Chinese travelers' uncivil liberties
By Candy Zeng
SHENZHEN - Even though Chinese civilization has a history going back thousands
of years, the government today is having to make arduous efforts to polish
China's international image as a "civilized" nation, which is being undermined
by the vulgar, impolite, and undisciplined behavior of its citizens who travel.
The Chinese government is concerned enough that it is mulling legislation to
ban or restrict citizens from making overseas trips
who have a record of bad behavior in previous travels to foreign countries. The
authorities are also launching an education campaign to foster what they
deem to be good behavior for Chinese tourists.
The authorities apparently hope that through regulation and education, Chinese
citizens will behave in a more "civilized" way during the 2008 Summer Olympic
Games in Beijing and the Shanghai World Expo in 2010, so that national pride
and dignity will not be compromised. In short, they are trying to set new
ethical standards for Chinese citizens.
Analysts say this reflects the fact that China is undergoing fundamental
social changes occasioned by its dramatic economic development. Gone are
the outdated socialist ethics, while new ones have yet to be established, more
than two decades after China's boom began.
Right before this year's National Day "golden week" holiday, authorities in
some tourist destinations, such as Xian and Xiamen, launched citywide
propaganda campaigns trying to educate holidaymakers on proper behavior in
It was a prelude to a national program to improve Chinese tourists' behavior.
The program was jointly unveiled on September 1 by the National Tourism
Administration and Central Commission for Guiding Ethical and Cultural
Progress, an ad hoc organ of the central government overseeing the
establishment of new ethical standards.
The circular criticized some Chinese tourists for their poor sense of courtesy
and tendency to pay little attention to sanitation and environmental
protection, particularly when making trips to foreign countries. It said poor
manners had aroused concern and criticism at home and abroad to an extent that
they were "affecting China's international image".
The most common forms of "bad behavior" among Chinese tourists, such as
inscribing their names on walls or pillars, spitting, talking loudly and
randomly littering, are frequently seen in tourist spots favored by Chinese
In Beijing's Tuanjiehu Lake Park, bridges and trees are covered with scratches
of people's names and love messages sometimes written in white correction
fluid. Such random calligraphy increased after the park was opened to the
public for free on July 1, said park management staff.
And Tuanjiehu Lake Park is by no means an isolated case. All parks in Beijing,
free admission or not, experience such deprecations imposed by careless
travelers. At the Summer Palace, tourists were found lining up to climb
over a guard rail to take snapshots of one another with a bronze kirin,
even though there was a sign indicating that the historical cultural relic
should be protected and taken good care of.
It has also been reported that in some Western countries receiving Chinese
tourists, signs in Chinese have been put up in toilets, restaurants and museums
requesting people from the "country with the time-honored civilization" to
observe basic social rules such as flushing the toilet after use, eating
silently, appreciating classic masterpieces and not spitting.
A travel guide said a hotel in France once canceled reservations by his
company just before his clients were to arrive at the hotel. "It
complained about the last group of Chinese tourists, who had shouted in the
lobby and messed up the rooms. It would rather pay the default penalty than put
up with it again," said the guide.
The exposure of indecent behavior of outbound Chinese travelers by overseas
media especially touches the nerves of the central government, anxious to
protect the integrity of the 2008 Olympic Games. The government expects that
more than 2 million domestic tourists will visit Beijing during the Games in
addition to 250,000 foreign tourists.
Moreover, China is expected to become the largest tourist destination country
and exporter of outbound tourists in the world by 2020. Last year the country
recorded a boom in outbound travel - more than 31 million went abroad,
which almost doubled the 2002 figure of 16 million.
"Improper manners undermine the individual image of the tourists and that of
the country as a whole. They directly erode China's reputation in the world and
greatly hinder the development of China's tourism," said Shao Qiwei, minister
in charge of the National Tourism Administration. He spoke at an
early-September video teleconference to mobilize the implementation of the
regulatory and educational programs needed to improve the behavior of Chinese
The program is scheduled to be enforced until August 2008, when the Olympic
Games kick off in Beijing. Several government departments will be involved in
the campaign, including the National Tourism Administration, the Foreign
Ministry and the ministries of Public Security, Commerce, Construction,
Railways, Civil Aviation and Transportation.
For outbound tours, civil servants and state company executives will be
specifically targeted for etiquette training and monitoring, according to the
Professor Ge Chenhong of Renmin University in Beijing wrote in the People's
Daily that the common and bad manners of some Chinese indicate that etiquette
education is lagging behind the country's economic development. In Ge's view,
ignorance of cultural differences also contributed to unwelcome manners in
The improvement of Chinese tourists' behavior is also related to better
management of travel companies, he said. He called on the tourism industry to
join hands with the government to push Chinese travelers to behave themselves
Candy Zeng is a freelance writer based in Shenzhen, China.