There are things we must not joke about
Two Chinese tourists giving the ‘Heil Hitler’ salute in front of Berlin’s Reichstag is the latest example of tourists who are insensitive to the history and culture of the places they are visiting
Wars are sensitive matters and visitors to historic sites and places of commemoration have to respect that. Naturally, then, the two Chinese who face fines and up to three years in jail for giving the outlawed “Heil Hitler” salute while taking pictures of one another in front of Berlin’s Reichstag should not be surprised. Nor should the four young men wearing Japanese military uniforms and standing in front of a building in Shanghai where Chinese soldiers battled Japanese troops in 1937 wonder that the image posted on social media has caused such outrage. Regard for the history and customs of others should be uppermost in the minds of travellers when they go to other places.
Nazi leader Adolf Hitler ranks at or near the top of lists of the most hated people in history. The suffering and destruction he caused through invasion and genocide are perceived as evil and reprehensible. But while he is widely loathed in the West, Israel and Russia, he is not seen so negatively in parts of Asia. In China, the atrocities committed by Imperial Japan are looked upon in a similar light to those carried out by Nazi Germany.
But that is no excuse for tourists not to learn about the places they intend to go to. Germany’s parliament, the Reichstag, is a powerful German symbol of democracy and freedom. Its links to Hitler’s regime make the Nazi salute especially disrespectful to Germans. The identities of those in the Shanghai incident are not known, but those involved were only too aware of the delicate nature of the setting of their photo, the heritage-listed Sihang warehouse complex.
Other countries are similarly sensitive to ignorance about their history or culture. Kissing in public in some parts of India is considered obscene and could lead to time in jail. In New Zealand, making fun of rugby, the Lord of the Rings and the queen of England could well cause trouble with locals. Examples involving religion, politics and politeness abound elsewhere. China’s 120 million people who travel overseas each year need to take the time to learn about their destination, just as should any other visitor.