Squatting spat distracts from important issues

By Wang Xiaonan Source:Global Times Published: 2016-3-7 22:13:01

A picture of two girls squatting at a Shanghai subway station while waiting for a train has recently set off a firestorm of controversy over proper social etiquette.

The picture was taken and posted online by a Sina Weibo user who also put on a comment, "Maybe I am old and conservative in some ways. But I just don't understand why many girls are so ill-bred. How can they squat and wait in the subway station? Who taught them? What kind of habit is this?"

Public opinion is divided. Many Net users voiced agreement with the original poster. "It is inelegant to squat in public, especially for girls. Squatting ruins their whole style." "Squatting or eating in public is regarded as backwardness and I think people should stop doing that." Some claimed that non-Shanghainese girls prefer squatting, betraying a tint of regional discrimination.

Others defended the two girls. "They are really too tired. Even the police said nothing about it." "I don't think it's worth discussing. We are free to choose our waiting posture as long as we don't bother others."

Does squatting on the subway platform equal a lack of breeding? Traditionally, etiquette has focused on good manners in public places. In ancient China, Confucius advocated a spectrum of rites, including what you are supposed to do when greeting, complimenting, doing business, and even dining.

Manners matter in the West too. In Alfred Hitchcock's 1940 film Rebecca, the hero says that his wife "has the three things that really matter in a wife… breeding, brains, and beauty." It is apparent that breeding is a significant part in what constitutes a "cultured" woman.

Nonetheless, it is true that two women squatting in such a crowded public place lacks grace, but the posture is just too casual, at worst.

In rural areas across some central and western provinces, many people, especially men, are accustomed to squatting outside their houses while having meals, a centuries-old custom.

Nowadays, more and more women drink beer, which used to be deemed an offence against decency and is still regarded as something improper in most senior citizens' eyes. Should they be scolded?

We are living in a booming Internet era. With a smartphone and access to the Internet, everyone is a potential reporter and everything risks going viral. It is the original poster who should reflect on photographing the two girls and posting the photo online without their consent. Is it a kind of invasion of privacy?

Perhaps the best nurture is not to harshly judge other people or their behavior on a moral high ground. Breeding is something we use to restrain ourselves instead of making excessive demands of others.

It is a tragedy that apparently the only thing people are capable of discussing online in China at the moment, or that the media is writing about, is trivial issues of manners such as this.

Why aren't people or newspapers discussing important topics such as politics or social change, and instead turning to trivialities of no importance that nobody really cares about?

There are an overwhelming number of issues worth our concern and discussion, ranging from the unfolding refugee crisis across Europe, the current property bubbles blighting China's metropolises, to the plight of migrant workers and their left-behind children.

When spotting a flow of cars driving on the emergency vehicle lane amid traffic congestion, are you still interested in talking about whether squatting on a subway platform is rude or not? When we release more goodwill toward each other, the world will become a better place.

Just as a piece in your newspaper last week noted, "online venom betrays the poor manners of critics."

Wang Xiaonan, a Beijing-based freelance writer

Posted in: Letters

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