Are There Any Gentlemen in China?
“Aiyaaa!” I exclaimed as a man stepped in front of me recently to take a bus seat that had just been vacated. The seat should have been mine but I wanted to give it to an elderly lady who was standing nearby. I waited for the man to look at me and then I pointed to the elderly woman who was also looking at me. The man’s face turned red and he quickly gave his seat to the appreciative lady.
Unfortunately, I have seen this situation played out again and again in China. It seems that Chinese men are too often lost in their own worlds and do not pay attention to what is going on around them. Hardly a day goes by that I do not witness elderly people, pregnant women, and children standing in front of young men who seem to be oblivious to their presence. If I am lucky enough to be sitting when this situation occurs, I will always jump out of my seat but not before I have waited a few seconds to see if any of the Chinese men on board offer their seats. That never happens.
I have even seen Chinese men shoving women out of the way in lines at train and bus stations. The concept of ‘ladies first’ is virtually non-existent in this country where ‘survival-of-the-fittest’ still rules. Most Chinese men that I observed are looking out only for themselves and act as if the people around them do not exist. I have witnessed men allowing doors to slam in women’s faces and jumping in front of women just to be the first to get on a bus. Just a few days ago, I yelled at a group of young men who boldy walked by a long line of people waiting to get on the bus. My admonishment did no good. As soon as the bus doors open, they jumped on and quickly took seats.
Last night, as I made the 45 minute bus trip from my school to my home, I observed that there were far more women standing than men. When a seat opened up, it was almost always a man who rushed to occupy it.
Fortunately, there are gentlemen in China; they are called women. The elderly, pregnant women, and children do have a chance to sit down because Chinese women always jump up and offer their seats to those in need. Compared to Chinese men, Chinese women are much more caring and unselfish. Chinese men act as if it is their right to sit down; they have no concept of ‘being a gentleman.’
This sense of entitlement on the part of Chinese men is a big problem in China. In a country where ‘manhood’ is still highly prized, however, such behavior is not entirely surprising. One child families – where parents and grandparents spoil their children ‘silly’ – produce millions of men who grow up believing that they are the kings of the world. After all, even well into their late teenage years, everything is done for them. Their mothers wash their clothes, cook meals for them, and their fathers pay for four years of university – the young men never have to work until the day they step out of the university. Students who I have spoken with on this issue admit to me that they were never taught how to have good manners by their parents. It simply never came up in a conversation.
“Westerns have problems with manners too,” a female Chinese friend reminded me recently. “There is no question, however, that the West could teach our men how to be better gentlemen.” What she said rang true. Just today in my university cafeteria, I watched as two French men cut in front of two dozen students who were waiting in line to pay for their lunch. No one complained. Regardless, I do believe that this problem among Chinese men is much worse than any other country that I have ever visited.
China’s overpopulated environment may promote an attitude of “every man for himself” but that is no excuse for the selfishness and utter lack of common decency that I witness almost every day on my way to and from work. While many such social problems may slowly fade away with China’s continued development, I fear that this particular issue needs special attention. Chinese women need to stop treating the men here like royalty and demand that they ‘wake up’ and pay attention to what is going on around them. Chinese men, for their part, need to stop acting as if they are the only ones who exist in China. China owes a great debt of gratitude to the elderly who have helped to bring China out of those dark years of oppression and starvation. Pregnant women deserve respect and special consideration because they are carrying the bright future of China. The least that men can do is to give these people a ‘lousy’ seat on a bus or train. Maybe someday, Chinese men might be willing to give up their seat for any woman who is standing.
So stand up Chinese men and be real men. Give your seats to those who need them and show us that you can be gentlemen.