China Is Trying To Make Chinese Tourists Less Embarrassing

Adam Taylor

Nationalistic angst over the apparently poor reputation of Chinese tourists abroad is leading to official action.

Xinhua News Agency reports that for five consecutive days since last Wednesday, Xinwen Lianbo, a flagship news program on the state-run China Central Television (CCTV), has aired videos aimed at making Chinese tourists more polite.

It's a pretty bold move — as Xinhua notes, Xinwen Lianbo is usually a political news and major events — but it shows just how concerned the Chinese establishment is about the reputation of its tourists abroad.

Things are so serious that on October 1, a new tourism law will come into place that will make it legally binding for Chinese tourists to respect local customs and traditions, and unruly holiday makers will risk penalties, according to Xinhua.

Are Chinese tourists really so bad? Well, within recent memory there have been a few unsavory incidents that have gone viral online.

For example, a Chinese teenager scrawled his name on the 3,500-years-ago old Luxor Temple in Egypt:

The beach-goers who posed with a dying dolphin in the Hainin, China:

Or the Chinese tourists photographed with their feet in the water at a fountain by the Lourve in Paris:

While these incidents are all quite embarrassing (and some even worse), it's noteworthy that many went viral on Chinese social media first before gaining international attention, indicating that perhaps the Chinese are more concerned with how they are perceived abroad than others are.

And sometimes the controversy seems a little unfair: After photographs of people dipping their feet in the Lourve's fountain created condemnation, a number of bloggers were forced to point out that a lot of non-Chinese looking people have been photographed doing the same.

Part of the problem, if there is one, might be that an unprecedented rise in living standards in China has resulted in a generation of tourists who have never really learned how to "be tourists." International trips by Chinese tourists grew from 10 million in 2000 to 83 million in 2012, according to the UNWTO World Tourism Barometer, and Chinese tourists recently overtook Americans to become the biggest spenders in the world.

The clear hope is that a little education will go a long way to informing these inexperienced tourists. From one Global Times editorial last month:

It is understandable that China desires to improve its image in the international community. Many hope that it can recover its traditional reputation as a courteous country.

But for a country that has just escaped from poverty and backwaters, patience and education of civic virtues are what really matter.

There may be more hope too. One recent poll said that the Chinese are only the third "worst" tourists in the world.

In this category at least, Americans still rule the roost.

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