Oh, those Chinese tourists!

We all read about the Chinese at Hong Kong’s Disneyland a few weeks ago, taking off their shoes and lying on the grass and smoking everywhere and leaving a flood of cigarette butts in their wake. Now the issue of Chinese tourists seems to be gaining broader attention.

There was near-pandemonium at the L’Orรฉal cosmetics counter. With only hours before the end of their weeklong National Day holiday this month, a busload of package tourists from China descended on a department store here and began clamoring for all the skin refiner and “wrinkle de-crease” they could buy.

Karen Eu, one of three clerks attending to them and herself of Chinese ancestry, opened her eyes wide in exasperation.

“Oh, my God,” she said as she carried another fistful of Chinese yuan to the cash register. “They talk so loud I have to yell until my throat hurts.”

China’s rapid economic growth has fostered a tourist boom among the mainland Chinese, with Southeast Asia the favorite destination, at least for now.

The surge in package tour groups from China, an important source of income for the region, is also giving rise to an unflattering stereotype: the loud, rude and culturally naรฏve Chinese tourist.

Sound familiar? The tide of travelers from China mirrors the emergence of virtually every group of overseas tourists since the Romans, from Britons behaving badly in the Victorian era and ugly Americans in postwar Europe to the snapshot-happy Japanese of the 1980s.

So it is not much of a surprise that tourists from mainland China, often going abroad for the first time, are leaving similar complaints in their wake.

But China is also manufacturing its own twist on the age-old tale, as became apparent in July when a group of more than 300 from China took umbrage at illustrations of a pig’s face on their check-in vouchers at a casino resort in predominantly Muslim Malaysia.

Although the resort said the drawings were meant only to distinguish their Chinese guests from Muslims, who cannot eat pork – or gamble – the Chinese demonstrated their pique by staging a sit-in in the hotel lobby and belting out their national anthem. It took 40 police officers with dogs to clear them out.

So why do I (like the author, I suspect) sympathize more with the Chinese tourists than their critics?

Well, it seems pretty obvious to me that these are people for whom international travel is very, very new. Can we really expect them to be sophisticated world travellers, considering their lack of exposure to other cultures and the lack of emphasis their own culture of the last 50 years has placed on etiquette, politeness, concern for others, environmental sensitivity, etc.? I think they’ll learn and improve.

I’m still appalled by the behavior of many Chinese travellers, pushing onto the plane and maintaining a deafening noise level throughout the flight, then all snapping off their seatbelts as the plane starts to descend. But in all seriousness, it was worse back in 2001, and it can only continue to improve. After growing up in the shadow of the Cultural Revolution, can we really expect them all of a sudden to be Conde Nast material? Patience.

Via CDT.

The Discussion: 35 Comments

I hope it’s improved. I’ll never forget my first trip to Taipei from Hong Kong. Business class, Thai Air, and about seven Chinese grandpas whipped out the Tiger Balm and smeared it all over their faces as soon as the plane took off.
This was several years ago, and the smell still lingers in my nostrils.

October 22, 2005 @ 10:45 am | Comment

Ah yes, The Ugly Chinese Tourist.

God, that was practically the only thing I hated about living in Hangzhou….it was a major tourist attraction. I always tried like hell to get out of there during the holidays.

Have you had any experiences with them in Taiwan yet?

October 22, 2005 @ 10:46 am | Comment

No Gordon, nearly all the tourists I see here are Japanese. (Why so many??)

October 22, 2005 @ 10:47 am | Comment

That’s interesting. How do the Taiwanese treat Japanese people as opposed to the way Mainlanders treat them? (Sorry if that steers off topic)

October 22, 2005 @ 11:06 am | Comment

I haven’t noticed any animosity Sure, the Taiwanese have major issues with the Japanese, as well they should, but they seem far too civilized to trash them – and far too smart; there’s big money in those buses crammed with photo-snapping Japanese tourists.

October 22, 2005 @ 11:15 am | Comment

As a Mainlander who has lived in Hong Kong for a while, I should confess that mainland Chinese toursits DO behave…kind of… without dignity. I should confess that most Chinese people have not learned or seen what is courtesy.

But interestingly, you will not even see the same phenomena in departmental stores in Beijing or Shanghai…Maybe only because not many people want to rush there now.

October 22, 2005 @ 11:23 am | Comment

I remember, a few years ago (in 2003), I was in the British Museum in London. and I saw some PRC tourists (who were carrying a little PRC flag) wiping their hands all over an ancient Roman mosaic, from North Africa circa year 200 AD.

The PRC (Communist) tour guide rubbed her hands all over that ancient relic, and she invited all of the idiotic Chinese Communists to rub their hands all over it.

And of course, sweat and other filth from Human Hands, corrupts and degrades ancient marble. So, all of those vulgar, idiotic Chinese Communists were destroying a relic of ancient Rome, rubbing their hands all over it like savages, barbarians.

So, when I saw this happening, I shouted at them, and I physically grabbed them and pushed them away from the old relic. And I smashed one of them on his face when he resisted.

Communists. Savages. Destroyers of culture.

October 22, 2005 @ 11:25 am | Comment

Ivan, my friend, please tone it down.

October 22, 2005 @ 11:27 am | Comment

PS, to Martyn (or any other Brits here) about my last comment:

If you know the British Museum, the mosaics I was talking about are the ones in the stairwell which goes up from the first floor Egyptian room (where the Rosetta Stone is.)
Maybe you know where I mean. Those old mosaics, from the Second Century AD.

I saw those vulgar, savage, barbarian Chinese Communists rubbing their hands all over those treasures, and then I became a bit violent. And the British Museum guards did not object at all, to what I did to those savage Chinese Communists who were shitting all over those ancient relics….. ๐Ÿ™‚

October 22, 2005 @ 11:31 am | Comment


Just saw your admonition after I sent the last comment. Yes I will agree to tone it down, and I will understand if you want to delete my last comment.

October 22, 2005 @ 11:32 am | Comment

Do the Taiwanese have a problem/major issues with the Japanese? Not according to my experience they don’t. Quite the opposite in fact.

I remember standing outside Chen Shuibian’s election HQ on election night in 2004 and seeing a delegation of right-wing Japanese with imperial Japanese flags, banners and all sorts of stuff. They were applauded by the crowds. Saw it with my own eyes.

October 22, 2005 @ 1:14 pm | Comment


To be quite honest, I would react exactly the same way if I saw someone (regardless of where they were from) doing that. And if was one of the curators I would have them immediately thrown out.

I was also disgusted by Chinese tourists flagrently ignoring signs in Mandarin in the PRC, asking people not to take photographs of sensitive cultural assets. But if a foreigner did it, I bet people would object and say “oh, that’s typical of foreigners”.

That’s what the CCP has done to China – the past has become a tourist attraction, a historical Disneyworld for most Chinese.

October 22, 2005 @ 1:26 pm | Comment

Were the people in the British Museum idiotic, vulgar, and barbarian by virtue of them being tourists, or Communists, or Chinese?

Just kidding. ๐Ÿ˜‰ It’s true that far too many Chinese tourists,along with being etiquette-deficient, also exhibit an astounding lack of respect and appreciation (let alone knowledge) of cultural artifacts – not only those from other countries, but sadly, also from their own. For this I blame decades of social turmoil that finally culminated in the Cultural Revolution’s careless and cruel uprooting of all vestigial Confucian virtues.

As bad as the Ugly Tourist Syndrome is, however, the Smug Tourist Syndrome also makes me grind me teeth. I’ve found it particularly afflicts Western backpackers when travelling the so-called “untrammelled”, “enigmatic” regions of the developing world. i.e. the backpackers who visit Potala Palace and the Tibetan monastaries, who pretend to be all spiritual and knowing and shit, who won’t deign to called themselves tourists, have nothing but utter contempt for the (admittedly atrocious-behaving) native Chinese tourists who go there, and yet treat the Tibetans like wise and long-suffering “sauvages nobles”, romanticizing and Othering them. Yeah, whatever, dudes. You’re still just ignorant glorified tourists.

Martyn: it’s true, many of the Taiwanese don’t. After all, the Japanese in their occupation/annexation of Taiwan, tried to mold it as a “model colony” and did accomplish a lot of good for the island as a whole (which can’t be said for S. Korea and other places), improving the transportation sector, building economic infrastructure, etc. Many of the older generation of Taiwanese haven’t forgotten that (in fact, an extreme example: one of my Taiwanese friend’s father actually considers himself “Japanese”, because that’s the culture he grew up with and thus identifies with.) However, many haven’t forgotten that, nevertheless, the Japanese were still unwanted invaders. So overall, I’d say it’s sort of a “love-hate” relationship.

October 22, 2005 @ 1:33 pm | Comment

True enough nausicaa. When I lived in Taipei, I remember writing to my friend and saying that Taiwan must be unique in Asia as it must be the only country where both Americans and Japanese are warmly welcomed.

If there is any animosity towards Japanese people by the Taiwanese then I haven’t seen or heard a whiff of it. I’ve only heard the direct opposite.

October 22, 2005 @ 1:40 pm | Comment

Continuing my tangent: No, I haven’t ecountered animosity, neither. Sometimes ambivalence or lingering resentment, but never outright hostility or animosity. But admittedly my interactions with the Taiwanese have been limited (and skewed towards the under-30 demographic) and I’ve never lived in Taiwan. Overall I’d venture to say that the feelings of some Taiwanese towards the Japanese remain complex, but generally positive.

Anyway, this made me giggle, just because this kind of reaction by the Chinese seem so *typical*, that’s it’s almost cute:

“Although the resort said the drawings were meant only to distinguish their Chinese guests from Muslims, who cannot eat pork – or gamble – the Chinese demonstrated their pique by staging a sit-in in the hotel lobby and belting out their national anthem.”

I can just imagine it now – “Mao zhe di ren de pao huo, Qian jin! Qian jin! Qian jin! Jin!!!!” in loud and atonal choruses.

Were they drunk?

October 22, 2005 @ 2:02 pm | Comment

An add: now if they could only muster that same level of enthusiasm for civil disobedience and channel it towards pushing for change back home! ๐Ÿ˜›

October 22, 2005 @ 2:05 pm | Comment

nausicaa, somehow I still prefer western backpackers who “pretend to be all spiritual and knowing” but at least they show some respect to tibetan culture and usually don’t shout at each other during religious ceremonies, don’t smoke in monasteries and don’t consider monks to be their tourist guides.

October 22, 2005 @ 2:33 pm | Comment

Well, they are the lesser of the two evils, true. But I’d say their approach towards Tibet and Tibetan culture is no less superficial that the Chinese tourists’, despite their affectations. Most backpapers I’ve met were either callow, disenfranchised youths fancying themselves “in solidarity” with their Tibetan brothers in “stickin’ it to the man”, or mid-lifers on a one-year break from their cushy but mind-numbing jobs as IT consultants to take one last gasp at freedom. Most of them have little understanding of Tibetan Buddhism (“uh..something about karma…umm”), little grasp of Tibetan history, and almost invariably adopt the position that “oh, they were leading such simple and happy lives, full of sunshine and butterflies, before the evil Chinese commies came and ruined it, and wouldn’t it be nice if they could return to the olden days again (never mind that it was a medieval and despotic theocracy)”? There was also one or two that went up to random Tibetans and asked them to, essentially, to “show me the ways of your people”, a la asking Hiawatha how do the coyotes rear their young.

Just my cursory and jaded observations. I’m sure that nonetheless the Tibetans still much appreciated their courtesy over the complete absence of on the part of the Chinese; it’s just me that their wobbly-eyed spiritual pretensions and teeth-sucking satisfaction with their own cultural sensitivity bother. I’m sure I’m grossly generalizing and exaggerating anyway.

October 22, 2005 @ 3:07 pm | Comment

What have you got against British toiurists in the Victorian age? They were the height of breeding and maanners (as they hjad to be well-to-do and rich). You should update it to British tourists today- God it’s embarassing.
It’s reallyinteresting to read Egyptian comments 2400 years ago complaining about those Greeks who then sound like Brits today- drunk, uncivilised, running amok, graffiti everywhere etc

October 22, 2005 @ 6:49 pm | Comment

Tone it down?! Ivan-I would have done exactly the same as you. Any idiot who goes to the British Museum and actually manhandles the exhibits is a barbarian. Where’s the argument? Someone wipes their nose on the US constitution Richard and then let’s see you restrain yourself or tone down your umbrage. Forgive me Richard, but it’s now us in the West willing to do what we’ve done to others- prostitute our culture and heritage for a few bob today. A Disney exhibit on the sacred ground of Gettysburgh? Sure, why not? It’ll bring in the tourists. What I’m ashamed of is the fact that Ivan had to protect our priceless world heritage while the supposed guards probably just sat in their corner and did nothing. So typical of England today. Youths terrorise passengers on trains, 12 year olds being slashed with box cutters in classrooms, drunken riots and racist attacks occurring with such frequency that they don’t merit reporting… Well and good that those of us subjected to Chinese tourists can only see things improve; I fear that for those subjected to the next British horde of tourists it can only get worse. And now they want to have unlimited opening hours in pubs! Back in my day…

October 22, 2005 @ 8:43 pm | Comment

*SNORT*! You guys are cracking me up…

I had an interesting experience the last time I went to China a year ago. I traveled to Sichuan, which I hadn’t visited in more than 20 years. I went to two “sacred mountains,” Qingcheng Shan and Leshan. Qingcheng Shan was a truly magical experience. It’s a collection of Taoist shrines and temples. And though there were tourist acoutrements (sp?), like a sort of ski lift to the top of the mountain, I really had a sense of the sacred while I was there. You had the little businesses run by Chinese folks intermixed with the Daoist monks who were doing what they did, showing Chinese tourists how to throw the joss sticks and things like that – but it all felt very organic and natural, like a real community based around a sacred premise.

THEN I go to Leshan, home of the “World’s Biggest Buddha.” OMG, what a difference. The temples were total tourist attractions. I don’t think they were active in any religious sense. I remember one that had a Buddha carved into the rock wall – this formerly sacred statue was surrounded by green lights that flashed on and off. Chinese tourists were posing by the Buddha, leaning against it, treating like some sort of vaguely interesting but essentially meaningless backdrop. The whole experience was so disgusting that I didn’t even bother to stand in line for two-plus hours to go look at the effin’ World’s Biggest Buddha (I did see it from a boat, however).

But it was very strange, because I didn’t have that sense of being in a tacky tourist trap in Qingcheng Shan at all. I felt like it was actually still a sacred place on some level, and that everyone seemed to respect that. I’m not sure what the difference was, other than there still seemed to be an actual religious community at Qingcheng Shan, and there was nothing of the sort at Leshan.

October 22, 2005 @ 11:03 pm | Comment

Keir, I agree with Ivan’s reaction to those tourists ad he did the right thing. It’s just that the way he phrased his comment could give fodder to those loons out there who want to prove the Peking Duck is a “hate site.” Criticize what the idiots do — Chinese idiots, American idiots, all idiots. But don’t make categorical condemnations that could be perceived as racist.

October 22, 2005 @ 11:08 pm | Comment

I’m not sure if you get this in China or Tibet, but there is this curious little sub-section in Australian society who fall into the Smug Tourist category. Naturally, everyone is eager to improve their socio-economic status (and I empathise with the working class in many ways) but some people go about it in an insufferable manner. It is quite common here for people to go on holiday to, say, Bali and buy ridiculous quantities of souvenirs at ridiculously low prices, and then return home to brag to all their friends about how cheap everything was, and how amazingly simple and joyous (see Tibet above) the lives of the local people are. They display their $5 Indonesian warrior masks in places of honour and drop them into the conversation whenever anyone comes to visit. Proving that they are better off than people who live very difficult lives with a serious absence of service provision somehow makes them feel as though they have somehow ascended to new social heights.

On the subject of tourist attractions, I was recently in Russia and saw the most amazing thing. The main hall of St. Isaac’s Cathedral in St. Petersburg has not only an extensive giftshop, but ITS OWN ATM!!!

October 23, 2005 @ 12:08 am | Comment

Hey, the Forbidden City has a Starbucks…

October 23, 2005 @ 12:52 am | Comment

I had the great honour of accompanying five Chinese tourists to Europe last month (one of our executives, his wife, one of our bankers and his wife). We travelled from Frankfurt to Stuttgart/Ulm/Munich, Venice, Milan, Lyons, Paris by van with Chinese driver/guide.

They weren’t gross or disgusting like the tourists you describe. But let me tell you some of the highlights of our trip.

1. Meals: Apart from breakfast every meal was Chinese. I got to go to various Chinese restaurants that are making a killing out of Chinese group tourism to Europe ๐Ÿ™‚ We even managed to have lunch in Munich at the height of the beer festival and not have a beer! Breakfast was a delight — for me. My companions often had to bring out their instant noodles to soothe their cravings for home. (Oh, the final night was at a restaurant on the Eiffel Tower — heaven!)

2. We did the ‘sights’, which consisted in taking hurried personal snapshots in front of famous spots, you know, those old squares in Germany, the Bridge of Sighs, the Doges palace, La Scala, etc. We visited the Notre Dame and almost didn’t go inside. We took photos at the Bridge of Europe (Austria) with the freeway as a backdrop, when we could have gone 3 metres further on and actually had mountains as a backdrop. When I protested I was told ‘We’ve got mountains in China’.

3. Shopping. And shopping. And more shopping. Designer brands, like Hermes, Tiffany, Prada, Gucci, …. All afternoon one day in Milan, all afternoon in La Fayette in Paris, another afternoon in Printemps, and then more time at the duty-free shop at the airport (sigh).

4. Constant comparisons with China. “This river is no cleaner than the ones we have in China”. “Which is bigger, Versailles or the Forbidden City?” etc.

But I’m not saying it was all negative. The purpose of the trip was obviously to ‘reward’ the banker and his wife with a shopping spree so I guess I should consider myself lucky to have even got to go along.

As to the rushed nature of the trip, I was told that this was just a preliminary excursion to see what Europe is like. Next time they will come back and go and see the places that they really liked. A perspective that one has to agree with, even if you can’t stop wincing as you nod your head.

I also learnt something that nobody else knows about the Palace of Versailles. Do you know why the paving out the front is so rough and uneven? It’s designed to make anyone who approaches the palace watch the ground as they walk, thus forcing them to bow their heads as they come in. That, at least, was the theory of our Chinese tour guide. Ah, cultural differences! They are the spice of life!

October 23, 2005 @ 1:21 am | Comment

Some of the first eye-witness accounts of real Mainland tour groups was, of course, in HK.

I remember a good few years ago when they first started walking up and down Lang Kuai Fong on Friday nights – that was part of the bloody tour. All those drunken Westerners and HK Chinese staggering about outside the packed bars with tour groups, usually wearing yellow caps, walking past and gauping.

Sometimes a couple of them would jump up onto a bar stool outside a bar for a photograph, jump down and then catch up with the rest of the group.

Still, Macau is worse for Chinese hoards these days.

October 23, 2005 @ 1:37 am | Comment

Bathrobe said: Constant comparisons with China. “This river is no cleaner than the ones we have in China”. “Which is bigger, Versailles or the Forbidden City?” etc.

Reminds me of this BBC article, where 3 chefs visit California:

They are just not interested in exploring American history and culture, and they don’t want to see spectacular scenery, they’ve got plenty of that at home. What they do want is to see how America measures up to the American Dream. They’re all familiar with the stereotype of the United States as the richest and most advanced nation in the world, its lifestyle as the holy grail of development. And they want to see it in all its brilliant modernity, to understand how far China has to go to catch up, and whether the struggle will be worth it. Even lovely San Francisco doesn’t fit the bill. “If that’s going to be the end result of China’s development,” says one, “then I’m really in despair.”

Ironic, really, since everybody I knew on the Mainland would point out every mountain, temple, bridge, rock, tree – historically significant or not. And of course there’s that large blunt instrument called “5000 year history”. But when the tables are turned, the only question is “how much”?

October 23, 2005 @ 2:47 am | Comment

A bit OT, but bathrobe’s story reminded me of an “ugly American” story I read recently.

I showed them Tallinn’s medieval Old Town, but they were unimpressed. it was impossible for them to enjoy, because everything was a competition: “Our streets are wider than yours. Our cars are bigger than yours. American women have bigger breasts.”

I’ve noticed the same thing whenever certain relatives of mine visit me here in Europe. One of them — who has lived abroad and traveled extensively — still finds it necessary to compare everything with her hometown. “We have a bike path like that back in [my town]; this store reminds me of the one around the corner,” etc. For a long time I assumed it was just her; but no, the desire to cling to “home” while abroad is, it seems, nearly universal.

I’m looking forward to visiting the U.S. this fall so I can loudly complain about the lack of canals, the enormous streets (and people!), the fact that you have to drive everywhere, and the lack of buildings that are more than 50 years old. ๐Ÿ™‚

October 23, 2005 @ 3:25 am | Comment

davesgonechina, I quite clearly recall that piece about the Chinese chefs touring California, especially that line about San Francisco – ouch!

In fact, I saved the article, and sometimes use it for classroom discussion. Great conversation starter, especially when accompanied by pictures of that well-known traditional Chinese treat, the “fortune cookie”. ๐Ÿ™‚

October 23, 2005 @ 4:38 am | Comment

I am curious about these Chinese tourists in the British museum in 2003 – cos I thought the UK only recently got on to the list of accpetable places for Chinese to tour. Previously they could only get business or student visas……

It is true that many Chinese do behave obnoxiously, but then, as a Brit I have nothing to be proud of there. I have occasionally even had to pretend to be Italian or French. Maybe it is a matter of class (dare i say it?) where there is a complete contrast between the beered up mob in Ibiza and the people going to the more cultured spots of the world (and being utterly snobbish about it too – ‘Oh, did i tell you i went to obscure african country and handed out money and patted the kids on the head?)

However I think the key is that most chinese on their own or outnumbered will conform to the standards of the nation they are in. they know what real behaviour is, deep down.

I think the endless comparisons are hilarious. what? us? inferiority complex? with our 5000 yr culture?

October 23, 2005 @ 4:54 am | Comment

However I think the key is that most chinese on their own or
outnumbered will conform to the standards of the nation they are in.

Dead wrong, I believe, based on personal observations and the articles I read about Disneyland. Did you read them?

they know what real behaviour is, deep down.

Does deep dwn really matter when it comes to behavior? To me, all that really matters is the behavior. Deep down the SS guards knew it was rather dreadful to be shooting Russian citizens, but all that mattered were the shots they fired.

October 23, 2005 @ 5:30 am | Comment

As per Richard’s comments above, dead wrong. Absolutely and utterly, er, dead wrong. Extreme wishful thinking. Why can’t people just call a spade a spade?

October 23, 2005 @ 6:15 am | Comment

Chinese Tourists Abroad – The Story Behind the NYT Story

A couple of days ago the New York Times ran a story
by my old friend, Singapore-based correspondent…

October 23, 2005 @ 7:35 am | Comment

Oh dear … this really has become a thread for China bashing, hasn’t it?

Come on … the Chinese tourists aren’t that bad (except the peasants damaging priceless artifacts, who should have been shot). I’ve done a fair amount of backpacking / other tourism in my day … and I would say that all tourists (even the ones who insist they are ‘travellers’ and not touristis) are disgusting. It doesn’t matter if it’s a bus-load of Germans, Americans, English, Australians, Japanese, Chinese or whatever … bring 30 or 40 of them together in a foreign country, and you will get vile displays of one form or another. I wouldn’t put the Chinese at the bottom of the list in terms of behaviour, either.

October 23, 2005 @ 8:01 pm | Comment

Actually, I didn’t mean my post to be China-bashing. It wasn’t a great trip and it’s definitely not how I’d like to do it myself.

But the perspective was an interesting one. Despite my impatience with their point of view, I could understand where they are coming from.

One problem was simply limited time. We spent exactly one night at every destination except Paris (3 nights), a total of 10 nights for 3 countries. The other was the fact that it was a shopping tour.

And as my superior told me, his idea of an ideal holiday isn’t spending hours every day soaking up culture and history (he joked what a disaster it would be if they let me loose in the Louvre). What he would dearly love to do is go to a place where he doesn’t have to answer the phone all day. I felt for the guy.

October 23, 2005 @ 9:53 pm | Comment

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.