Not being Chinese, it’s not really my place to criticise the conduct of another culture, especially mainlanders, and especially when visiting Shanghai. So it comes as a bit of a surprise to see an editorial in the Global Times, published in Beijing, headed “Chinese Travelling Abroad Reflect Nation’s Character,.” by writer Yu Jincai.
The subject is a February 22 report on website Weibo, about the image of the Chinese on the move. Wen Fei, a Chinese woman working in Paris, posted on the subject of international bad behaviour on the site, citing her experience when flying on an Air France from Paris to Wuhan in Hubei Province. She observed two middle-aged, well dressed passengers, who were apparently drunk. They raided the plane’s service cart, grabbed the bottles of booze and stash them in their bags. Horror of horrors, it seems this uncouth pair was sitting in business class. Definitely conduct unbecoming. Both she and aircrew were allegedly verbally abused by the disgraceful duo when they tried to remonstrate with them.
It seemed many fellow netizens – what a dreadful word – empathised with her frustration at their behaviour, which they view as letting the side down for Chinese all over the world. But there was more to come. Last September saw another incident on a Swiss International Air Lines flight when the plane was forced to return to base six hours into the trip, after a fierce brawl broke out between two mainland Chinese passengers. The fight was caused by nothing more than the one in front reclining his seat during the other one’s meal. While this is admittedly very annoying, it does go with the territory and is surely not worth coming to blows over. But Weibo followers also listed various other behaviour transgressions, such as pointless queue barging to board planes when everyone already has an assigned seat, and then bickering over space for their bags in the overhead bins.
The outside world is now seeing an increasing number of Chinese travellers, the writer points out, and their impression is being tainted by the “ugly Chinese” image. Foreigners would struggle to believe that middle-aged well dressed business passengers who have forked out for an expensive ticket would then bother to pinch bottle of drink from the trolley. But the writer says unfortunately, cases of people grabbing petty advantage are commonplace in China. Citizens routinely steal toilet paper from public loos it seems – but I have to say the students in Trinity College Dublin do that too. Mainlanders have no monopoly on that; nor on pilfering the headsets and inflight blankets on airlines, which are also listed as PRC traveller crimes.
Mind you, Dubliners would probably not nick the new plastic dustbins to store their pickled vegetables, as folks in Dalian stand accused of doing. The causes of such small-mindedness are complicated, the writer continues. “It’s a matter of low-quality character and morality, due to inadequate education,” is the verdict. Decades of poverty have underpinned a tendency to snatch and grab whenever the opportunity presents itself. “With the rapid development of China’s economy, the living conditions of Chinese have improved a lot. But the character of Chinese has failed to advance with the times.”
Airplanes being the main mode of international travel means everyone’s manners are on display in the close confines of the airline cabin. “This could vividly reflect the degree of a country’s modern civilisation and morality.” Chinese must rid themselves of these “small-minded mentalities,” the writer continues. If they fail to “leave these bad and humiliating habits at home when they travel overseas, they will not be respected across the world.”
Fair point, but I think the writer might go a little easier on the Chinese had he or she ever observed the antics of passengers boarding a busy Ryanair flight in England or Ireland. Being trampled by a herd of startled wildebeest is something similar.