Yes, it would be easy to make fun of “Queuing Day.” Pathetically easy. On this day, observed for the first time on February 11 in Beijing, people are supposed (gasp!) to stand in lines before getting on buses, buying tickets, paying at check-out stands, etc. From now through the Olympics, the 11th of every month will be a queuing day. The old cornball jokes come to mind: There is the yokel who takes a bath every Saturday night whether he needs it or not, and there are people who stand in line on the 11th of every month whether they need to or not. On the 12th, things are back to normal.

But actually, I find this effort at social uplift strangely touching. A slew of recent articles in the state-controlled English-language media — that is, the official face China presents the world — have reflected anguish about getting “uncivilized” behavior under control by the time of the Olympics, or at least minimizing such behavior within Beijing, where the Olympic throngs of foreigners will see it. The melees that replace lines every day but the 11th, the counterpart behavior on the roads, and the extremely widespread habit of spitting big phlegm balls on the street as people walk or drive are the main targets of this campaign.

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The situation is touching because it’s so easy to imagine the family-scale counterpart: the young lady who loves her uncouth relatives but begs them, please, can they refrain from belching and farting when her fiancee’s snooty parents come over for dinner? This is hard enough to pull off within one family (I think of Chevy Chase and Randy Quaid in the National Lampoon “Vacation” movies). Imagine trying it on a billion-plus people.

His willingness to accept such Quixotic challenges for national improvement is why my hero of the moment is a Shanghai official named Ye Junyi. “It is a huge challenge to every member of society,” Ye was recently quoted as saying about the chaos of the roads. The newspaper report about Ye added: “He was especially incensed at motorists who fail to yield to pedestrians in crosswalks, singling out cabbies as among the most flagrant violators. ” My reaction is: you mean, they’re supposed to yield?

This country is trying to get a lot done all at once.

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