In recent days a growing number of reports have come online, documenting a significant sociological transformation taking place around the globe: the meteoric rise of Chinese tourists.
That means lots of money: 83 million travelers spent $102 billion last year alone (up 40 percent from 2011) to knock Germans off the pedestal as the biggest spending travelers. Expectations are that some 100 million citizens from the People’s Republic will venture abroad by 2015. For perspective, only 10 million Chinese went overseas in 2000.
This dramatic rise is also in evidence in a number of recent reports suggesting that Chinese travelers have replaced the “ugly American” prototype with what The Atlantic Wire has dubbed the “Ugly Chinese Tourist”. While the moniker is convenient, anecdotal evidence seems to back it up to an extent, as seen in the litany of offenses The Atlantic Wire has compiled here.
“I have heard friends talking about a large group of Chinese tourists visiting a cave in Thailand,” an anonymous Japan-based tour operator told The Diplomat. “They were smoking and shouting and annoying other visitors.” Other commonly cited complaints include: littering, ignoring dress codes in Buddhist temples, and drunken singing.
This trend was exemplified most notably last week when a 15-year-old Chinese boy took it upon himself to etch “Ding Jinhao was here” on the side of Egypt’s 3,500-year-old Luxor Temple. While the act of vandalism sparked a wave of condemnation among international media outlets, more telling was the backlash at home for Ding.
It began when a Chinese traveler posted a photo of the teen’s scribbling on the popular microblogging website Weibo on May 24, along with the message: “The saddest moment in Egypt. I’m so embarrassed that I want to hide myself. I said to the Egyptian tour guide, ‘I’m really sorry’.” The post was re-tweeted almost 90,000 times and provoked some 18,000 comments. Soon after, Nanjing netizens jumped on the young, now infamous, graffiti artist.
“Reading this disastrous news this morning is heartbreaking. I despise this behavior, especially in Egypt — the place I love,” wrote one micro-blogger. “Now, I just want to say ‘Sorry’ to Egypt.”
"It's a disgrace to our entire race!" added another.
In response, Ding’s mother weighed in, telling local newspaper Modern Express, “We want to apologize to the Egyptian people and to people who have paid attention to this case across China.”
The hapless middle school student may have learned his lesson, but he wasn’t the first. According to China Daily, other similar incidents whipped up controversy in March 2009 when a man from Jiangsu province carved his name in a rock in Taiwan’s Yehliu Geopark, and also this February when a visitor engraved their name in a cauldron at Beijing’s Palace Museum. Although the offender got away with it, the museum did its best to instill public shame by posting a photo of the marred artifact online. Xinhua documented some of the more shameless examples, including those just mentioned.
Ye Qianrong, a professor of Chinese studies at Tokai University in Japan, suggested the name carving urge may have roots in the Cultural Revolution when many students made their presence known in similar fashion in many places.
Whatever the reason, Beijing isn’t leaving things to chance. Enter Chinese Vice Premier Wang Yang, who urged compatriots to project “a good image of Chinese tourists” and advocated for the nation’s Tourism Law, set to take effect on October 1 and which will address issues like unfair competition, price hikes and forced goods purchases. Wang chalked up the bad behavior to “the poor quality and breeding” of many Chinese.
Wang cited some key behaviors he’d like to see curtailed: talking loudly, ignoring red lights when crossing streets, spitting – all of which he feels are giving China a bad rap. Officials tried to eradicate spitting prior to Beijing’s Olympics as well. As the Washington Post notes, even Deng Xiaoping tried to launch a spitting crack down in the 1980s.
Alas, some habits die hard. But not all is lost. There is a brighter side to China’s tourism boom – both domestically and abroad. We’ll look at that side of the story tomorrow.