Tourists’ mistakes stem from inexperience, not inherent cultural flaws

By Liu Zhun Source:Global Times Published: 2013-8-8 19:33:01

Washington DC was disturbed by a string of vandalism at the end of July. The capital's historic landmarks, such as the Lincoln Memorial, National Cathedral and the statue of Joseph Henry, were splashed with green paint over a period of two weeks.

The suspected vandal was caught soon after in the National Cathedral. She was identified as a 58-year-old Chinese woman, Tian Jiamei. She was reported as having arrived in Washington on an expired tourist visa a few days before her arrest, and appearing to be mentally ill.

The damage she has caused, according to the cathedral's spokesman Richard Weinberg, is roughly $15,000.

The Chinese media is paying close attention to the issue. People couldn't help recalling another incident that touched nerves this summer:

Ding Jinhao, a Chinese kid who traveled to Egypt with his parents, scrawled "Ding Jinhao was here" on a 3,500-year-old stone carving.

As well as vandalism, Chinese tourists are also criticized both at home and abroad for rude behavior, for example speaking loudly in public, spitting everywhere and cutting in line. The latest news is a set of photos on the Internet, showing some Chinese tourists soaking their feet in a fountain in front of the Louvre Museum in Paris.

These "uncivilized behaviors" have even drawn attention from China's top leadership. Wang Yang, China's Vice Premier, pointed out in mid-May that these behaviors have tarnished Chinese people's image.

Uncultured Chinese tourists are embarrassing everyone.

However, on the other hand, some people, especially Chinese people themselves, dig into the cause of such dire manners and bad etiquette, believing Chinese are still under the curse of inherent "national flaws."

This is actually not self-criticism, but internalized prejudice. It is very weird that many Chinese are becoming addicted to deliberately selecting negative images of their compatriots and imposing strong criticism over them.

When the feet-soaking photos were posted on Weibo, many of their compatriots got on their high horse, saying it is another embodiment of inherent flaws of the Chinese.

But the truth is, the fountain in front of the Louvre Museum is a place where many travelers and local citizens chat and rest, and soaking their feet in it is a recognized act to refresh themselves in a hot summer.

The Paris authorities would not even interfere as long as there is no deliberate damage.

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.

Hyping up the so-called national flaws makes people insecure about their capabilities, which does no help to promote a true improvement of China's international image.

This "uncivilized behavior" is sometimes caused by cultural differences, such as speaking aloud and laughing in restaurants and public places. Learning how to respect and follow local traditions and customs should be the first lesson for Chinese tourists.

Other countries, from the US to Japan, also acquired a poor reputation for boorishly behaved tourists when they became rich enough to travel widely overseas, before adapting over time.

As for some deliberate activities, such as splashing paint at the Lincoln Memorial and carving on cultural relics, it should be noted that these are global problems, and Chinese are not the only perpetrators. On the contrary, Chinese are also victims, because many non-Chinese names can also be found carved on China's cultural relics, such as the Great Wall.

Cases concerning vandalism and other "uncivilized behaviors" should be treated in a fairer and more individual manner.

Blaming race or nationality is equally uncivilized, whether the blame comes from inside or outside.

The author is a Global Times reporter.

Posted in: Viewpoint

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