It takes a special person to solve a special problem. The former soldier leading the campaign to stamp out spitting in Beijing may appear ordinary, but his dedication to his campaign goes above and beyond the call of duty.
Wang Tao, 35, was born in a village in North China's Shanxi Province, joining the army when he was 18 years old.
Wang Tao(left) persuades a peddler not to spit and invites him to be a volunteer urging customers not to spit on the street. [China Daily]
After leaving the army and working in a hospital in Hebei Province in 2000, Wang moved to Beijing, looking after retired workers of the environmental sanitation management bureau of Xicheng District.
Last year, however, his ordinary life took an unusual twist, following his decision to lead a campaign against spitting and littering.
He initiated the "Green Woodpecker Action", a campaign calling for people to volunteer to help keep the city clean and persuade residents to give up rude habits.
He also founded www.jintan.org, China's first website for information and discussion aimed at eradicating spitting.
"Sometimes I feel lonely and upset when I get an unpleasant look as I persuade a person to wipe their phlegm off the street," Wang says.
But something must be done to make a difference before the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, he says, "when Chinese people's behavior will be exposed before the whole world. It should be a pleasant image."
Wang began his campaign in May 2006, hitting the streets for the first time.
At places crowded with people including bus stations, Tian'anmen Square and the city's parks, he approached everybody who he saw spitting on the ground.
He would talk to the person and explain that his or her action was unhealthy and harmful for others, as well as for the image of the city and the country.
And he would then give the person a tissue and ask them to clean the spit up.
"If he refused to do it, I would do it," he said.
He said that most people are quite nice to him, accepting his advice and cleaning up their spit.
Some people could not understand what he was trying to tell them, while others would ask in confusion: "If I cannot spit on the ground, where can I spit?"
Others felt ashamed and became angry with Wang.
After working alone several times, Wang began looking for volunteers.
In the last six months, about 100 volunteers including students and retired workers have participated in 10 street campaigns led by Wang.
"I really appreciate his courage, determination and action in doing such a thing. Millions of Beijing residents may realize that spitting is wrong, but few of them stand up against it," said Wang Daoyuan, a student from Beijing Union University.
She has attended almost all the street campaigns, and holds Wang in high regard.
"It is very hard to change human habits. Some people stop spitting in front of volunteers, but do it again once we walk away," Wang said.
She and Wang noted that 100 volunteers are far from enough.
Beijing has at least 15 million residents, including five million migrants who have no registered permanent residence in the city.
"At one bus station, you can easily see dozens of people spitting on the ground in one afternoon," Wang Tao said.
Spitters come in all shapes and sizes, he adds, and even young people spit.