Propriety is a virtue that should be instilled in our younger generation, but hardly do we see it among grown-ups as well.
Recently I have had an unpleasant encounter with someone while I was visiting the Hunza Valley in northern Pakistan as part of a group affiliated with the Tsinghua University.
The person I’m referring to is a 40-year-old director of a filming crew from a mainland television station, who followed us day and night to cover our journey.
He was just a headache with all kinds of poor manners. For instance, he spilled bones onto the tablecloth instead of the plate. Worse, he didn’t flush toilet or wash his hands after using the washroom.
I didn’t bother to correct him as he seemed incapable of understanding his problems.
But when I could no longer put up with him, I stopped him from talking while everyone else was listening attentively to the principal during a school visit.
It was very impolite of him not to pay attention, and disturb the others.
Meanwhile, there’s no guarantee that people with high educational attainment would necessarily perform better in terms of manners and etiquette.
I vividly remember an occasion around 20 or more years ago at a memorial service for the June 4 massacre in Washington, D.C.
A renowned Chinese intellectual on exile in the United States was seen chatting with his friend non-stop on the stage while a speaker was delivering a speech. What an awful scene!
Traditional moral values and Confucius teachings that survived over a thousand years have been eradicated by the Communist Party during the Cultural Revolution in the ’60s and ’70s.
Since then ill-mannered Chinese tourists — be they government officials or ordinary citizens — have been the butt of jokes and the object of ridicule around the world.
What is propriety? It is all about respecting yourself and others. If you are considerate enough, you won’t talk loudly in public areas.
Following regulations and the system is also a way of showing self-respect.
The Shanghaiese painter Irene Chou once told me that there was an occasion where all pedestrians, except her and another person, ignored the red light and crossed the road.
In her opinion, it was simply wrong and rude.
Dignity has to be earned and it begins with self-respect.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on May 13.
Translation by Darlie Yiu
[Chinese version 中文版]
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