A report on Yahoo! China got our attention because of it’s uh, attention-grabbing headline: 中国游客海外不文明行为震动高层 (“The uncivilized behavior of Chinese tourists abroad shocks the upper levels of government”). The central government’s “Civilization Bureau” recently ran an internet survey and just published the results (in Chinese) a little over a week ago. This includes the top 10 uncivilized Chinese behaviors abroad as well as 20 suggestion about how to improve the situation.
It seems that this is just part of a three year effort by this particular bureau, in conjunction with the Tourism Bureau, to tackle this problem. As one might expect, the issue quickly shifted focus from what happens abroad to what happens at home, since, generally speaking, one is an extension of the other.
There are different explanations for the public hocking, spitting, littering, etc. One scholar states that the notion of what can and can’t be done in a public space begins in childhood, namely with being able to open that crack in the pants and shit/piss in public.
The debate over China’s public morality (or lack thereof) isn’t new, as mentioned in the article. One of the books that sparked the debate was Bo Yang’s 1985 book The Ugly Chinaman and the Crisis of Chinese Culture (or 《丑陋的中国人》 in Chinese) which we haven’t read but evidently contains many of the anecdotal incidents that we’ve all become familiar with: people talking so loud that others thought they were fighting, the Chinese shop lady with the bad attitude, etc.
A professor named Guo Xiaochong says in the article that social and public morality first began to decline sometime in the middle of the Ming dynasty. At this time population increases and other environmental factors resulted in a large “floating population” which went from something fairly marginal outside mainstream society to becoming something akin to a society outside society — the jiang hu (江湖). This was the world of sworn brothers and secret societies, travelling swordsmen and the like. If you’re interested in this topic, you can check out this recent book which discusses the history and lasting influence of the jiang hu on Chinese society. In fact, one of the book’s main points is to trace many of society’s negative influences and phenomenon back to the jiang hu, where there is a codified set of rules and laws governing behavior which are often in direct conflict with the official rules and laws written in the books.
We’re not experts on this subject and we haven’t finished that book but it’s an interesting read.
Of course, no discussion of China’s social ills would be complete without a mention of the Cultural Revolution, where education for struggle (斗争教育) — class struggle — is considered the primary culprit in the deterioration of public morality even now, 30 years later.
The government will come up with some new guidelines for Chinese who plan to travel abroad. Most of the initiatives center around education, ranging from educating children (the tourists of tomorrow) to having tour guides educate their groups about the customs, culture, and social etiquette of whatever country they’re visiting. The article points out that a lot of the negative things that happen also result from the fact the people in the host countries receiving these tour groups are also (ethnic) Chinese and thus tend to enable or facilitate certain undesirable behaviors, or at least look the other way.
The other side of that coin is ‘punishment,’ but there’s a lot of disagreement about how that might work. The tour guides are making money from the tourists, are they going to really complain about the behavior of their customers? However, measures like nullifying passports seem a bit too draconian.
Photo from newsabahtimes.com.my.