Who's responsible for Chinese tourists' poor image abroad?

What pretty scenery!
There's a growing sense that Chinese travelers are replacing Americans as the most undesirable tourists to encounter abroad. Of course, the evidence is mostly anecdotal, and according to some domestic media, things are actually improving.

In May, International Herald Leader, a globally-oriented weekly associated with Xinhua's Reference News, reported on the improving situation of Chinese tourists in Egypt:

[Tourist guide] Wang Xiaolong told this reporter that the behavioral awareness of Chinese tourists who came to Egypt had been getting better; there were far fewer incidents of loud voices and spitting than in the past....Chinese tourists have begun harmonious tourism alongside world travelers.

Positive developments notwithstanding, there is still a general feeling that Chinese tourists are not entirely harmonious when they go abroad.

In a June blog post that was recently republished in Wen Hui Bao, blogger Wu Fei looked for a root cause of the phenomenon:

On "Internal Image"

by Wu Fei

Whenever a foreign guest came during the Cultural Revolution, considerable pains were taken to change the appearance of life to present a scene of prosperity so as to prevent Antonioni-types from shooting images of backwardness with their cameras. These days, it's annoying to write about the past: when I mention Antonioni, I probably should add a footnote. Oh, well, I won't worry about it. I remember that when the communes assigned production teams to criticize "Antoni" (the "-oni" at the end probably made it too long so the peasants couldn't read it), commune members were not at all enthusiastic, because no one had any idea what movies "Antoni" had shot. Only the cities were fierce in their criticism, particularly the capital Beijing and those places that Anonioni's camera had swept over (of course, the reaction was overdone so that they could extricate themselves from any political relationship). There were endless big-character posters then, with focused firepower. Looking back now, you wonder to what degree the Italian film world was perplexed and alarmed at the scene of the Chinese criticism. If "Antoni" had been born in China, he'd have been "turned over to the masses," and his life would be over. Then a few years ago I was fortunate enough to see the true face of Chung Kuo, and there really wasn't anything wrong with it. I thought that Antonioni even beautified a China engulfed in the Cultural Revolution.

Those were real conditions of our homes shot by foreign devils with their machines. People sat at home and disaster descended down from heaven, and there was nothing that could be done. Last year, there was public discussion of "the image of Chinese tourists abroad," meaning the various uncivilized behaviors that Chinese people bring out for all to see when they went go overseas. I think that so-called uncivilized behavior abroad has nothing to do with fierce farmers and their shrewish wives out in the countryside, because our country's poor people don't have the money to leave the country to sightsee. I don't think I have to tell you what sort of person it is who can frequently go abroad to sightsee. I have a couple of friends who study the history of foreign thought and literature; their works are fairly influential inside the country, but they've never been abroad because no one's ever thought that they should know about foreign things - strange, eh? Then take a look at the how officials carp - they always say that they're dead tired and crazy busy, next week they've got to go overseas but the just got back a few months ago and they haven't even gotten over the jet lag yet. Las Vegas again - what's the point...?

So the "poor overseas image" comes about because there has been no move to cultivate a good domestic image. There's no difference between inside and outside the country - they're identical. Chinese people pay money to run off to spend a few days in civilized countries, where they throw trash everywhere, spit, scratch their toes, and talk loudly - their "true colors," right? Don't they do this at home, too? Or should they be twice as scrupulous and use a tissue to wrap up every hair that falls from their head so that it doesn't drop on the floor? Putting the rest aside for the moment, let's just talk about when you spoke at the meeting criticizing the "poor overseas image" of Chinese people - why did you speak so loudly? Why did your speaking voice get louder and louder? Would overseas officials present their reports like this? This topic was beaten to death long ago, but it looks like no one cares. The Chinese people have probably been so heroic and fierce since ancient times - who doesn't feel a sense of self-satisfaction standing at the entrance to town and rocking the people with their bellowing? Haven't some of today's cadres won authority and promotions through their "echoing voices"? People who make continual blunders are those who are habitually crude at home; when it's their turn to go overseas, they show off the home-style manners they brought with them.

Where do crude habits come from? Were they dropped down from heaven? Or are they flies that slipped into the country from abroad as things reformed and opened up? Neither. They are an accumulation of Chinese culture over the course of the ages, and they are in practice every day. Who among China's despots thought to let their subjects live with dignity and exercise their rights, who ever cherished the honor of the people? Despots only sought ways to lay waste to their subjects, to keep them from standing up, to prevent them having their own will and thoughts. This is the "old root" cultivated by autocratic culture. Consider: a people who bow immediately upon seeing an imperial edict, who kneel upon seeing an official, who are called "grass people," "black heads," and "cloth clothing," and who offer thanks for the benevolence of whoever gives them a good word - does such a people have any dignity? For example, when a county mayor goes to inspect a school, the principal will have young students stand out in the cold wind for two or three hours. Do people who are raised like this have any self-esteem? Can they feel anything but inferior?

At the Shanghai train station once, station workers and police were taking turns pushing passengers into the station, incessantly yelling "Faster! Faster! Faster!" It was still early, and this station was the train's initial point of departure. There was no need for them to spur passengers to run like that. I gently advised them not to push people, since in my opinion that action was degrading. I never imagined that a policeman would glare at me and snap back, "So what if I push them? Are you looking for trouble?" Evidently in their eyes passengers don't count for much. However, in another setting, police may also be in a weakened position. One evening I saw a line of police standing along several roads, one ever twenty or thirty meters. I asked curiously, "Who's coming?" The policeman said listlessly, "You think they'd tell me?" Comparing the two situations it's not hard to see that in a strict, hierarchical society, personal dignity is not guaranteed.

To cultivate an "overseas image," you must first respect the dignity of your own countrymen.

Even if Ah Q could become a county or city mayor, or an even higher official, without changing his bad habits, Young D and Whiskers Wang would still have no hope of becoming gentlemen in Weizhuang, for their every action would show off their true colors. Look at the annual group of fallen officials, or those bureaucrats who are certain to fall in the future. Who among them is a gentleman in his daily actions?

So to change the image of Chinese people abroad is not merely a matter that can be handled by passing out out "Notes for Going Abroad" to international tourists. It must be dug out at the root.

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There are currently 13 Comments for Who's responsible for Chinese tourists' poor image abroad?.

Comments on Who's responsible for Chinese tourists' poor image abroad?

"Las Vegas again - what's the point...?"

"To cultivate an "overseas image," you must first respect the dignity of your own countrymen."

Well said.

I still prefer the Chinese to the American tourists. Americans are still by far the noisiest. Anyway, I love American culture!

Here's a clip from youtube:
Chung Kuo

I have always been curious if the typical Chinese "bad behaviors" are present in other developing countries? Is this a cultural thing or just a matter of development? If my memory serves me correctly, when I was in Xinjiang I noticed a lot less spitting and littering than I would normally see in predominantly Han areas. Anybody else have any more insight?

Maybe it has something to with poster such as this one posted in the Guilin, China airport. It lists a set of behavioral guidelines for chinese tourists traveling internationally.

Some sociologists believe that civilisation is a process, Norbert Elias is one of those guys. Basically all societies evolve from let's say spitting on the ground to spitting in special pans to ostracising spitting....This particular case if I remember correctly was used for 18th, 19th century Germany. So China is just at a different stage....or rather they will get it sometime (if this top to bottom analysis is ok with you) :-)

However, just consider crossing the border from China into Vietnam. 30 years of communism did not destroy too much of the fabric there. People there I personally feel to respect each other more than in China. Ever noticed what a great change it is to be in those countries? It feels more civilised. So it is really down to Han.

I think one possible reason: The fact is that the Cultural Revolution and 30 years of hard core collectivisation in the Mao era totally eradicated what culture/values there might have been. That was what the socialist education movement and subsequent cultural revolution were all about. A new here you go. Population pressure and a total dog-eat-dog bureaucratic attitude to the public sphere has made it all worse.

It's just a matter of time and education, and setting higher expectations. About 10 years ago, a well-connected Chinese client who had just flown in from Guangzhou sat in my reception area and shaved with his portable electric razor while waiting for the conference to begin. He was oblivious of the receptionist and other attorneys walking past. Recently, he and I joked about that incident, and he couldn't understand how he could have done that at that time. Everything changes.

"if the typical Chinese "bad behaviors" are present in other developing countries?"
i have seen people spitting and littering in so called developed countries. of course you are gonna argue that we have fewer cases like that. but do remember that you have fewer people as well. so if you see one person littering in developed countries, you should expect to see 50 people littering in china.
stop acting like an ethnocentric critic.

btw, i dont get the point of the argument about why china has poor image of international tourists.

do hierarchy, bureaucracy, communism, collectivism and cultural revolution have anything to do with spitting and littering. does china educate people to spit and liter because it is a communist government? im apologize if chinese rednecks annoy you in your countries, but you guys have rednecks too. it is nothing to do with the country's image.

"im apologize if chinese rednecks annoy you in your countries, but you guys have rednecks too. it is nothing to do with the country's image. "---im chinese

'Chinese rednecks' as you call them don't have the money to travel abroad. I saw one of your high officials in D.C. spit on the stairs of the Lincoln Memorial...don't just blame it on farmers...I'm a farmer and I am not spitting on your places of honor.

Besides, my country embraces Rednecks...we love them...and I AM ONE SO WATCH IT PAL...Yes, I like tractor buzz off.

I have to kinda agree with Fritz the cat here...The spitting and stuff is very nasty and it does project a very bad image of Chinese people abroad. hell, it's not projection, it's reality. Chinese people are fucked up. But from what I've seen the more educated Chinese abroad do not engage in these kind of "rude uncivilized" behaviors. Or course being a government official does not imply civility nor education.

This reminds of a funny story my father told me. In the 60's, during the start of the cultural revolution, him and his friends traveled China by hopping trains. One day at a train station, a farmer came bursting out of a door cursing like, well a farmer, at a cop who was kicking and punching him for I'm assuming not having a ticket.

And he said, damned "Guomingdang", or damned nationalist. At a communist police!

[edited for relevance. -JM]

FRITZ: sorry for my poor english. i didnt know that rednecks literarily mean farmers or peasants who work at the field to get their neck tanned. i do respect them. however, there is a possibility that they would spit in dc if they get a chance to visit there.

anyway, i thought rednecks referred to people who are ignorant, stupid, poorly behaved in public, lack of education...etc. basically im talking about those people who poorly behaved overseas, not necessarily meaning farmers or peasants. so those high ranking officials do fall into that category.

btw, i dont see american people embrace rednecks. i always heard jokes about rednecks from the south and i dont see any love from those jokes. thats probably why i misunderstand the meaning of rednecks. but again, i might misunderstand those jokes as well due to my poor english. no offense to you. dont take it personal.

HAHA... What about Americans? Americans like to blow shit up around the world.

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