MAMA, Mama, come and see!'' Minpu shouted to Betty. Minpu is usually the first one to open the front door. He goes down to the first floor to fetch the milk and the newspaper from our letter box. Betty and I were both working in the living room.
``Look what's on our door!'' That was Minpu's happy voice again.
``Weisheng zi jia (clean home), wuhao jiating (five-good family).'' I could hear Betty reading the characters one by one. Betty knows a little Chinese and she is learning more from Minpu every day.
Then I was also asked to leave my typewriter and go to share the happiness with the mother and son. On the green door were stuck two strips of pink paper and on each were printed four Chinese characters in red. This is the first time in the past 36 years that we have had something pink or red pasted on our front door. Once, there was a piece of white paper on our door during the Cultural Revolution, but I had been ordered to put it there, confessing that I was a ``monster.''
The story of the pink paper had begun a week earlier when I was asked to go to Apt. 401 in our building for a neighborhood meeting. We have such a meeting once a month on a weekday evening or Sunday afternoon. At an earlier meeting we had elected a committee and its chairman and chosen committee members for security (against burglary), sanitation, and mediation (solving misunderstandings or quarrels between neighbors or among family members). We had also elected a representative for women's affairs. At another meeting we had made a decision to have a bicycle-shed built and so now we don't have to put our bicycles in the corridors.
This time, as it was winter, the people in Apt. 401 were kind enough to invite their 17 neighbors to their apartment for the occasion, even though theirs is one of the smallest in the building. About 20 of us, including Lao Zhang, a mechanic in the college; Lao Sheng, head of the personnel department; and the college's vice-president, our next-door neighbor, were crushed into the little room.
Besides one representative from each family, Sister Li, a retired worker from the Neighborhood Committee, was there as usual. She is like a liaison officer and she brings us news and notices from the committee, informing us of any burglary in the district, telling the residents not to keep poultry at home. . . . Sometimes she helps to clean our lane. I have been to the neighborhood meeting many times. We usually take our own stools or folding chairs and sit in the courtyard in a circle. This time we all sat around a small table. To my surprise, there were candies, peanuts, and melon seeds on the table and it looked like a Chinese tea party. What for?
``Eat while talking,'' said the chairman with a smile.
``Who paid for them?'' I asked myself. Perhaps I was not the only puzzled one there, for, though invited, none of us stretched out our hands.
``I suppose I have to tell you how we got the things on the table.'' Sister Li must have seen how the representatives were feeling. ``I must first congratulate you.'' On what? ``You have done well!'' continued the liaison officer. ``You have won the title of `civilized apartment house' for this building because most of the families have been recommended as `five-good families.' '' She then took out of her bag a cream-colored plastic sign with Wenming lou (civilized apartment house) painted on it, and put it on the table. ``And you have been awarded 6 yuan [i.e. about $2]. Your chairman bought the candies with the money.''
``Oh!'' Smiles immediately appeared, followed by applause, and then talking, laughing, cracking, crunching. . . .
The meeting lasted about one hour. The good deeds of several people, including our son, were mentioned. Each family pays 10 cents a month to hire a woman to clean our courtyard and the lane, but we have to clean the stairs and the corridors in turn. Minpu cleans one flight of stairs and one corridor every day.
To be a ``five-good family,'' I gather, you must be law-abiding, be thrifty, respect your elders and look after the younger generation, have good relations with your neighbors, and keep your apartment clean and tidy. In Shanghai, which still has a serious housing problem, in many houses several families have to share a kitchen or even a bathroom! It is no news that an old couple has to share their room with their son and daughter-in-law with only a thin wooden board or even cupboards and trunks as a partition!
Obviously it is no easy job to have good relations with your neighbors or between relatives. As encouragement, the local newspapers often carry articles about good neighbors and good mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law. (But rarely about good fathers-in-law or sons-in-law! Why?)
The movement of ``five-good families'' and ``civilized apartment houses'' is reported to have started in Shanghai in 1981. Before the end of each year ``five-good families'' are recommended at a neighborhood meeting, then checked and approved by the Neighborhood Committee and the district government. There were 17,000 ``five-good families'' in 1982 and 120,000 in 1984. People say the number may have reached 600,000 in 1985.
Not only apartment houses are ``civilized.'' I have also seen plastic signs saying ``civilized unit'' outside some shops, schools, offices, or even railway stations. Probably the local authorities think this is a grass-roots way to influence the ethos of the whole society.
Betty and I wonder how we had the honor to be chosen but our family certainly is a very happy one.