• Fri
  • Dec 19, 2014
  • Updated: 7:38pm
PUBLISHED : Saturday, 01 June, 2013, 11:02am
UPDATED : Saturday, 03 August, 2013, 8:20am

Why are Chinese tourists so rude? A few insights

After almost every 'rude Chinese tourist' story, unfortunately, made SCMP.com's top-10 list, I decided to give the question some serious thought


Amy Li began her journalism career as a crime news reporter in Queens, New York, in 2004. She joined Reuters in Beijing in 2008 as a multimedia editor. Amy taught journalism at Southwestern University of Finance and Economics in Chengdu before joining SCMP in Hong Kong in 2012. She is now an online news editor for SCMP.com. Amy can be reached at chunxiao.li@scmp.com, or follow her on Twitter @AmyLiSCMP

They are seen as pushy, loud, impolite, unruly, and they are everywhere.

And although destination countries welcome the tourism dollars the Chinese spend, they loathe the chaos and hassle some mainland tourists bring upon their cities and other tourists.

“Why can’t they just behave?” people wonder, some aloud.

I have been asking myself the same question in the past months after reporting on the uncivilised, sometimes galling behaviour of some compatriots.

It seems that every time a “rude Chinese tourist" story is published on SCMP.com, it goes straight into the site's top 10 most read articles - one such article even managed to crawl back to the top months after it was posted. So I decided to give the question some serious thought.

I read up on the topic, talked to tourism experts and travel agents and chatted with some of these tourists who are now at the centre of public anger.

It soon dawned on me that the real question to ask is: “Why are the Chinese rude?”

Yong Chen, tourism researcher and post-doctoral fellow at Hong Kong Polytechnic University, said most “bad” tourists don’t intend to be “bad” or “tourists”, they are just being themselves - they are being Chinese.

Education makes a difference

Not every Chinese tourist is a rude one, and educated people are usually better behaved than those who have had a lower standard of education, said Chen.

This could be why middle-aged or older tourists who have been deprived of or received little education during China's politically tumultuous times tend to act more unruly. Many of them do not speak English, and some are not fluent Putonghua speakers. Their knowledge of the destination country and its culture is often at best outdated or non-existent.

This might explain the behaviour of a "rogue” mainland couple who recently visited Hong Kong with a group. They called the police and demanded HK$3,000 yuan in compensation after being made to wait two hours for their coach. The travel agency later said the coach had broken down and accused them of “blackmailing”.

Disregard for customs and rules

Jenny Wang, a Beijing-based Maldives travel agent, said uneducated tourists usually turn a blind eye to local rules and customs.

A Chinese man who was recently vacationing at a Maldives resort flipped out after discovering that the restaurant where he wanted to eat was fully booked, Wang said. He yelled threats and slurs at Chinese staff until one member was in tears.

“You cannot reason with these kinds of people,” Wang said. “They think they can do anything with their money.”

But one thing many Chinese vacationers don’t want to do with their money is tip - a custom in some places which many have ignored, Wang said.

Though most travel agents in China would educate their clients about tipping in a foreign country ahead of their trip, most people ended up tipping very little or none.

Some are not used to the idea of tipping, and they fail to understand that staff working at the Maldives resorts, who usually earn a meagre salary, rely heavily on tips, Wang said.

This has created increasing tensions between the Chinese and their hosts. Staff would naturally prefer serving guests from countries with a tipping culture. Other staff have gone after Chinese clients and asked openly for tips, a rare thing for them to do in the past.

Lawless for a reason

Students at Ewha University in Seoul, known for its beautiful campus, have recently complained about an influx of Chinese tourists, said the school.

Apparently taking photos on campus was not enough. Some camera-toting Chinese would also stride into libraries and take photos without the permission of students, according to media reports.

“As much as we want to keep the campus open to the local community,” said a university representative, “we’d like to prioritise our students’ right to study in a quiet and safe environment.”

Ewha resolved the crisis by putting up multi-language signs advising tourists to stay clear of study areas.

It seems that thousands of years after Confucius admonished his students not to “impose on others what you yourself don’t desire",  the Chinese now act in quite the opposite way.

Such people, both overseas and at home, selfishly skirted rules for a reason, said Chen.

Living in China, where the rule-of-law doesn’t exist, means everyone has to look out for their own interest. It also means people have little or no respect for laws.

This is bound to happen when ordinary folk are forced to watch their laws being violated every day by their leaders, Chen said, citing the Chinese idiom, shang xing xia xiao, meaning “people in lower class follow what their leaders in the upper class do”.

How long do we have to put up with bad tourists?

China and its people are paying a price for the bad behaviour of their tourists.

A poll by the Public Opinion Programme of the University of Hong Kong recently found that the number of Hongkongers holding negative feelings towards Beijing and mainland Chinese is up by about 40 per cent since November.

Following that survey, SCMP.com conducted another online poll on Wednesday, headlined  “What makes some Hongkongers dislike mainland China and its people?”

As of noon, more than 50 per cent readers blamed the negative feelings on “ill-behaved tourists”.

“The Chinese government and travel agencies should take the initiative to educate our tourists,” Chen said, urging co-operation from both authorities and private sectors. 

While many argue that historically American and Japanese tourists were also criticised for their bad behaviour when they became wealthy enough and traveled abroad for the first time, Chen said the Chinese should not use this as an excuse.

In fact, the Communist Party's Central Guidance Commission for Building Spiritual Civilisation and the China National Tourism Administration have recently issued a 128-character-long rhyme to remind tourists of behaving in a “civilised manner” on the road. The topic has also been a big hit on China's social media, where bloggers discuss and criticise the uncivlised behaviour of their compatriots.

But many are not optimistic that the situation will change any time soon.

“Chinese tourists have a long way to go before they will be respected by the world,” said Wang.


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This article is now closed to comments

There are signs everywhere in mainland warning people not to litter; wait for traffic signals; don't spit; etc. etc. which are generally ignored. It will take a few generations to get there.
China will have democracy when Chinese cross streets on "walk" signs. In the mean time, HK can learn some tolerance. Sending 500,000 people on to the streets to protest for democracy or some imagined infringement on freedom is rather foolish.
Next topic - "why do ethnic Chinese of different countries stereotype other ethnic Chinese, when the reality is that to non ethnic Chinese they are all the same"?
The author is being racist herself by tarring all 1.4 bn Chinese in China with the same brush. She should leave the Far East, see how it feels to experience that.
raw rural behaviour vs city hypocrisy
Chinese tourists are so rude. One time, when I was living in the UK i was out driving around, one of them got in front of my car and I was forced to run him over. Then when I got out to inspect the damage to my motor-vehicle, the guy was like, rolling around asking for me to get him some help. So rude!
Another time, I was vacationing in Monaco, and discovered it is a local tradition to prevent Chinese people from buying houses there by jacking up the prices every time a busload of tourists comes by, and one time, a guy bought a house there anyway. So rude!
I think you know the real story behind JFK. A Chinese guy was walking down the street in Texas, when John Wilkes Booth popped up behind Kennedy in the theatre gunning him down. Later, the Chinese guy literally **** himself. So rude!
I have another example. One time, I was getting on a plane, and this Chinese guy had some baggage. The baggage suddenly burst open and a massive pile of **** fell out onto the floor. People were like "My god, his bag was full of ****", and the guy just ran away. We were all chasing him, saying "You can't leave that **** there, it's unhygenic and against our local customs" but he kept running. So rude!
I was at the gym, and this Chinese dude was jacking all the machines to their full capacity. I am 100 kilos and like to think of myself as something special, but this guy was beating me at all the weights and stuff. So rude!
In Conclusion, Chinese people are awesome, I love it here
Janet Kwan
Hey hey hey, please make a distinction between uneducated mainland Chinese and other Chinese people. (I have met many polite mainlanders as well because they are educated.) There are many of us who are civilized, follow rules and are considerate of others. We feel ashamed to be lumped into the same category as these rude mainland Chinese. You know, these mainlanders also ruin nice Chinese neighborhoods too. They do the same rude things to other Chinese people and communities, so don't think they discriminate only against other races. The fact is, these rude mainlanders think just because they have money, they can do anything they want.
This article is enjoying the longest running despite its caption that bears no relevancy to the content. In fact, there is neither answer to why nor any insight offered what the caption pronounced. SCMP editor falsified a news report by Amy Li with a popular slogan just to bait public’s attention. The unprofessional editor who wrote the caption should be reprimanded by SCMP. I hope Li agrees with me whose earlier journalism training abroad should concur.
Cc: Wang Xiangwei, Editor in-Chief
I think people just like to belly ache. I bet most people dislike mainlanders just because newspapers like apple daily like to show some photos of kids going to the washroom in weird places. These are just a minority. Millions of tourists come and about 1% behave badly.
Americans go to Mexico and get drunk and get wild and crazzy.
Honestly I live in
HK and the tourists I see are all pretty good. No real complaints. The only bad comments I see are in scmp.
hard times !
not just sense of community, but basic human behaviour and courtesy are completely destroyed by the Communist government during the so-called Cultural Revolution launched by the Red Sun, chairman Mao---the biggest dictator in human history (at least in Chinese history even Qin Tze-huang compared with him looked trivial and tiny) who tortured and had millions of Chinese starved to death or killed ! After the Cultural Revolution,people on Mainland had no trust on each other and after the 'open door policy and economic reforms', money remains the only thing people value and care and besides money, there is nothing left.Traditional Chinese value and virtues are abandoned or ignored.Following the leaders of every level, commoners become greedy and selfish and only seeking personal interests with every means or methods---that explains why faked goods and crooks are everywhere on Mainland and non-corrupted cadres have become endangered species !
To some extend I agree that they are not being bad but being themselves. However, I have personally experienced in Phuket last week that Chinese are labelled as rude, impolite and lack of manners which I totally understand. First, when we were queuing up to pay our dinner bill, out of nowhere, a Shanghainese lady cut into the line and paid her bill in front of me. Then when we were having massage inside the quiet area, three Chinese women came in speaking and laughing loudly, even being warned by the staff that there were other customers and asked them to be quiet. It takes them about 20mins to settle down. Lastly when I was having a conversation with a sales in a shop, a Chinese man interrupted us and asked the price of a product. I can feel the people there sometimes don't want to deal with the Chinese people apart they can bring in money to their country. Because I'm Chinese, I'm always categorised as Chinese from mainland in Phuket which was not a good experience. It was different when I first visited Phuket 10 years ago. I hope the Chinese government can educate their people to respect others' culture or at least having the basic manners. Or else it will be really disgraceful to say I'm Chinese.
shang xing xia xiao -- very appropriate way of summing it up. Of course everywhere in the world has rude and insensitive, or simply very ignorant, people who embarass their own compatriots. But China has many more and on top of that an unruly governance structure, with many more getting richer and richer and some of them more and more arrogant. Get used to it.




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