Chinese tourists: are the world’s biggest spending travelers uncivilized?

Chinese tourists

I have yet to witness a Chinese tourist defecating in London’s Piccadilly Circus or Piazza San Marco in Venice.

Nor have I eyeballed a Chinese traveler taking a leak in New York’s Time Square (though someone did because the whole city smells like urine).

Sure, I don’t exactly go to those places every day, but just because I haven’t seen it doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen.

Take Paris, for example. Apparently, uncouth visitors from China just can’t hold it when they venture to the City of Lights. A sign outside the Louvre Museum—only in Chinese characters—forbids people from urinating or defecating wherever they want, according to a story in Quartz.

Bodily functions aside, Chinese tourists have recently found themselves at the center of controversy and anger.

Thanks to microblogging sites in China, accounts of tourists behaving badly spread like wildfire across the country, provoking disgust, ire and soul-searching, said Reuters.

“Objectively speaking, our tourists have relatively low-civilized characters,” said Liu Simin, researcher with the Tourism Research Centre of Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. “Many Chinese tourists are inexperienced and unfamiliar with overseas rules and norms.”

The problem of bad behavior is big enough—embarrassingly so—that China’s leadership is concerned.

Chinese Vice Premier Wang Yang called on his nation’s tourists to improve their behavior, stressing it was important to project a “good image of Chinese tourists,” official state media outlet Xinhua reported. Wang called certain Chinese tourists “uncivilized.”

“They make a terrible racket in public places, scrawl their names on tourist sites, ignore red lights when crossing the road and spit everywhere. This damages our national image and has a terrible effect,” Wang said.

Ground zero for the most recent wave of furor appears to be the east bank of the Nile River in Egypt, where last week a 15-year-old Chinese boy took it upon himself to etch “Ding Jinhao was here” on the side of Temple of Luxor, a 3,500-year-old, priceless treasure of Egyptian antiquity. The vandalism was universally condemned by international media.

That said, the young graffiti artist’s indiscretion is only the most recent in a litany of reports from abroad about the ways in which Chinese tourists have managed to offend the locals, noted Peter Ford of the Christian Science Monitor.

“If it’s not Hong Kongers sniffing at a mainland mother encouraging her young son to urinate into a bottle in the middle of a restaurant, it’s Balinese complaining about brash Chinese tourists making too much noise, or Thai Buddhists offended by immodestly dressed Chinese female visitors to temples,” said Ford.

Big picture, China is on the cusp of the mother of all travel booms. As widely reported, 83 million Chinese travelers spent US$102 billion last year (up 40 percent from 2011) to blow by Germans as the world’s biggest spending travelers. According to The Diplomat, 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.

What that says is that there are sure to be many more reports of Chinese behaving badly. Wang placed the blame on “the poor quality and breeding” of many Chinese.

It should be noted that Wang making comment on something as bizarre as tourist behavior is akin to U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, Jacob Lew, harping on Americans for speaking loudly to non-English speakers in English or assuming women want to sleep with you because you’re from the U.S.

Liang Pan, a Chinese national studying in New York, comes to the defense of travelers from China, recently writing in the Tea Leaf Nation blog that due to China’s low per capita income level and foreign countries’ rigid visa policies towards Chinese citizens, for many Chinese, an overseas trip is still a once-in-a-lifetime luxury.

“People usually don’t spend fortunes and endure bureaucracy just to behave themselves or be ‘civilized,'” he said. “It’s more Spring Break than it is a museum visit.”

Thinking back to my college days, that explains a lot.

About the Author

The Corner
The Corner has a team of on-the-ground reporters in capital cities ranging from New York to Beijing. Their stories are edited by the teams at the Spanish magazine Consejeros (for members of companies’ boards of directors) and at the stock market news site Consenso Del Mercado (market consensus). They have worked in economics and communication for over 25 years.

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