The Chinese schoolboy who defaced the ancient Egyptian temple at Luxor with graffiti that read “Ding Jinhao was here” was roundly condemned, not least by the Chinese themselves, who saw it as yet another instance of “uncivilised” behaviour from mainlanders overseas. Vice-Premier Wang Yang had recently urged Chinese travelling abroad to be more refined and not sully the nation’s image.
While one may argue that the uncouth manners of many mainlanders are the result of generations living in a brutal society, graffiti on famous landmarks and objects has a long and even venerable history. Visit any famous mountain in China and chances are you’ll see huge Chinese characters carved on the slopes, most written by famous poets and calligraphists.
One man’s vandalism is another’s work of art, accentuating the natural beauty of the place.
There’s also the practice of art collectors writing or affixing their seals directly onto other people’s paintings. The Qianlong Emperor (1711-1799) was notorious for defacing countless artworks in the imperial collection. A self-styled man of letters, he wrote lengthy poems and treatises in his own hand on the empty spaces of famous paintings, and his seals – sometimes several on a single painting – were usually plus-sized affairs. Despite his literary pretensions, Qianlong’s calligraphy is considered mediocre by most critics.