Chinese get guide to polite conversation

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The Independent Online

When in doubt, don't ask. That's the etiquette message being transmitted to the people of Beijing ahead of the Olympics next month – sex, religion, age and wage are all taboo when it comes to dealing with foreign tourists. The propaganda department of the city centre Dong-cheng district has issued a list of "eight don't asks" as a guide to showing hospitality.

"Don't ask about income or expenses, don't ask about age, don't ask about love life or marriage, don't ask about health, don't ask about someone's home or address, don't ask about personal experience, don't ask about religion or politics, don't ask what someone does," the poster reads.

Dongcheng district is home to some of the city's top tourist sites, including Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. It is also the location of the Beijing Workers' Gymnasium, the boxing venue for the Olympics.

The campaign is the latest stage in efforts to improve behaviour ahead of the games, which run from 8-24 August. With the eyes of the world on the Chinese capital, the organisers want to showcase China as a modern international city. Half a million tourists are expected in Beijing for the games.

The measures have included a campaign to stop people jumping queues, spitting, littering and also speaking loudly. Certainly the campaign has improved manners on the streets – there has been a big reduction in the amount of loud throat clearing and hawking, for example.

This was proven by Renmin University's "Civilised Behaviour Index", which rose to 73.08 last year from 65.21 in 2005 as people spat and littered less.

Earlier this month was the final "queuing day", the end of a two-year campaign, which took place on the 11th day of each month to improve manners and encourage people to stand in line in public places such as bus stops and train stations.

Taxi drivers have been told not to sleep in their cabs, to change their shirts regularly and say "thank you" and "bye bye".

But there have been teething troubles along the way. In May, Beijing organisers had to apologise for a training manual issued to thousands of Olympic and Paralympic volunteers following complaints about inappropriate language used to describe disabled athletes.

And there were few signs of politeness when the last Olympic tickets went on sale yesterday – police struggled to control crowds of more than 50,000 people, and a Hong Kong journalist at the scene was detained.

Protesters are told where to go

Those wanting to protest at the Beijing Olympics will have to do so politely and while confined to one of three specially constructed "protest pens".

The zones are designed to, "ensure smooth traffic flow, a nice environment and good social order," insisted Liu Shaowu, security director with the organising committee.

He refused to say whetherprotesters had to abide by the usual strict laws in China, which require them to apply for permission five days in advance. Mr Liu said the zones would be set in three parks in the capital, which are all more than six miles from the games venues. The Olympic charter bans any kind of protest at venues used by the games.