For Chinese Tourists Behaving Badly, A Government Blacklist

May 8, 2015
Originally published on May 11, 2015 10:45 am

"Ugly Americans" — tourists with appalling manners, loud voices, louder apparel and heaps of cultural insensitivity — have been an enduring stereotype for decades.

They are now facing a major challenge from their increasingly well-traveled Chinese counterparts.

Not only are the Chinese bemoaning their rudeness at home and abroad, the government has responded with new rules that took effect this week, aimed at keeping loutish travelers in check.

And in a major innovation, the government has named four tourists to a new blacklist, which could affect their credit ratings and freedom to travel for years.

There was considerable competition in the airborne category.

Travelers Wang Sheng and Zhang Yan earned special recognition for their performance on a Bangkok-to-China flight last December. When they did not immediately get the seats they wanted, they threw hot instant noodles at a flight attendant and threatened to blow up the plane. The pilot then made a U-turn and headed back to Bangkok, where police detained the pair.

Another traveler was blacklisted for opening a door on his flight as it was about to take off. Another was photographed climbing on statues of Chinese civil war-era soldiers.

Last year, Chinese tourists took 109 million trips overseas, 20 percent more than in 2013. Many host nations may be inclined to overlook misbehaving Chinese tourists because China now contributes more money to the global tourism industry than any other nation.

The problem of what Chinese officials call "uncivilized tourists" has become "a major issue in our oversight of the tourism industry," says Li Zhongguang, a researcher at an arm of the China National Tourism Administration.

"Our government has been forced to respond to it."

About two dozen government departments were involved in drafting the rules, Li says, including the ruling Communist Party's "Civilization Office," which is in charge of ideological affairs.

Li adds that China has had laws on the books for nearly two decades banning bad tourist behavior, and encouraging its opposite, but he says they haven't had the desired effect.

One of the most embarrassing episodes came two years ago, when a 15-year-old Chinese tourist carved his name on ancient bas reliefs in a temple in Luxor, Egypt.

Some Chinese citizens have questioned whether the new rules are too harsh, or infringe on civil liberties, such as privacy and the right to travel. Li says the concerns are overblown, and the rules will affect very few people.

"Some media have misread these rules as being tougher than they really are, like reporting that folks won't be able to pick their noses in public," he says. "These rules are really are only meant to curb the worst excesses."

Experienced Beijing-based tour operator Chuck Liu has taken tourists to many countries. He welcomes the new rules. He thinks they'll help him to help tourists avoid the most common forms of bad behavior, such as cutting in line, littering, smoking and talking loudly where they're not allowed.

"As adults, they completely understand the principles involved," Liu says of his customers. "It's just a matter of changing their ingrained habits."

Not everyone gets it, though.

"Some of them think nothing of it. They say 'never mind, it doesn't matter.' But I tell them, 'this is the law in the U.S. We're not in China anymore.'"

Liu remembers bringing a group to Hawaii during the Mid-Autumn Festival, a holiday celebrated by ethnic Chinese. In their luggage, the tour group members carried the traditional treat eaten during this holiday: mooncakes.

Liu says that when customs officers discovered the cakes, they said they'd have to confiscate them. And if it happened again, they could be barred from entering the U.S. But that's not where the story ends.

"While I was communicating with the customs officers, my group proceeded to eat all of the moon cakes," Liu says. "When the officers saw this, they were at first embarrassed. But then they got angry ... when they realized that the tourists had just eaten all the evidence.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Often, when we talk about China, we mention a lot of numbers. But the numbers can only tell you so much. For example, last year Chinese tourists took 109 million trips overseas. That's 20 percent more than the previous year. Those figures spell out explosive growth in tourism. What they don't spell out is another increase that's happening - growing rude behavior by those tourists. Nobody seems more appalled by all this than Chinese citizens themselves. And as NPR's Anthony Kuhn reports from Beijing, their government has just made new rules to keep bad-mannered tourists in check.

(SOUNDBITE OF AMATEUR VIDEO)

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Speaking foreign language).

ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: In this amateur video, a group of Chinese tourists are flying home from Thailand last December. One passenger, whose companion did not initially get the seats she wanted, threatens to blow up the plane. Another member of the group hurls a cup of hot instant noodles at the stewardess. The plane returns to Bangkok, where Thai police detain four of the tourists. Li Zhongguang is a researcher at an arm of the China National Tourism Administration. He says China's leaders are very concerned about the problem of what they call uncivilized tourists.

LI ZHONGGUANG: (Speaking foreign language, through interpreter) It has become a major issue in our oversight of the tourism industry. Our government has been forced to respond to it.

KUHN: Under new rules that take effect this week, authorities can blacklist ill-mannered sightseers, ban them from air travel for up to two years and downgrade their credit ratings. But Li says it won't affect most tourists.

ZHONGGUANG: (Speaking foreign language, through interpreter)Some media have misread these rules as being tougher than they really are, like reporting that folks won't be able to pick their noses in public. These rules really are only meant to curb the worst excesses.

(SOUNDBITE OF AMATEUR VIDEO)

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Speaking foreign language).

KUHN: Here's another amateur video of Chinese travelers; this time they're fighting each other in the aisles of an airplane in Thailand in February. Li Zhongguang says China has had laws for nearly two decades banning this sort of behavior, but it hasn't solved problems such as tourists cutting in line, smoking and talking loudly where they shouldn't.

One of the most embarrassing episodes came two years ago, when a 15-year-old Chinese tourist carved his name on ancient bas reliefs in a temple in Luxor, Egypt. Chuck Liu is an experienced Beijing-based tour operator. He welcomes the new rules. He thinks they'll help him to help his tourists avoid things like littering.

CHUCK LIU: (Speaking foreign language, through interpreter) As adults, they completely understand the principles involved. It's just a matter of changing their ingrained habits.

KUHN: He adds, though, that not everyone gets it.

LIU: (Speaking foreign language, through interpreter) Some of them think nothing of it. They say never mind. It doesn't matter. But I tell them this is the law in the U.S. We're not in China anymore.

KUHN: Liu remembers bringing a group to Hawaii one time. It happened to be China's Mid-Autumn Festival and the passengers were carrying holiday treats in their luggage - moon cakes. Liu says that when customs officers discovered the cakes, they said they'd have to confiscate them. And if it happened again, they could be barred from entering the U.S. But Liu says the story ended with an unexpected twist.

LIU: (Speaking foreign language, through interpreter) While I was communicating with the customs officers, my group proceeded to eat all of the moon cakes. When the officers saw this, they were at first embarrassed. But then they got angry when they realized that the tourists had just eaten all the evidence.

KUHN: Many host nations may be inclined to overlook the issue of tourists' manners as China now contributes more money to the global tourism industry than any other nation. Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Beijing. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.