Implementation’s always the hard part for governments. What if the law is good, but no one follows it?

It is particularly hard in China, where – is it anarchy flowing in the air, some freedom gene from the Mongols or Manchus, or just ‘ Chinese culture’ – in any case, people rarely follow the rule.

Some will think – yeah, these Chinese guys are cool dudes, fuck the police, I’ll do what I want, and if you don’t like it, I’ll kick-knock you down.

But if nobody follows little rules – why would people follow the big ones? And if no one (police, neighbours, or passer-by) says anything about small things, why would they for the big ones? And would you be comfortable turning to the State for protection, when you’ve been breaking the law yourself, even in small things, as a matter of habit – and the State let you?

At work, and in daily life, students and Chinese friends were all unanimous – nobody cares about regulations. All agreed, too: this doesn’t lead to more freedom. Rather, it may breed that sense of constant fear that comes from living under arbitrary power. If you can break the law, someone else can – and it’s not protecting you from others, or the State.

To rule its people in these little everyday things, the Beijing government tried another approach: Chaoyang girl. This manga character encourages people to be clean, polite, and overall civilised.

According to Jacques Gernet, China traditionally relied on customs and social control – rather than the law – to police behaviour. People were not so much punished for doing what’s wrong, as encouraged to do the right thing by thousands of little social pressures. In line with that tradition, Beijing put up an inviting female role-model to promote good behaviour on its walls, instead of signs of a male figure doing the wrong thing, with a diagonal red line over it.

Will it work? Who knows. But if not the parents, maybe the children – or if not, maybe the children’s children? Meanwhile, at least, it’s cute.


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