancing public awareness of rules and manners

Elaine Chen
This is grounded in a sense of civic responsibility.
Elaine Chen

As a Shanghainese student studying in the US, every time I come back, I take great pride in our city’s rapid development and prosperity, manifested in the convenient metro network and many cultural events such as art exhibitions and the recent book fair.

Not only has our quality of life improved, citizens also exhibit more civility and respect in public. For example, passengers queue in an orderly manner for metro carriages.

However, a recent episode gave me some thoughts about improving awareness of rules and manners.

I was attending a Yueju Opera (a popular Chinese opera that originated from Zhejiang Province) movie talk by a famous actress and a director at a community cultural center. Most of the audience were senior citizens.

At the end of the talk, there were eight movie tickets to be given out as prizes — the plan was that the actress would randomly pick eight seat numbers to determine the prize winners.

But when the actress started to read out numbers, some twenty elderly women made a lightning rush to the stage and crowded around the actress, each claiming her right to a prize, throwing the actress into confusion.

Because some members of the audience had already left their seats, there was no easy way to tell the true winners. But how could there be more than twenty winners for eight prizes! Suddenly, I felt ashamed for those who were trying to gain extra advantage.

“How can things work if you act like this?” the actress murmured, amid the chaos, trying to keep order. Finally, she had to examine the seat number on each ticket to determine the winners. Even after she gave out all prizes, some diehards demanded more.

I wonder what led to this farce. Those who came to the talk were supposed to be genuine fans of Yueju Opera. Nonetheless, they violated the rules for some small advantage, created chaos and cast a disrespectful shadow over the event.

Partly as a result, the actress and other Yueju Opera artists may not want to hold events in this community anymore. Those women might have gained an extra movie ticket, not realizing that their bad audience etiquette harmed their own community as well as the propagation of the opera in the long run.

Of course, this phenomenon does not only appear among seniors. To solve the problem, citizens need to raise their awareness of rules.

This is grounded in a sense of civic responsibility.

Respect for order

Observing the rules may not bring immediate profit to an individual, but it ultimately creates a civilized, just society that benefits everyone.

It is not only about everyday issues, such as not taking some small advantage at the expense of others or not talking loudly in the theatre. It also plays a role in invisible choices that shape a society, such as whether a chemical factory observes safety and environmental regulations, or whether an official pulls strings for acquaintances.

The cultivation of the awareness of rules requires habituation through daily practice: Only if we do small things correctly can we then become law-abiding citizens and make the right choice at crucial moments.

I was impressed at a final exam in my US university, when the professor simply left the room after giving out the test papers and told us that he would come back in two hours.

Everybody was earnestly writing their answers and acting as if the professor was still there. I wonder if my Chinese school teachers dare risk that? It is also the norm that students sign an “honor code” and pledge they won’t plagiarize.

Raising public awareness takes decades of education, and we may wonder what we can do now. After all, giving advice to strangers can be considered poking one’s nose into others’ business.

My suggestion is: Start locally. Ask people around you to follow rules and order. Don’t worry about being too blunt or straightforward. People might feel embarrassed at first, but then they will more or less reconsider their behaviors.

The author is a freelancer.

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