• Fri
  • Sep 19, 2014
  • Updated: 3:10am
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 Their knowledge of the destination country and its culture is often at best outdated or non-existent.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

Oh my god. You have to be kidding me. Amy Li wrote this article to givre AN EXCUSE of how selfish and rude Chinise people are towards other people who are NOT CHINESE. This is the same story everywhere. WHen i started to read this article i though finally someone from their same people will tell the true. Instead yet another exuce.
I dated two chinese man. One from Hong Kong and One from Main land. I'm white american/european. Dating them doesnt make me an expert. What made me an expert was staying living within chinese culture for more than a dacade. I live in china town and dated these guys, and had chinese friends. And I will tell you why they are rude. The concesses is that they do not like other people. In fact, the cuture is all about them. A chinese roommate confesed to me that they are though, since they are children, not to care about other people other than your family and friends-- and if you are in USA or other countries that will apply to ANYONE ELSE who is not chinese.
While submerge in the chinese culture i learned that they are VERY polite, very loyal and nice to each other, friends and family. THey were exteamly nice to me and ONLY because i was dating one of them. So if not for me, it was out of respect to my boyfriend. My own boyfriends told me that the majority of chinese dont like americans, and in general they are recist. This is a topic of conversation that no other chinese will dare to admit. But they know they are recist.
I see nothing of the sort. Amy Li seems to be criticising these mainland '****s', not condoning their behaviour. And you are not a white American, your level of English betrayed you. Go Home, 50 cents!
I lived in one factory somewhere in Guangdong. I also feel sorry for them because the way I see the workers behave like animals. They squat in the street eating. When they eat and they do not like some of the food, they just spit anywhere. They eat the watermelon seed like a machine gun that they litter everywhere.
China is the only country in the world where you can walk down a city street unobtrusively minding your own business and 500 out of 1000 people you pass, will spit at you.
maybe first generation acts like that, then 2nd gen will behave more accordingly. I just watched the Great Gatsby, and I don't find rich Americans in the 20s were any different in behavior with their money.
EXACTLY!!! Americans .. in the 1920's .. LONG AGO outgrew that cultural mentality.
You can meet a lot of rude Chinese...but 2 hours later you are hungry to meet some more.
The West recoils when Li Hongzhang spat on the pique floor, a bad mannered commie no doubt.
These Chinese were starving people a short while ago: if you don't push, the food is gone. If you don't push to get on the bus, its gone and you will be late. They also come from a noisy place where nothing is heard if you don't yell. Many of the older generation are too busy to learn about Western manners.
Tolerance is what HK Chinese haven't learned after that many years of pseudo-western education. But tolerance is infinitely more important than eating noodles without slurping. Now that education comes to an end, maybe you should learn how to make the city competitive again from those raw, unsubjugated Chinese?
There's a positive quality to this so-called Chinese "rudeness". In fact, there are several. First, contrary to what most people believe, the Chinese people have a low tolerance for nonsensical or irrational displays of authority. They're a fractious lot. When they think they're getting the worst of the deal, they respond accordingly. Quite unlike people in the West who reflexively acquiesce to the wishes of political elites, no questions asked. Second, China is in a hurry. To my way of thinking, the Chinese are the hardest-working people on the planet. Totally goal-oriented. When they set out to do something, get the heck out of the way, because they'll build that dam, bridge, high-speed railroad or canal across Nicaragua and they won't down tools because somebody found an endangered daisy. They'll put the flower in a pot and keep digging. Third, China has been through some extremely perilous times within living memory. We're talking wars and famines that killed tens of millions. People will fight tooth and nail not to go back to that time. No, I look at the Chinese as not being "rude" but being "impatient". I like that about them.
impatience causes the rudeness, and many other destructive things .. they cant get anything right the first time .. or even the second time .. nothing matters to them.
I have been told often how proud the Chinese are of their pragmatism and patience. But I find neither of these in their character currently, but quite the opposite. sorry.




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