A Chinese Spit Crackdown

As the Associated Press reports, the Chinese city of Guangzhou has introduced a strong incentive to discourage spitting in public: residents lose their homes if they get caught spitting seven times within a two-year period. The city of Kunming, meanwhile, appealed to its residents’ green side by handing out environmentally friendly phlegm bags. [%comments]


Friendly Phlegm Bags would be a good name for a band.


There used to be Piss Bags for sale in Manila to discourage urinating in public.

It did not last.


I think the Chinese government will do well to study Chinese psychology in order to change the people's behavior. The way to get those people to change isn't with a stick or a carrot.; it's to shame them into compliance.

"Saving face" is one aspect of the culture where everybody works hard to keep! If the government were to launch a campaign that plants the idea that spitting, urinating, & littering in public are behaviors associated with the uneducated and lower class citizens, I bet a wad of cash that the people will change their behavior in no time!

Dr Zaglossus

I still recall the signs that seemed to integral to the old green CTA "El" cars that Spitting was not allowed. I know that for America, spitting was weaned out of common culture with the change from snuff to cigars and cigarettes and from spittoons to ashtrays.

With about a 60-67% smoking male prevalence rate in China and the strong correlation of increased mucus production with smoke (and smog) inhalation, perhaps China would do well to a) clean up their pollution and b) work to curtail smoking. It has taken us 4 decades to decrease smoking from 50% to less than 20%, but we are getting there.

The other that might help to cut back on spitting - the studies of spread of potentially infectious particles with a) breathing, b) coughing, c) spitting. With SARS, Avian Flu and H1N1 that might get more traction.

Craig T.

I'm a lapsed Illinoisan who has been living in Shanghai for 8+ years, speak the language, and am endlessly fascinated by cultural differences, taboos, and so on. I offer the following as one guy's observation . . . subject to all the limitations that a single observation entails.

There are some slight (but important) differences at play here, especially when it comes to health literacy and the different traditions (i.e. Western vs. traditional Chinese). Chinese tend to be quite open when talking about health matters, and sometimes it seems that there are 1.3 billion doctors here dispensing advice.

Given this openness about such things, I have asked people why they spit, and it is usually viewed as a healthy act--the traditional idea being that the fluids/humours are not in balance (too much/not enough yin, etc.) and that the spitting (rather than--er--swallowing) the excess stuff is a way of getting rid of that imbalance. In essence, what a Westerner may view as making a city less healthy by spreading germs is viewed by the spitter as promoting good health (within him/herself). Interestingly enough, bystanders do not seem to notice or respond to the spitters . . . a response more along the lines of the Western (non) reaction to somone sneezing lightly on a busy sidewalk.

This is combined with other ideas about the origins of sickness that are quite a departure from what is now accepted as fact in the West: most of my Chinese friends will tell me, with absolute certainty, that walking on a floor with socks (or, worse yet, barefoot) will lead to developing a cold . . . germ theory clearly has not reached the masses here.

To respond, then, to previous posts: I don't know that the shame approach will take much hold, as spitters view what they are doing as a healthy habit. Major, widespread diseases are generally framed in the State-run media as "outside invasions" (i.e., having originated in other countries and brought in--sometimes intentionally--to do harm to the Motherland). When SARS hit here in 2003, there were a few propaganda posters that addressed spitting, but people generally ignored those . . . opting, instead, to buy vinegar in mass quantities due to its supposed preventative qualities.

The whole "saving face" idea is interesting, though it seems that much "face" in the larger, Eastern cities (Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou) involves possessions, particularly in terms of real estate. Perhaps the loss of an apartment after 7 (!!! really? seven???) spitting violations would be the ultimate loss of face, since it strikes directly at the core of what gives people status in today's China.

In the end, though, I would say that those with the most invested in real estate tend not to spit as much as those with less to lose. There's definitely a generational piece (those 50 and older tend to spit far, far more often--and more impressively--than the 20-somethings) as well.

In the end, this seems like a simple, cheap, headline-grabbing way of raising awareness. Can you imagine, in practice, the nervous family, sending Dad out the door to go to the market when he already has six violations, hoping his chronic spitting goes unnoticed by authorities--thus leaving them homeless?

It doesn't make much sense, now does it?


Christopher Strom

Gee...and just a few years ago we thought the hefty several-hundred-dollar spitting fines in Singapore were draconian.

How quaint.


@ #4: Japanese smoking figures are way above the US, and yet here there's almost no public spitting whatsoever. Japan is like the US 10-15 years ago in terms of smoking.

Cheers to Craig for a little insight into the Chinese mindset.