The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Wednesday, May 28, 2003  

Infectious Diseases Get in the Way of the Really Fun Stuff

Here's some good news for a change: There's less spitting going on in China.

Elisabeth Rosenthal writes in today's New York Times ("SARS Makes Beijing Combat an Old but Unsanitary Habit"):

In its battle against severe acute respiratory syndrome, China is tackling a unique challenge. Spitting is a longstanding Chinese tradition, and spitting potentially spreads SARS.

As a result, to supplement temperature checks and hand-washing posters, the Chinese government has contributed a new weapon to the world's war against SARS: little white plastic spit bags that are handed out in parks and malls, the hardware for a wide-scale antispitting campaign.

Last week on Wanfujing, a shopping street, volunteers dressed as Lei Feng, the legendary Chinese soldier and do-gooder, pressed bags into the palms of passers-by. At the gate of Bei Hai Park last weekend, pretty girls wearing sashes promoting the 2008 Olympics staffed a table where bags were dispensed.

The bags read: "Spitting on the ground is dangerous to your health, and spit contains infectious diseases. But with one small bag in your hands, your health will always be invincible."

Invincible? Isn't that overstating the protection offered by a Baggie? Who wrote that? The same people who write for fortune-cookie makers? (Most memorable fortune: "Toreador pants make your legs look fat too.")

Apparently, one may still spit in China, it's just a matter of where:

[N]o one is suggesting that spitters give up the habit altogether, just that they avoid spitting on the ground. For most older Chinese men, phlegm is regarded as an unavoidable byproduct of heavy smoking and pollution, and it is taken for granted that it must go somewhere. The government recommends that phlegm be spit into a tissue or a spit bag and then thrown in a bin.

"I used to spit," said Lu Xiufeng, 68, a retired machinist in Bei Hai, with a stubble of gray on his head and on his chin, "but not anymore, since we are paying a lot more attention to ordinary hygiene. You wait and then use a tissue when you have to spit."

Hang in there, Xiufeng. We know you can do it. Besides, invincible health awaits you.

[Ed.: Thanks to Professor Pinkerton.]

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