Why some Chinese tourists behave so badly abroad

October 05, 2018 11:49
The recent saga of a Chinese family who was allegedly maltreated by police officers during a trip to Sweden has caused much controversy. Photo: Xinhua/Internet

Over the past 10 years or so, China has witnessed an explosive growth in the number of its outbound tourists, hitting nearly 130 million in 2017.

But while countries are scrambling for this nearly trillion-dollar market, they are also witnessing the impact of the huge influx of Chinese visitors on the local residents and environment, as well as the bad behavior of some inconsiderate Chinese visitors.

In 2016, the China National Tourism Administration announced that authorities would blacklist Chinese tourists who commit nine types of "uncivilized behavior" during their travels inside the country or abroad.

The move indicates that Beijing is concerned about the bad reputation Chinese tourists are earning for themselves in their overseas trips. 

However, with the rapid rise of patriotic and leftist sentiments in the country, defending the interests of Chinese travelers abroad has become a handy tool used by some officials to gain public approval and project China's growing stature and might.

One might still remember the classic line of martial arts actor Wu Jing in his 2017 blockbuster movie Wolf Warrior 2, which goes something like this: "The passport of the People’s Republic of China cannot guarantee that you can go anywhere in the world, but it can certainly bring you home safe..."

We were reminded of this line when he heard of the alleged maltreatment of three Chinese tourists in Sweden recently.

Based on Chinese media accounts, a man surnamed Zeng and his elderly parents arrived at a hostel in Stockholm in the early hours of Sept. 2.

The hostel staff told them that their room wouldn’t be available until later in the day, and refused to let them stay in the lobby.

The staff even called in the local police, who dragged Zeng's parents out of the hostel and eventually dumped the three of them at a cemetery dozens of kilometers away from downtown, according to Zeng's account.

The incident immediately drew condemnation from the Chinese foreign ministry. The Chinese embassy in Sweden also issued a travel alert, warning Chinese citizens to be mindful of their safety when traveling to the Scandinavian country.

However, a recent investigative report by Swedish media has suggested a different story.

According to this version, the Zengs actually made a mistake about the date of their booking. And when they arrived at the hostel in the wee hours of Sept. 2, all the rooms were fully booked.

After hostel staff refused to let them sleep on the couch in the lobby and asked them to leave, the three started making a scene. Consequently, the staff decided to call the police.

A number of CCTV video clips showed that the Swedish police officers actually acted professionally and exercised restraint when they escorted the Zengs out of the hostel.

It was Zeng himself who suddenly dropped to the ground next to a female Swedish police officer, who didn’t even touch him, and began yelling, “This is killing!”

To avoid causing a commotion in the neighborhood, the police officers herded them into a patrol vehicle and dropped them off at a bus stop in front of a subway station, which was about eight minutes' drive from the hostel. There was a church nearby that had its doors open 24 hours a day, and next to the church was a cemetery.

Later, word circulated on Chinese social media that the Zengs were actually “repeat offenders”: it wasn’t the first time that they had engaged in brawls during their travels. In one instance, they were said to have quarreled with airline service staff at the airport asking for "perks".

Regarding the Stockholm incident, some netizens suggested that the Zengs deliberately arrived at the hostel ahead of their scheduled check-in time in order to save money, while others alleged that they were on a junket using public funds.

Netizens also noted that despite their “ordeal”, the Zengs managed to remain in a pretty good mood throughout their European journey, as evidenced by their smiling faces in pictures of their trip that they uploaded to their social media accounts.

It seems that some Chinese tourists have become so imbued with a feeling of superiority in view of the motherland's growing wealth and might that they wouldn't hesitate to demand immediate intervention by their embassies or consulates even over minor inconveniences such as flight delays due to bad weather or disputes with tour guides.

And because of the desire to remain “politically correct”, Chinese embassies and consulates rarely decline their requests for help.

Consequently, some mainland tourists behave like spoiled brats who would kick up a big fuss whenever they are unhappy with anything or they cannot get what they want during their travels abroad.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Sept 28

Translation by Alan Lee with additional reporting

[Chinese version 中文版]

– Contact us at [email protected]


Hong Kong Economic Journal contributor