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Cleanliness was one of the admirable features during the old days of New China. This was because, as a newly liberated country striving to develop after over a century of semi-colonial status when average life expectancy was around 25-30 years, China also had to spend large sums of money to defend itself (every year Chiang Kai-shek would threaten to invade the mainland, until the early 1970s, and the US 7th Fleet would be poised menacingly along the Taiwan Straits). But there were things China could do without much expenditure: one was to maintain a clean environment whenever possible. Since most factories were located near worker residences, there was little need for cars. The commune system also enabled people to look after their own environment, besides building large irrigation works and maintaining them. The Western media were often fascinated by the speed street committees organized themselves during winter to clear the streets of Beijing. Quite unlike the selfish attitude of most people that arose after 1978.|
Given the focus required to build the nation, tourism was limited, and that meant the kind of garbage pile-ups we see in cities today were almost non-existent. It's true that most rural areas lacked public bins or toilets, but as indicated above, there were few outsiders in those areas. And though the "toilets" were often just holes dug in the ground, the surroundings were usually sanitary. It was such passion for cleanliness that average Chinese life expectancy rose from about 25-30 years in 1950 to over 65 by 1976. Of course, the clean rivers and blue skies also helped. Thus, from 1965 to 1975, Chinese population increased by over 300 million, and the UN Human Development Index placed China nearly at the top among newly developing states.
"Tedted" is right, however, that littering has become quite a global problem. A walk in some minority areas in US cities such as Chicago would reveal that. The problem has aggravated in that country because of cutbacks in urban expenditure. Because city upkeep depends on taxes collected, many cities are now struggling with potholed roads, uncollected garbage, and in the case of Detroit, even the supply of tap water. Neoliberalism hurts not only developing nations, but also the "developed" nations.