Opinion / Liu Shinan

Jaywalkers give up right to privacy
By Liu Shinan (China Daily)
Updated: 2006-05-10 06:00

As uncivilized habits like spitting and jaywalking have taken decades or centuries to evolve, it may take a very long period of time, though not necessarily decades or centuries, to completely change them.

Major Chinese cities have recently launched campaigns to chastise jaywalking and other conducts breaching traffic rules. Tougher-than-ever measures are being taken to punish these behaviours.

Starting from this Monday, Shanghai's traffic authorities will shoot pictures of offenders caught jaywalking and post the photos at their work units or in some selected public places.

A deputy director of the city's "Civilization Office" said the measure was "a move you don't hope to, but have to, take" to correct a "persistent habit."

The move caused debates among citizens. The opposition thinks it is an infringement upon the offender's right to privacy. Supporters regard it as a must, citing a traditional Chinese saying: "Severe laws are necessary for a society in disorder."

A survey by the sina.com website indicates that 77.72 per cent of the polled support the move, 19.42 per cent of them oppose it and the rest have "no idea."

I belong to the team of supporters. The argument for one's right to privacy is groundless in this case. When a jaywalker crosses the street before the eyes of all the people nearby, that person is giving up his or her right to privacy in regards to that action.

Of course, it is against the offender's will to expose the uncivilized act to more people, especially to his or her colleagues and other acquaintances. This, however, is exactly the most effective way to remedy the problem.

The Chinese treasure their reputations more than anything else. What a person fears most can result in an unforgettable lesson. And this cannot be called a serious violation of human rights. After all, an occasional loss of face is not too damaging.

Sometimes potent medicine has to be used to goad a chronic ailment. Age-old malpractices also need a strong shock. In this sense, the old saying "Proper limits have to be exceeded in order to right a wrong" may apply to the remedy of bad public habits like jaywalking and spitting. A drastic measure like exposing jaywalkers through images is metaphorical medicine, though it may constitute a slight infringement of the offender's right to personal image.

What I am concerned more about, however, is how long the "campaign" will last. Governments at all levels like to launch campaigns to address social problems. Many of the campaigns proved to be successful at the time but in many cases the problem resurrects because the campaign tailed off in the end.

Large-scale cracking down on pedestrians' violation of traffic laws has been launched many times during the past few decades but violation has become even more serious.

The problem is that each time a campaign was started, the authorities set up a certain goal for the campaign to reach before a deadline. Once the goal was reached, the effort slackened and jaywalking and running traffic lights became rampant again. Before the recent campaign, I didn't see any policeman trying to stop a jaywalker.

Shanghai media reported that the city's traffic authorities again set goals for the recent campaign.

By mid-June, the rate of pedestrians abiding by traffic laws will reach 90 per cent and "the rate will be kept till the end of the year."

I wonder what will happen next year, and later.

Email: liushinan@chinadaily.com.cn

(China Daily 05/10/2006 page4)