Chinese tourists

Chinese tourists carving out a bad reputation abroad

Child's graffiti on an Egyptian temple has sparked debate about bad behaviour and the need for mainlanders to spruce up their image

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 16 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 16 June, 2013, 11:24am

Many young mainlanders know the story of writer Lu Xun, who carved the character for "early" on his desk as a reminder to rise early to study after getting into strife for bring late for school.

He was never late again.

The story is meant to teach children to be punctual, not carve characters on public property, even though many mainland tourists write or carve on walls, trees, or rocks, seemingly oblivious to the fact they are doing something wrong.

The recent online exposure of a teenager from Nanjing who defaced a 3,500-year-old Egyptian temple has provoked nationwide introspection on such poor behaviour abroad, which many said had damaged the image of mainland tourists.

The boy's parents apologised and the Egyptian tourism authorities said they had managed to remove the graffiti, characters saying "Ding Jinhao was here", but the debate has rolled on.

Ding's parents said their son, now in middle school, had scrawled the characters when he was little. They were with a tourist group and had not noticed when he scrawled on the sculpture, his mother said.

But when Xinhua published a photograph showing that the graffiti had been erased, eagle-eyed internet users noticed it had been written above head height for an adult, suggesting Ding may have had some adult assistance. True or not, tourism industry workers say many Chinese adults behave as poorly as uneducated children.

"Even though we will tell tourists briefly about the dos and don'ts before starting our tours, they cannot be educated in minutes," said Shi Yu, a Beijing tourist guide who has led tour groups to America, Australia, South Korea and Dubai since 2009. "Now Chinese people are getting richer, and more people are going abroad, but they go with their bad habits."

Shi and several other frequent travellers said the top two problems with Chinese tourists were that they were very noisy and showed no respect for queues.

In many restaurants, staff advise customers to sit and wait when there are no tables, but "Chinese tourists flock inside, making a big noise, never giving waitresses a chance to guide them to be seated in order", Shi said.

Shen Xiaoning, a travel enthusiast from Beijing, said mainland tourists could quickly be identified by such behaviour, but that being noisy was partly a cultural issue. "You'd feel weird if a Chinese restaurant was very quiet, wouldn't you?" she said.

Shen said another problem was spitting. Someone had once spat on her leg while she was walking along the street in Beijing, and "it's an even greater shame to see our compatriots spit on other nations' land".

Huang Ruolin, a traveller and freelance writer based in Jiaxing, Zhejiang, said wasting food at hotels was also typical of Chinese tourists.

"Chinese tourists' plates are always full. They waste a lot of food in buffets," she said. "And it's like they only enjoy their stay when they use a lot of consumables in hotel rooms."

Liu Shuoting, a Beijinger who has travelled around the globe on his own, said he had seen mainland tourists take away enough food for a whole day from a breakfast buffet.

But tourists whose meals are covered by tour fees are not the only Chinese guilty of wasting food. It's also a common phenomenon at restaurants and hotels on the mainland.

Having realised the problem, the government launched a campaign last year to urge people to eat everything on their plate.

The city of Ningbo in Zhejiang is even planning to fine restaurants that fail to reduce the amount of leftovers discarded by their guests.

Shi said another bad habit of Chinese tourists was that they rushed for everything.

"They always open the luggage compartment to grab their stuff before the plane comes to a halt," she said.

Shi said rushing for meals and seats was standard practice, leading some hotels overseas to set aside areas where Chinese tourists could dine by themselves. And some airlines seated them separately on flights.

Other gripes were that mainland tourists often flouted local rules and rarely said thank you.

Huang gave the example of not eating on public transport.

"Many Chinese tourists don't abide by it, either because they don't know or don't care," she said. "Learning local rules and customs before heading for an exotic place should be a basic preparation for a tourist."

Shi said she seldom heard people in her tour groups say thank you, "either because they are too shy or not used to it".

"My colleagues and I often complain that many of our compatriots lack a sense of gratefulness," she said. "They think they deserve everything."

And then there's graffiti, which can also be found in many places of historic interest on the mainland, including a jar in the Palace Museum, the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall and the Echo Wall in the Temple of Heaven.

In fact, the tradition of putting one's name on famous and beautiful things can be traced back to ancient China, when men of letters enjoyed writing their names on iconic sites they visited.

Instead of damage, such public calligraphy was considered an art that distinguished a gentleman from a boor, but their calligraphy was also much better than today's efforts by gormless holidaymakers.

Shi said she hoped the Tourism Law, to come into effect in October, would include provisions to curb such behaviour.

"It's a way to standardise both tourists and tourism agencies, so that the Chinese tourism sector does not follow a twisted road," she said.

Professor Wang Wanfei, a tourism administration specialist at Zhejiang University, said improving Chinese people's behaviour in public places should start with children. Textbooks should emphasise the cultivation of civic mindedness, and the media should run more stories on such issues to enlighten the public.

Many Chinese people were now well off but their manners had not improved, Wang said, adding "the time has come for us to learn how to behave ourselves when travelling".


Eight bad habits of Chinese tourists

Being noisy

Not queuing


Wasting food and hotel supplies


Ignoring local rules

Rarely saying thank you

Writing graffiti