It's a sign of the times!!
One thing that has struck me since my arrival in China is the high level of instruction directed towards the general public in the form of anonymous signage in public places. Beijing Airport brought this to my attention with messages such as:
'Please lock the door for your own convenience' (Toilets)
'Please use the break to slow or stop the vehicle' (Suitcase trolley)
'Please hang your possessions on the peg' (Café)
So, the polite translation makes the idea less forced and more or a suggestion, but in essence, we are being told exactly how to use the devices made available to us. Even now, sitting on a train, I can see a diagram explaining how to sit on a chair! Obviously, I conformed all instructions being requested of me; not because of the sign, but because it was what I'd expect to do regardless.
So why the need to tell us exactly how to behave in public? Is it in the quest to become more developed? Perhaps. Although I have no doubt that the Chinese middle class would naturally make use of a coat peg, perhaps other Chinese citizens would not. So maybe China is striving towards an age where all Chinese will hang up their coats regardless of signs! Respect for your processions reflects a respect for yourself after all - And the Chinese enjoy respect as a nation, naturally. I know that I was hanging my coat up shortly after I started walking, because that is what I was taught to do* - Lucky me, born into a generation of coat-hanger-upper-ers. And maybe it will follow that the next Chinese generation will find a written request to use coat pegs as obscure as I have.
I spoke to Helen about my observations and she suggested the 'please lock the door' signs in the toilets were perhaps not as excessive as I'd first thought. Until fairly recently, Chinese public toilets were designed as open plan. Beijing airport (the beautiful beast of a building that it is), is naturally one of the first updated designs and now hosts locking doors, but not everyone in China is familiar with the system, so the reminder may help to keep the toilets to maintain their developed status.
Every now and then we have a conversation which reminds me; in some terms China is very much a developing country - it is not fully developed. Helen has spoken to many nationals about their economic growth and they proudly tell her that China is still growing ('We are not fully developed - We don't even have Facebook yet!' ). As you may be able to imagine, we did not take the latter statement lightly, however, I'm not going to talk about China developing a facebook on this blog, because I quite fancy getting home in 2 & ½ weeks time. Neither will I argue that the signs indicate a power-trip, someone on top getting off on the idea of telling everyone what to do. The truth is that although I was surprised at first by the level of instruction, I can see why it is perhaps necessary to complement such a fast growth in technology and design with encouraging the acceptance of new technology within Chinese citizens.
England also hosts a lot of signage. It's impossible to see an automatic door without the warning to keep our hands away from it (in China too). Wouldn't it be lovely to see in an age where these signs too are considered primary? I know that England is very much a fan of 'health and safety' and that most of us wouldn't keep our hand in an automatic door - sign or no sign. So it may be that we'll never escape the age of the sign, but I assure you, many of our cultural routines have been established enough for us to know it by rote, I think that is because we have developed more slowly and more steadily, so we adapt to changes in our culture as they happen.
This leaves me to conclude that China is very much a developing country, with many contrasting cultures. When a nation grows up so fast, it's only natural that the outsiders (e.g. rural folk, the older generation) will miss some of the changes. The best comparison I can think of is the self-check-out machines in supermarkets: still not everybody feels comfortable using them. Maybe we need to put up more signs to make them accessible?! Back to China - In my opinion, for the country to grow together into a developed country, it is necessary that the classes join together culturally, such as by making use of the new locks on the doors and coat pegs in cafes. This will tighten the gap between the 'developed' and the ever developing China.
*Those of you who know me reasonably well may recall my bedroom being an absolute mess most of this year and last year - and, ok, maybe I don't hang my coat up all the time if I'm running late, or if I'm feeling lazy… But I'm speaking about the general English public, and in this instance, perhaps its best only to include how students behave when they're at home!