Do Chinese tourists behaving badly tarnish the entire country?

Last year Chinese people made 122 million holiday trips overseas, mostly acting as good "ambassadors for China." Not all of them behaved well, though...

Last year Chinese people made 122 million holiday trips overseas, mostly acting as good “ambassadors for China.” Not all of them behaved well, though, and that tarnishes the image of the country internationally, whether that’s fair or not.

That’s why the Chinese government introduced strict measures to curb bad behaviors by outbound Chinese tourists in recent years. The first tourism law was issued in 2013, stating that “tourists shall observe public order and respect social morality in tourist activities, respect local customs, cultural traditions and religious beliefs, care for tourism resources, protect the ecological environment, and abide by the norms of civilized tourist behaviors.”

Then, last year, nine rules for tourists traveling abroad were released which, if broken, can lead to individual travel bans of up to 10 years. The rules include specific parts like interfering with aircraft or public transport, damaging public facilities and participating in prostitution or drug use, but they also include very broad provisions, like No. 9 which simply says: “Other behaviors that cause a negative impact.”

There’s a whole lot of room for interpretation there.

It’s true that bad behaviors from Western tourists are often seen as just the actions of “bad apples,” so is it really fair to judge all Chinese based on the actions of a few? I would say no.

Recently I wrote about how the actions of individuals shouldn’t be taken as an indication of an entire group of people, but this situation is a little more complicated. Based on the new tourism law, judging a group according to the actions of a few is understandable, which is why the government is focusing so much effort on rectifying the behaviors of Chinese travelers who voyage overseas.

I experienced many such bad behaviors firsthand in Bangkok last week. They were largely performed by elderly Chinese in tour groups, and they seemed intent on being loud, obnoxious, spitting and pushing into lines.

According to a report released by China Tourism Academy and Ctrip, Thailand is the country where Chinese tourists spent the most in 2016.

Besides nihao (hello), Thai people who work in hot tourist spots have another phrase they’ve had to learn, probably out of complete necessity, paidui (line up). You will hear it screamed out, with a Thai accent, as you try to enjoy temples, malls, parks or, well, anywhere.

Another two lines that all Thai flight attendants seem to have learned by heart are “zuohao!” (sit down) and “guan shouji!” (turn off your phone). Some elderly Chinese tourists seem to love chatting on the phone as the plane is taking off or coming in to land, and they’re particularly fond of standing up to grab their bags while the plane is still taxiing.

At one time a visibly exhausted flight attendant stood up to make about half the plane of tourists sit down as the plane taxied — an old woman passenger yelled back, in Chinese, “you sit down!”

That’s nothing compared with the two Chinese tourists who caused a plane flying from Bangkok to Nanjing to turn back after an incident with flight crew which included hot noodle water being thrown on a flight attendant. Those two were among the first to be banned from traveling. According to China's National Tourism Administration, many of the Chinese blacklisted are from incidents on planes.

The tough thing is that these unruly groups are easily identifiable as Chinese, whereas their well-behaved compatriots — the young Chinese couple or the three Chinese friends — often go unnoticed, melting into the background, unable to help pull Chinese tourists out of their brute predicament.

Part of the problem seems to be due to pack mentality. Once one person in a group goes crazy — whether it be rushing onto a ferry to grab the remaining seats or rushing onto a plane for Bob-knows-why — the rest are soon whipped into a frenzy, too. That seems to extend to other bad behavior, too, like pushing and shoving and jumping lines.

Since the travel ban on unruly Chinese tourists has come into place, only a few dozen have been added to it. Perhaps these measures need to become more strict, and more frequent, for any real impact to be seen.

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