Rapid Growth Blamed for Chinese Tourists' Behavior


2013.06.14
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china-hk-tourists-april-2013.jpg Tourists from mainland China sit outside a luxury brand store in Hong Kong on April 23, 2013.
AFP

Chinese tourists, who were recently castigated for bad behavior overseas by their own leaders, have gained a reputation for big spending on name brands and for whistle-stop bus tours that only provide Chinese food.

The recent carving of a Chinese teenager's name into an ancient Egyptian monument at Luxor and ongoing complaints in Hong Kong of uncouth behavior from mainland compatriots have sparked a wave of breast-beating online about the country's image overseas.

According to Chinese vice premier Wang Yang, mainland tourists "speak loudly in public, carve characters on tourist attractions, cross the road when the traffic lights are still red, and spit all over the place."

"It damages the image of the Chinese people and has a very bad impact," Wang told a meeting in May, calling on tourists to act as ambassadors for their country's overseas image.

A Hong Kong tour guide operator who gave only a pseudonym "Mandy" agreed with the vice premier.

"They smoke, and they get the entire bathroom totally wet, by leaving the taps running and not putting the shower curtain inside the bath," she said.

"They take electric kettles with them everywhere and boil water, even on the summit of the Jungfrau mountain in Switzerland, even though the water in Europe is safe to drink."

Anxious in a new environment

"They have their own way of doing things, and they won't accept anyone else's," Mandy said. "They say ... it's because of [the new] environment."

She said Chinese tour groups were often in a state of sustained anxiety while traveling and needed detailed guidance.

"They never give you a minute's rest, because they don't know anything, and they lose their sense of security once they get to Europe," Mandy said. "Only one in 10 of them are able to speak the language ... and they have to be told everything in minute detail."

Warnings given

Over the internal border in the neighboring city of Shenzhen, a travel agent surnamed Wang said that travel companies do their best to pre-warn Chinese tourists of the differences they would encounter before they go overseas.

"We issue them with a notice explaining that they must fit in with local customs and ways of doing things, as well as local laws," Wang said.

"We tell them not to ... speak loudly, to let their kids eat food on subway trains, and not to smoke in areas where smoking is banned," he said.

"We say that there are detailed rules of behavior in other countries, which we don't have here in mainland China," Wang said, adding: "But our tour guides have no way of forcing them to behave a certain way."

Rapid rise in prosperity

Some social observers blame the inexperience of Chinese tourists on the rapid nature of the country's rise to prosperity, while others say it is a symptom of an overall decline in moral values.

"In terms of its attitudes and worldview, China hasn't caught up with its own development," said Xia Xueluan, sociology professor at Beijing University. "That's why a lot of Chinese people behave in ways that can seem ridiculous to others."

"A lot of people feel that they have gotten rich, and they want name brands, they want to go everywhere on holiday, and they want to get a dog, or fancy cars," Xia said.

"But we're not trying to cover this up; it's all being brought into the open where it is being talked about."

Moral fabric 'in decline'

Xie Tian, professor of management at the University of South Carolina, said in a recent interview that simply calling on the population to "become more civilized" wouldn't work, however.

"The thing that destroyed traditional Chinese manners was the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976)," he said. "But things have got even worse in the past few years, because of the extreme materialism and corruption of the Chinese Communist Party, and the measures it takes to hold onto power."

"Under this atheist government, the moral fabric of Chinese society, its religious beliefs, and its sense of right and wrong, have pretty much disappeared, while Chinese social morals are in a very rapid decline," Xie said.

Not the only ones

But, as Beijing University's professor Xia pointed out, tourists from other countries have also been criticized or ridiculed for their collective behavior in the past, and the Chinese are simply the latest group to stand out.

And the thousands who criticized the 15-year-old tourist who apologized in person and online after he carved the words "Ding Jinhao woz 'ere" on the side of the 3,500-year-old temple in Luxor may not know that Ding is the latest in a long line of graffiti artists to deface the temple, including many prominent 19th century Europeans, who showed scant respect for the country they visited.

Many Europeans carved their names in the temple during colonial times, and the marks include apparent inscriptions by French poet Jean Arthur Rimbaud (1854/1891), British travel writer R.R.Madden, Scottish millionaire John Gordon (1884), and Royal Navy captain A.L. Corry (1818).

Reported by Pan Jiaqing for RFA's Cantonese Service and by Tang Qiwei for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

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