Prepared by Alan Singer
In the 1950s and 1960s the revolutionary communist-led government of China enlisted elementary school-age students to educate adults about the need for public health measures. The Chinese campaign against spitting in public was actually not new or communist inspired. In the late 19th century, as immigrants poured into
overcrowded urban areas, tuberculosis bacterium (TB) was responsible for a pandemic that caused the death of one in seven people in the United States
and Europe. It New York City, spitting on a public conveyance was made illegal in 1896 and spitters were subject to arrest and a fine of up to fifty dollars. Signs were placed in street cars and on the subway system warning that spitting spread TB.
When the signs proved to be an inadequate deterrence, health officers, known as the Sanitary Squad, conducted random raids at subway stations arresting hundreds of scofflaws. The city also launched public health campaigns distributing flyers
and schools were enlisted to educate children about the spread of the disease.
This play was performed on street corners in Hangzhou and Shanghai by Young Pioneers, children between the ages of nine and thirteen. In the 1950s and again during the Corona virus pandemic today, China uses poster art to teach
public health lessons. Classes can act out and discuss “Do Not Spit at Random” on Zoom. This version of the play is from a New York City multicultural curriculum package (1967).
Questions for discussion include:
- Who are the Young Pioneers?
- In your opinion, why are they involved in the public health campaign?
- What are some of the arguments and social pressures used to make the Passer-By clean up the spit?
- If you lived in China at that time, would you have joined the Young Pioneers? Explain.
- Do you think student plays like this one would help in the current Corona virus pandemic?
As a follow-up, students can write their own plays teaching people how to be safe during the Corona virus pandemic and create public health posters.
Do Not Spit at Random (188u-yao sui-ti t’u t’an) by Fang Tzu
Setting: Street corner of Hangzhou, China, the early 1960s. A young girl Pioneer with a megaphone comes out from a crowd in the street or from among the audience in a theater.
Young Pioneer (Hsiao-Ying)
Passer-By (Ch’em Jung-fa)
One of the Crowd
YOUNG PIONEER. Dear uncles and aunts, please do not spit at random. Spitting at random on the ground is a most deplorable habit. It helps to spread germs and disease, and so may affect our health harmfully. Dear uncles and aunts, if you want to spit, please do so into a cuspidor. If there is no cuspidor at hand, then spit into a handkerchief.
PASSER-BY (walks across a stage with a briefcase, makes noise as if going to spit).
Hmm …hawk…choo! (Spits phlegm on the ground.)
YOUNG PIONEER (seeing the passer-by spit, hurries away from the crow to overtake the man, or leaps onto stage from below). Uncle, uncle, don’t spit on the ground. Please rub it away with a piece of paper.
PASSER-BY. My young friend with the cuspidor so
far away, where do you think I should spit.
YOUNG PIONEER. You can go up to the cuspidor. It’s only a few steps away.
PASSER-BY. I’d have to go there and come back again. How do you think I am going to catch my bus?
YOUNG PIONEER. Uncle, don’t you know there are many germs in spittle? When it dries the germs will be scattered everywhere, and, by breathing the air, people may be infected with such diseases as typhoid, diphtheria, tuberculosis –
PASSER-BY. I am not a tubercular. So there cannot be any germs in the phlegm I coughed out.
YOUNG PIONEER. It is a social obligation to refrain from spitting at one random. If everyone spits and insist that there can be no germs in what he has spat, how can we be patriotic and keep ourselves in good health?
ONE OF THE CROWD (speaks from the crowd or from the audience, in a theater). Rub the spittle away quick! (A large crowd gathers around the passer-by)
PASSER-BY (irritated). Hmm. You want me to squat there and rub away the spittle? But I have no time for that. Besides, I’m not used to doing that sort of thing. (Prepared to go.)
YOUNG PIONEER. Uncle, uncle, don’t go. I haven’t finished with you yet.
PASSER-BY. I have to go home now to my dinner and have no time to carry on a conversation.
ONE OF THE CROWD. Hey, you come back here! There can’t be a more unreasonable man than you.
PASSER-BY. How so?
YOUNG PIONEER (offering a piece of paper). Uncle, please rub it away with this piece of paper.
PASSER-BY. I won’t do it!
YOUNG PIONEER. How can you refuse to carry out a social obligation?
PASSER-BY. Are you lecturing me?
(Here a number of actors come out of the crowd to speak, or speak from among the audience, or some may go up on the stage.)
CROWD. What? You are trying to assume airs? Don’t argue with him. Call the police. Police! Comrade police!
PASSER-BY. I won’t rub it. I promise not to spit again.
CROWD. Comrade, what is your unit?
PASSER-BY. That’s none of your business
CROWD. Why isn’t it my business? When you refuse to carry out a public obligation, everyone is entitled to criticize you.
PEOPLE’S POLICE (enters). What’s happened here?
(At this moment the crowd becomes larger.)
CROWD. He spat at random and refuses to accept criticism. He would not listen to the advice of a child. And he’s such a big man. He is no better than this child. And he is a Party member too! Probably a backward one.
PEOPLE’S POLICE. All right, it’s clear to me now. (Addressing the crowd.) Comrades! What do you think we should do with such a man?
CROWD. He should be criticized and fined. He should be made the subject of a wall newspaper. A cartoon should be drawn of him for all to see. He should be taken to the police station.
PEOPLE’S POLICE. Oh, well, if you will not rub it away, I’ll do it for you. But, first of all, may I know what unit you belong to?
PASSER-BY. As for that – (The voice of a middle-aged woman is heard offstage calling someone.)
MOTHER. Hsiao-ying, Hsiao-ying!
YOUNG PIONEER. Oh, Mama!
MOTHER. There you are. We’ve been waiting for you a long time. The meal is cold. Won’t you hurry home to your meal?
YOUNG PIONEER. I haven’t finished my work yet.
MOTHER. Work? What sort of work?
YOUNG PIONEER. Someone has spat on the ground and refuses to accept criticism. Unless he cleans it off, I am not going to let him go.
MOTHER (recognizes the passer-by). Oh, is that you, Comrade Ch’en?
PASSER-BY. Er – es, it’s me, Teacher Wang.
MOTHER. Hsiao-ying, who is it that refuses to accept criticism?
YOUNG PIONEER. Mama, there he is.
PEOPLE’S POLICE (addressing mother). Comrade, do you know which unit this comrade belongs to?
MOTHER. He is the accountant of the cotton mill. He is Comrade Ch’en Jung-fa.
PEOPLE’S POLICE. Good, thank you. (Addressing the passer-by.) I think there’s only one way now.
(Draws a circle round the spittle on the ground with a piece of chalk and is about to write down the name of the passer-by and the unit to which he belongs.)
PASSER-BY (frightened). Comrade, don’t! Don’t write down the name of my unit! (Addressing the crowd.) Comrades and my young friend, please pardon me this once. You may write my name there, but please do not write the name of our mill too. Our mill has already signed a patriotic health pact.
PEOPLE’S POLICE. Yet you break the pact?
PASSER-BY. All right, I’ll clean it, I’ll clean it. I promise not to do the same thing again.
PEOPLE’S POLICE (to mother). Comrade, your child is really a good Young Pioneer, a young heroine for the elimination of the seven pests (mosquitoes, flies, rats, sparrows, and so forth) and for public health. If everyone eliminates the seven pests in earnest and maintains public hygiene as she does, our cities and the countryside will be rid of the seven pests sooner, disease will largely be wiped out, people will be healthier than ever, and the nation will be more prosperous and stronger.
MOTHER. Hsiao-ying, hurry home to your meal.
It’s already cold.
YOUNG PIONEER. Mama, my group leader isn’t here yet. I’ll go home when he come to relieve me.
MOTHER. Oh, well, I’ll have to warm the meal again anyway.
YOUNG PIONEER (speaking through megaphone and coming toward crowd in the street or toward audience in theater). Dear uncles and aunts, please do not spit at random. Sitting at random is a most deplorable habit.