BEIJING -- Take heed, rude Beijingers: Mind your manners, or someone else will.
Apparently frustrated by its limited success in persuading Beijing residents to stop spitting, act more courteously, and show a friendlier face to strangers in preparation for the 2008 Olympics, the Beijing municipal government has opted for a more top-down approach.
Starting next month, Beijing shopkeepers who vent their anger, act impatiently, glance at customers disdainfully or act absent-mindedly are in violation of the law. Also forbidden under the draft regulations are sarcastic or ironic comments, vague explanations, and grabbing customers to coerce them into buying something, according to a report released on a state media website last month.
As the capital of the Middle Kingdom prepares to play host to the world in a little fewer than two years, it's hoping law will trump centuries of culture.
"The ancient capital has produced residents with a reputation for generosity and big gestures, but it's also fostered a tradition of arrogance in Beijingers reflected in the commercial and service industry," the China News Service reported. "Complaints of bad service in Beijing are all over the Internet."
Song Xuelei, a 27-year-old student, said he applauded the idea. His pet peeve is getting dirty looks from shopkeepers when he's only window shopping.
But enforcing the new rules, which take effect Feb. 1, could be a bit difficult. "People get emotional," Song said. "Maybe the shopkeeper had a bad day. It's a bit hard to control. And I don't really think this is the government's business. We just need to change people's behavior over time."
Ivy Li, 30, an advertising executive carrying a shopping bag on a recent day, sees little need. "I've never met a rude sales clerk in Beijing," she said, expressing a view not widely shared.
In Internet chat rooms, comments appeared to be running roughly 90 percent against the new regulations.
"This is ridiculous," said an anonymous posting on Sina.com, one of China's largest Web portals. "No matter what rules you pass, Beijingers remain Beijingers."
The government report makes no mention of penalties, leading to speculation about how the regulations will be enforced. What will a consumer need to prove that he or she was wronged? Will a cell phone video clip become the supporting evidence of choice?
The real problem, some Internet users said, is state-owned stores with their lazy workers -- an illustration of how quickly ordinary complaints in China these days can morph into criticism of the government, especially in large cities.
"All stores should be private," one posting said. "Then maybe consumers would be treated like gods!"
As with the Soviet bloc, bad service was a Beijing fixture during decades of central planning.
"In the old days, many consumers used to keep quiet even if they weren't satisfied," said Victor Yuan, chairman of Beijing-based Horizon Research Consultancy Group, which does polling for the private sector and the party. "Increasingly, people feel they have the right to complain and demand better service."