Echoes of Cultural Revolution as China becomes a 'no-fly zone'

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The Independent US

It's a bad time for cockroaches, flies, rats and other vermin in China. With the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing nearing, hygiene has forced its way on to the national agenda and improving China's image for cleanliness has become a national obsession.And collecting dead flies can earn you good money.

A suburb in central China's Henan province has set a bounty on dead flies in an attempt to promote public hygiene. The district of Xigong, which is in the city of Luoyang, paid more than 1,000 yuan (£65) for about 2,000 dead flies on 1 July, the day it launched the scheme with the aim of encouraging cleanliness in residential areas.

And in April, a Beijing restaurateur, Guo Zhanqi, said he would buy flies for two yuan, about 13p, each to help clean up the city for the Olympics. Mr Guo is giving cash to anyone who presents him with the dead insects.

"No flies, new Beijing. No flies, great Olympics." This is Mr Guo's slogan, a clever take on the Beijing Games slogan in Chinese.

"There were always a mass of flies around the entrance to my restaurant, and no fewer inside. It was extremely disgusting," Mr Guo, 60, told the China Daily. "Buying flies is not my ultimate purpose. I want everybody to start killing flies."

The Luoyang payment scheme is being given national coverage because it is the first of its kind in a city of 1.55 million people which is striving to earn the title of "state-level hygienic city".

"My colleagues and I believe it is the best way to push residents to do more for their living environment," a local spokesperson, Hu Guisheng, said.

However, some locals feel public funds are being misused and have questioned the wisdom of paying 0.5 yuan (3p) per insect turned in. The campaign in Luoyang has prompted a lively debate on the internet and one blogger said that although the office clearly was acting with good intentions, the action itself had made the district a laughing stock.

"The key point is the government should encourage residents to clean up the environment so that no flies can live there, instead of spending money on dead flies," the blogger said.

The forthcoming Olympics, which start at 8pm on 8 August 2008 (eight is a lucky number in China), have led to all kinds of ground-breaking initiatives in the capital. There are efforts to stop people spitting, littering and queue-jumping and taxi drivers are being told to learn English. Billboards advertising overtly capitalist pursuits are disappearing from the city.

The anti-pest campaigns are very much in the mould of Chairman Mao Zedong's campaign against the "Four Harms" in the 1950s, which targeted rats, sparrows, flies and mosquitoes. Citizens were given strict instructions to kill them and the campaign became famous because the efforts to control the vermin involved banging pots and pans to scare sparrows into flight and have them eventually drop to earth dead from exhaustion.

Sparrows were eventually rehabilitated because without them, locusts and other farm pests thrived and were wiping out thousands of acres of agricultural produce.