Welcome to China, now behave

2013-07-25 10:21

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Beijing - The picturesque town of Lijiang in south-western China bursts with tourists and souvenir vendors where Naxi minority farmers sold their wares from the ancient cobbles until 20 years ago.

Once a trading hub on the Tea and Horse Road through Yunnan province to Myanmar and India, UNESCO-listed Lijiang is a more extreme example of how a tourism boom has transformed the favourite destinations of tens of millions of affluent Chinese looking for escape from larger cities.

At night, groups of noisy tourists sometimes stagger between neon-lit, bass-shaken bars in scenes that would not be out of place in Ibiza or Phuket.

The Lijiang government has posted signs urging visitors to behave as "civilized tourists," joining a national campaign that received fresh impetus in May after online photographs showed a 14-year-old Chinese boy's name scrawled over a 3 500-year-old relief carving in Egypt's Luxor Temple.

"We failed to give good care and education," the unnamed father of Ding Jinhao said after online commentators launched a "human flesh search" to find the author of the Luxor graffiti.

Incidents like the Luxor carving have grabbed global media attention because of the huge increase in foreign trips by Chinese tourists, said Wu Bihu, an expert in tourism at Beijing University.

"In recent years, more and more people travel abroad so their behaviour is exposed by foreign media," Wu said. "Especially with this carving case in Egypt, there are so many criticisms on the internet."

The widespread criticism reflected "people's awareness of protecting historical relics" and showed that tourists' behaviour was already improving, Wu told dpa.

Some of the reported problems reflect cultural differences and are especially common on tours to Europe, said Wang Zhiwei, general manager of the Shanghai branch of state-run China Youth Travel Service.

"For example, squatting down on the ground and being too noisy in public," Wang said. "Westerners don't have such habits."

"Leaving litter in public and talking loudly are the two worst habits, and also cutting in line," he said.

Most Chinese travel in groups, especially on overseas trips, partly because of many nations' visa restrictions for independent travellers from China.

Amid the surge in Chinese tourism to Europe, South-East Asia and other areas, Vice Premier Wang Yang said in May urged people to cultivate "healthy and civilized" manners and project a "good image" of China.

In some places, like Paris, the sheer number of tourists has created a headache for some locals.

Yet while the rest of the world may be impressed by the scale of China's foreign travel boom, it is nothing compared with the exponential growth of domestic tourism.

China's 1.34 billion people made 83 million overseas trips and 3 billion domestic trips last year, according to government statistics.

During the debate about Luxor, state media reported similar incidents in China. In February, a Chinese tourist etched his name on a cauldron in the Forbidden City, Beijing's world-famous former imperial palace.

Critics of domestic tourism often accuse visitors, local governments, developers and tour operators of cultural insensitivity in less developed, remote areas of China traditionally inhabited by Tibetans, Uighurs, Mongolians and other minorities.

"In general, people from wealthier places travel to poorer places," Wu said. "Then there is a collision between 'higher culture' and 'lower culture'," he said.

"During that collision, some people respect local customs and culture, some people may be more egocentric and rude," Wu said. "This is a problem among all peoples, not just Chinese."
State media have also highlighted cases of drunkenness, rudeness, sexual harassment and other bad behaviour by foreigners in China.

Following the public debate over the Luxor graffiti, the government issued a code of conduct for tourists as part of a new tourism law to be implemented from October.

"Being a civilized tourist is the obligation of each citizen," said the document, which urges tourists to refrain from damaging or climbing on cultural relics and to take photographs only if allowed by local customs and regulations.

Chinese tourists should "observe public order and respect social morality," maintain a clean environment, respect other people's rights and seek "appropriate entertainment," it said, apparently advising against the gambling and sex-centred entertainment favoured by many Chinese tourists.

Wu said travel agencies should also play a role and "educate their customers" in how to behave both at home and abroad. But Wang said that was impossible.

"Guides' words are useless," Wang said. "They have paid, so the customers are our gods."

 

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