The New Life Movement (Xin shenghuo yundong 新生活運動)

Recent concerns over corruption, low morale, and the civic standards echo past anxieties. The plans of the Central Guidance Commission for the Building of Spiritual Civilisation for creating a civilised contemporary Chinese society share many of the efforts and goals outlined in the New Life Movement that Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek (1887–1975) launched in 1934. Influenced by Chiang’s newfound Christianity and decades of missionary efforts in China, the movement aimed to regenerate the nation by ‘rectifying’ and strengthening the lives of Chinese people who had been ‘polluted’ with Communism.

The Movement promoted eight qualities: orderliness, cleanliness, simplicity, frugality, promptness, precision, harmoniousness and dignity. People were to demonstrate these virtues in the key aspects of everyday life: shi 食 (food/eating), yi 衣 (clothing or dressing), zhu 住 (housing/living) and xing 行 (behaviour/action). Aiming to ‘substitute a rational life for the irrational’, Chiang also announced a long code of behaviour based on the four cardinal Confucian virtues of li 禮 (propriety or decorum), yi 義 (uprightness or righteousness), lian 廉 (integrity or honesty) and chi 耻 (the sense of shame). Propagandists and movement activists admonished people not to spit, urinate or sneeze in public. They were to adopt good table manners and not make noises when eating. They should avoid pushing and crowding, behave in an orderly manner in public, not smoke, laugh or talk loudly on boats or buses, and observe many other detailed injunctions concerning cleanliness and polite behaviour.