China’s a lot richer now than it was a few decades ago, and more and more of its newly-prosperous citizens are engaging in the ultimate leisure activity of the disposable-income class: international travel. But with 83 million Chinese hitting up the world’s tourist traps, a few are bound to embarrass themselves – and their nervous government. By SIMON ALLISON.
2013 has been an annus horribilis for the Chinese tourist abroad. First there was the incident in Hong Kong (yes, this still counts as international travel; Hong Kong is a different world from the mainland), where a Chinese mother let her son wee in a bottle at a table in a local restaurant, in full view of the horrified patrons. Now, I can sympathise with the little boy’s plight; the premium on space means that bathrooms can be hard to find in some parts of the city, but that’s not really an excuse for urination at the dinner table.
Then, in the Maldives, some hotels warned they would stop giving out honeymoon freebies because Chinese tourists kept taking advantage. Apparently, certain Chinese travel agents run a thriving trade in fake marriage certificates, meaning everyone can be a newlywed. Hotels reported that the oddest Chinese “couples” kept turning up at the free sunset dinners they offered – an elderly mother with her adult son, for example, or two women (whose marriage certificate could not possibly be real, given that gay marriage isn’t legal in China). Another hotel in the Maldives removed electric kettles from rooms where Chinese guests were staying, because the guests would use them to cook instant noodles and sometimes even shellfish.
But the final straw was in Egypt. The problem? Ding Jinhao was there, and made sure the world knew it by scrawling the fact an ancient Egyptian artwork in Luxor: “Ding Jinhao was here,” wrote the 15-year-old boy from Nanjing in words that are now immortal because cleaners can’t get them off without damaging the original (surely if you are going to deface a centuries-old bas-relief, you have an obligation to come up with something more original?).
The Chinese government is not happy with all this negative press, but it is finding it difficult to manage the sheer number of mainland tourists exploring the rest of the world. In 2012, 83 million Chinese made an overseas trip, becoming the world’s biggest travel spenders along the way ($102 billion). This is a tenfold increase from just a decade ago, and suddenly Chinese tourists are visible in almost all the world’s major tourist attractions. They’re also developing a bit of a reputation. It’s not a good one.
“Ugly American Tourists rejoice, you’ve been replaced by the Ugly Chinese Tourist,” writes Alexander Abad-Santos for the Atlantic. He explains how the sheer number of Chinese tourists, and their relative wealth, make them an inevitable target for unhappy locals. “More Chinese tourists traveling make Chinese tourists more visible, and that gives people around the world the templates to start a stereotype. And just like the Americans who were rude and demanding when the dollar was strong, so too are the Chinese.”
Just like the boorish Americans who preceded them, Chinese tourists are being labeled as loud, overbearing, arrogant and disrespectful of local customs. And they bring a few peculiarities of their own, most notably a predilection for spitting in public – a common practice on any Chinese street, but one that doesn’t translate so well in the rest of the world (also problematic is the relaxed approach of some Chinese tourists towards relieving themselves in public. The Louvre in Paris, apparently, has had to put up a sign in Chinese only requesting that visitors don’t urinate or defecate on the premises. (Can’t help but wonder how many times this happened to make the sign necessary).
In response to all this, the Chinese government is having to get tough. Deputy Premier Wang Yang warned that all China should be embarrassed by the behaviour of the some tourists: “They speak loudly in public, carve characters on tourist attractions, cross the road when the traffic lights are still red, spit anywhere and [carry out] some other uncivilised behaviour. It damages the image of the Chinese people and has a very bad impact.”
Wang blamed the “poor quality and breeding of many Chinese”, adding that it was up to government officials “to consciously obey social and public order and social morality, respect the local religions and customs, pay attention to their words and behaviour in the public, especially in the international environment, protect tourism resources and protect the environment.”
Fine words, sure, but impossible to enforce. Just like we’ve got used to the Boorish American (and we know that it’s non-representative stereotype), it looks like we’ll have to get used to the Uncivilised Chinese. DM
Photo: Chinese tourists pose in front of an Oktoberfest tent during their visit at the famous Oktoberfest in Munich September 28, 2012. REUTERS/Michaela Rehle
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