Beijing Cabbies Ordered Into Uniforms for Games

By Jill Drew
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, August 2, 2008

BEIJING, Aug. 1 -- Beijing taxi drivers are the latest targets of the city's massive makeover and security campaign as it prepares for the opening of the Summer Olympic Games next week.

On Friday, yellow collared shirts and dark blue trousers suddenly became the required uniform for anyone behind the taxi wheel. Failure to wear the ensemble risks a $30 fine.

"The company demands we wear the uniform every day, to tuck the end of the shirt into the trousers and fasten the second button on the shirt," said a driver surnamed Song, who works for Capital Auto Taxi. "Some companies even demand drivers wear ties. I do not think it is a good idea because it is dangerous in late nights or early mornings. Bad guys will easily use it to tighten around our necks."

No detail is too small in the eyes of Olympic organizers determined to spiff up residents of the capital city and make a grand impression on visitors. First, officials cracked down on public spitting. Then, they took aim at those who cut in line.

Recently, they even issued guidelines on how ordinary Chinese should dress. Men should avoid wearing white socks with black shoes -- a very popular practice here -- and older women were advised to stay away from miniskirts. Millions of residents received pamphlets outlining these rules, which also included a prohibition on wearing pajamas while walking on the street, another popular practice, especially in neighborhoods for retirees.

Taxi drivers have been forced to do more than their share of cleaning up their act for the Olympics. Beijing has been ordering older, red-colored taxis off the road. Earlier this year, cabdrivers were forbidden to smoke while driving.

Now comes the uniform. Each driver was issued two sets recently. Song said that at his company, drivers who have worked for more than three years did not have to pay for the clothes.

A driver surnamed Zhao, who works for Huiyou Taxi, said his bosses told him the color of the shirt is called "glaze yellow," chosen because the color represents passion and hospitality.

Zhao was also issued a "Safe Olympics Information Brochure," which lists 10 "know-hows" for the Games. The first, he said, is to know how to protect the government's image and the city's honor.

"Do not talk about anything that will harm a safe Olympics or any country's dignity," he read. It also tells drivers to keep a close watch on anyone they suspect might be a "hostile element." That includes terrorists, devil worshipers, people who are extremely dissatisfied with the Olympic Games and crime suspects. Drivers are instructed to immediately report to the company leaders if they hear anything that might affect the security of the Games.

They are also given tips for how to confront a protester who tries to stop the taxi. "Positively persuade them, protect the car from damage, protect the safety of passengers, contact the police or choose another way to drive," Zhao said.

An elderly woman who would not give her name said she believed the behavior guidance was helpful. Sitting on a folding chair on the sidewalk near the popular Pan Jiayuan antiques market, she said, "This is really helpful for the image of Beijing. For instance, I used to spit in public. Now I know that I should use a paper tissue to spit and put it into the trash can."

Researcher Liu Songjie contributed to this report.

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