Move over 'ugly American,' China's tourists are in town

After a young Chinese boy defaced an ancient Egyptian temple, it looks like the 'ugly American' that some Europeans and Latin Americans love to hate is about to get a run for his money.

The Chinese words "Ding Jinhao visited here" is seen on bas-relief in the 3,500-year-old Luxor temple in Luxor, Egypt, May 6. A Chinese teenager who defaced the ancient temple in Egypt with graffiti has come under fire at home where his vandalism prompted public fretting about how to cultivate a good image overseas as more newly affluent Chinese travel abroad.

The Chinese government is getting worried that as its newly rich citizen-tourists fan out across the world, their behavior is giving their country a bad name.

The latest incident of Philistinism, in which a Chinese teenager scratched his name in a 3,500 year old bas relief in a temple in Luxor, in Egypt, has also triggered a tsunami of embarrassed anger among China’s Internet community.

Earlier this month, deputy Premier Wang Yang was merciless during a televised meeting called to discuss a proposed tourism law. Too many Chinese tourists “talk loudly in public, cross the road when they shouldn’t, spit, and carve characters on tourist attractions,” he complained. “This has damaged China’s image and had a dreadful impact.”

Fifteen-year-old Ding Jinhao has not helped. He is the young hooligan who scratched graffiti into a Luxor temple wall – graffiti photographed by another Chinese tourist who then posted the desecration on Sina Weibo, a Twitter-like social media platform, last week.

More than a quarter of a million people have commented on the post, mostly to express their shame. His parents have publicly apologized.

Jinhao is hardly the first visitor to have defaced Egyptian monuments. Tourists have been carving their names into the pyramids outside Cairo for millennia. (My favorite: a wistful inscription in Latin left by a lonely Roman atop Cheops’ pyramid. “I saw the pyramids without you, and wept.”)

But young Jinhao’s indiscretion, which the Egyptian authorities say they have now repaired, is only the most recent in a litany of reports from abroad about the ways in which Chinese tourists have managed to offend the locals.

If it’s not Hong Kongers sniffing at a mainland mother encouraging her young son to urinate into a bottle in the middle of a restaurant, it’s Balinese complaining about brash Chinese tourists making too much noise, or Thai Buddhists offended by immodestly dressed Chinese female visitors to temples.

The Chinese Tourism Agency has taken note of these reports. Last month the government department issued a set of “civilized behavior guidelines” for tourists going abroad, urging them to “be attentive to etiquette, maintain dignity … protect the environment…queue in an orderly fashion and eat quietly” among other recommendations.

On the same day, though, the agency issued a similar, but even more draconian, charter intended to govern the behavior of visitors to domestic tourist attractions, warning them not to sneeze in other people’s faces, nor to chase and hit animals, nor to spend too long in public lavatories.

 In the end, lamented deputy Premier Wang, the problem comes down to what he called “the poor quality and breeding” of many Chinese, whether they are at home or abroad. It looks like the “ugly American” that some Europeans and Latin Americans love to hate is about to get a run for his money. 

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