Miss Manners sets her sites on Chinese tourists

We all remember the stories last year about Chinese tourists creating a stir at the Hong Kong Disneyland due to their, um, unique approach to lines, hygiene, and basic social considerations. (An earlier post on this topic generated lots of interesting comments.) Now, as more Chinese travel overseas, it appears the government’s worried their tourists’ lack of charm will tarnish the country’s reputation. Time for a new public awareness campaign.

A Chinese etiquette watchdog has launched an education campaign to correct the embarrassing habits of Chinese tourists at home and abroad, a state newspaper reported on Thursday. The official Spiritual Civilisation Steering Committee’s “Campaign to Promote Civilised Chinese Travellers” will last until after the Olympic Games, the China Daily said, and comes as a response to negative publicity garnered by Chinese tourists’ behaviour overseas.

“Currently, the behaviour of our country’s tourists is not compatible with the rapid development of the tourist industry, nor with China’s international standing,” the committee said in a statement on its Web site.

In May, the official Xinhua news agency cited Singapore media reports of airline and hotel staff complaining about Chinese tourists spitting, talking loudly and being rude….

The committee cited some Chinese tourists’ lack of concern for appearance, hygiene, courtesy, the law, the environment and public infrastructure, as damaging “the image of China as a civilised country” and generating “widespread attention and criticism domestically and overseas.”

Such campaigns have a history of limited success. I remember when I was there the government was trying to convince Beijing men that it was uncouth to walk around in the summer with their shirts rolled up to their necks. And there’ve been several anti-spitting campaigns, most of which were ignored (although the last time i was in China I saw a marked decrease in the number of phlegm-throwers, for whatever reasons). There was also the safe driving campaign this year, with sickening photos of maimed car accident victims plastered around the city. Has the driving improved? (Serious question.) Maybe this campaign will be successful, and it’s good that they are trying to improve China’s image. My heart just goes out to them, because it’s so difficult to wean people away from their time-honored habits. And it goes a lot deeper than spitting anywhere and everywhere or being inconsiderate to those around you; it’s a matter of recognizing that you and your families aren’t the only souls in the universe, and that part of the social contract is mutual respect. They’re getting there, slowly but surely, though there’s quite a way to go.

The Discussion: 10 Comments

It’s a problem that I think stems from isolation. Until very recently, few Chinese had ever been abroad and thus the society had not been exposed to the norms of other cultures.

However, trying to change the behavious of Chinese travellers is different to changing the behaviour of all Chinese in China.

The latter I think is impossible and unwise (however much it irritates the foreign visitor to China), even smacking of the re-educational mores of the CultRev. The former will soon come. I have yet to see a Chinese tourist spit on the streets of Amsterdam, where I live now, but if I do I will have a word with them…

August 17, 2006 @ 7:09 am | Comment

Someone, perhaps at TalkTalkChina, suggested adopting the Singaporean model: harsh fines and caning. I think it’s worth a look.

Richard, you might be interested in this. It isn’t often I rant about the conservative media in the U.S. but Bernard Lewis had this thing about the world ending in the Wall Street Journal and it really drove me up the wall:


You might be interested.

August 17, 2006 @ 7:12 am | Comment

I think generational change will make all the difference, at least in the urban areas.

Most of the worst public behavior comes from the Cultural Revolution generation, who got shorted on education and had to endure so much turmoil. I find those under about 35 are so different that I think issues like this will be all but forgotten in 20-25 years.

By then, I think life in China’s major cities will be markedly more civil. I can see big differences already in the five years I’ve been around. You know, we westerners living here are notoriously quick to criticize Chinese where progress is lacking, but we should be equally quick to congratulate them on speedy improvements.

In the meantime, gov’t programs sometimes do make a difference. Shanghai’s recent anti-jaywalking and other traffic measures are showing results. For example I notice right-on-red-turning motorists are becoming less likely to charge pedestrians in crosswalks (I’m cancelling my order for body armor).

One thing about this issue that often strikes me – in the west, most rude public behavior comes from young people, while old folks are generally kindly. In China, it’s young people who are generally kindly, and old folks the ones being rude in public. ๐Ÿ™‚

August 17, 2006 @ 9:37 am | Comment

We’re now seeing large numbers of Chinese tourists arriving in Sydney since the tourism agreement was agreed last year. I can’t say that Chinese tourists are acting in a noticeably uncivilised way – none of the “5 S’s” (spitting, shouting, shoving, staring, squatting) apparent so far. Chinese tourists tend to isolate themselves from locals by travelling in tour groups arranged by Chinese companies that stick to Chinese restaurants and souvenir vendors.

August 17, 2006 @ 5:35 pm | Comment

“One thing about this issue that often strikes me – in the west, most rude public behavior comes from young people, while old folks are generally kindly. In China, it’s young people who are generally kindly, and old folks the ones being rude in public. :-)”

It really depends on the Culture. In some retirement communities in the US, the behavior of the seniors in comparison with the rest of the locals is frightful. There’s very much an “i’m entitled to” mentality. This comes not from ignorance, but from a false sense of self-worth. Granted, this is not the social norm for the country or any region, but the behavior of a few seniors.

August 17, 2006 @ 10:54 pm | Comment

If you haven’t seen it yet, this sums up the Chinese tourist problem nicely:


August 18, 2006 @ 12:41 am | Comment

Need to get this off my chest:
A couple of years ago I had just gone through Hong Kong/China customs at the Shenzhen Lowu border crossing. You exit at ground level, up above is an automobile flyover where taxis etc. drop people off. Its hot, I’m tired, and I am walking towards the bus stop when I feel something wet on my head. It can’t be bird shit, because I have never seen an uncaged bird in Shenzhen. So I touch my head and feel a big gob of phlegm. I think at that moment in time, it was OK to for me to have thoughts that stereotype a whole nation of people in a not-so-nice way.

A taxi driver must have hocked one from his open cab window as he drove along the flyover, and I was the beneficiary of his largess as it must have sailed over the guardrail and downwards towards the ground-level street. Needless to say, I took a long shower as soon as I reached my apartment. My wife takes great joy in hearing this story.

August 18, 2006 @ 3:46 am | Comment

Yuck. Thanks for sharing.

As to the comenter above who says it’s not the tourist classes who need etiquette training – I disagree. I’ll never forget the time I saw a businessman in a full dress suit in a 5-star hotel in Xi’An clear his throat and hock a huge loogey on the lobby floor. In front of everyone. He was probably in his 40s. And those travelers to Hong Kong who took off their shoes and lay down on the Disneyland lawn were tourists, not peasants.

August 18, 2006 @ 3:58 am | Comment

in my six years in china i have never been spat on. i did get pissed on once by a baby. her mom was holding her out to take a piss on the floor of the bus we were on, and i guess i was too close. i got some on my leg. that was during my first month, up in laoning.

August 18, 2006 @ 4:57 am | Comment

Yeah, fair enough. I’m reminded of the guy on the aeroplane coming back from the Zhuhai airshow who insisted on hawking and spitting all the way through the two-hour flight. At least he did it in a paper cup. But still…

August 18, 2006 @ 5:00 am | Comment

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