I’m always amused when people use “ancient Chinese ____” to imply that some miracle cure or rules about how to situate your house is grounded in wisdom.

It might or might not, but one look at modern China finds a population still steeped in ancient superstition such as lucky numbers, unlucky colors, etc.

Then there’s the question of good manners.

America’s friendly people stand out to foreigners. Example: a German woman told me last summer that when she was visiting with her elderly mother, who required a walker, people were always offering to help by opening doors, etc. “That never happens in Germany,” she said. It’s ironic that communitarian societies often exhibit more selfishness.

But China? 5,000 years and they still working on getting people not to push and shove.

Te Ping-Chen in the WSJ

BEIJING—Here in China’s capital, riding the city’s sprawling subway can sometimes be a contact sport. Morning rush hours turn into mosh-pit-like scenes in which riders compete to board packed trains. Shouts and curses ring out. Elbows are thrown. Occasionally, passengers who squeeze their way in are flung out again by the crowds.

Now, as President Barack Obama and other world leaders descend on Beijing for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit next week, authorities have launched a behavior-modification campaign: A contest to promote grown-up deportment onboard.

Started this summer, the “Be a Splendid Beijinger and Welcome APEC—Civilized, Polite Passengers” competition aims to identify and honor the top 100 best-behaving bus and subway passengers. It’s a kind of “China’s Next Top Model,” except for public transportation.

Some 40,000 residents have entered to win. Many did so by filling out forms that asked them to explain their “accomplishments” as riders.

Others were handpicked by the more than 8,000 yellow-jacketed guides, mostly elderly retirees, Beijing has deployed to encourage more-orderly behavior at bus stops and subways.

Photos of contestants are hung on posters during rush hour across the city’s subway and bus stations. The prize for winners, to be named later this month, includes a subway pass with about $10 of stored value, and a certificate of honor.

“We have some good passengers at our stop here at Xicheng,” she said. She cited one of her favorites, a 75-year-old former military official who makes a point of letting other passengers board first and has been known to bring green bean soup to guides.

“But who knows how good the passengers are over at Dongcheng?” she added, referring to another district.

Clutching a loudspeaker on a recent chilly day, she recited a mantra she had penned in honor of APEC, which she and other guides chant for commuters: “I try, you try, together we work hard for a civilized Beijing. I’m gifted, you’re gifted, together we make our harmonious society even more splendid!”

Harmonious?