The Chinese have become so desperate for advice on the growing smoke, trash and noise in their capital city that they have enshrined the words of a visitor from a quiet little American city called Pittsburgh, Pa.
The leading national newspaper, the People's Daily, took the unprecedented step of printing a letter from William Blick, publisher of the Pittsburgh Post-Gizette, complaining that in his hotel he heard "the honking of horns from morning to night" and recommending a noise crackdown.
At the same time, in what may also be an effort to discredit Peking's mayor, the official Chinese press has decried growing pollution of all sorts in Peking. The official news agency, Hsinhua expressed the wistful hope that someday one could stand "on the white pagoda in the city's Peihai Park and have a clear view of the western hills" 16 miles away.
It is a dream that arouses skepticism in China, particularly in light of the enormous emphasis the Chinese leadership has put on catching up with the world's industrial giants by the year 2000. The Chinese admit admiring the economic miracles of Tokyo and Hong Kong, officially the noisiest cities in the world and among the most polluted.
"We are up to our ears in production work. How can there be time for environmental protection?" was one ill-tempered response to the new antipollution campaign by the People's Daily. The fervent environmentalists who write for the 5.5 million-circulation paper floundered in Marxist gobbledygook searching for an answer to this dilemma.
"These comrades fail to understand the dialectical relationship between the development of industrial production and environmental protection," the newspaper's commentator wrote. "If we do not view problems from the standpoint of the relationships between things and their development, and only pay attention to environmental protection, we will end up with no progress in production."
Although the city fathers say they are determined to launch a clean-up campaign rivaling the antipollution work done in London and other big industrial cities, their problem may not be as great or as closely related to industry. Perhaps the worst air pollution in China's capital comes from the dust that rises from the north China plain after each fall's harvest. By November the whole city seems in need of being taken outside and given a good shaking.
As the official press says, however, industrial pollution has also become a big problem. "The expansion of urban industry has reached a state of saturation" one article said. This supported the commentaries that have complained about the untreated industrial wastes that fould the Yangtze and Yellow rivers, and the coal burning that ruins the air of dozens of cities.
For a country with relatively few automobiles, urban noise is incredible. As Block complained in his letter the the People's Daily, the honking of car horns is incessant. "It is the same everywhere and is really unbearable," he wrote.
It seems unlikely that any one campaign can break Chinese automobiles and truck drivers of the habit of announcing their presence in a nation of bicycles by leaning on their horns. For some reason Chinese like to use horns instead of lights at night. A favorite sport is to try to pass a car that is passing a third car, while blowing the horn to warn oncoming traffic.
Some of the printed critiques of Peking pollution, like the one that blamed it on "a lack of down-to-earth working style on the part of the leadership" suggest that the real target here is the embattled mayor of Peking, Wu Teh. His problems stem from his former support for the disgraced faction led by the late chairman Mao Tse-tung's Ching, and have little to do with pollution, but he seems to be fighting back lately with articles praising the city for progress in moving factories out of town.
If pressed, Wu can always rely on an attitude prevalent in Peking and expressed by one former resident who was asked what he thought of criticism of litter in the city's streets.
"If you think that's bad," he said, "they ought to see Canton."