The nouveau-riche mainland Chinese tourists are giving the Chinese diaspora a bad name.

Over the past few years, the notoriously bad behaviour of mainland Chinese tourists have been highlighted time and again in various media outlets––from credible news sites to tabloids. Run a search of “rude Chinese tourists” on YouTube and you’ll see a list of videos of ill-behaved Chinese tourists.

Such bad behaviour include talking loudly, defecating outside a store, and most recently, trashing Shanghai Disneyland a month before its official opening.

The situation has become so dire that last year, the Chinese tourism authority banned handful of tourists from travelling. Even Switzerland has introduced separate trains for Chinese tourists. And yet, it hasn’t seemed to stop these ill-mannered tourists from bringing their “uncivilised” ways to their travel destinations.

Why are they so rude?

During the Chinese Cultural Revolution, “Mao ordered a massive assault on the institutions built by 18 years of Communist rule—and on the intellectual and social remnants of the past… Their objective was the “four olds—old habits, manners, custom, and culture,” in sum really the entire extant civilization of China,” writes journalist Robert Elegant.

Reddit user nei_wo explains, “When you grow up in such a impoverished environment you become very selfish and disregard other people’s values and perspective of you. But the problem is, it wasn’t just one generation of children growing up during the Revolution and Famine, it was 2, 3 generations living under it. This caused all principles to be abandoned. Parents teach their children how to survive, when you have to survive you don’t care about anyone.”

Not all of them are rude and selfish though. I have personally met a few polite, civilised mainland Chinese in my own country and during my travels abroad. They tend to come from privileged backgrounds, or at least privileged enough to have been educated abroad, or have grown up abroad. Growing up abroad means they would have to learn the rules, customs, and manners of what it means to be “civilised” in their home away from the motherland––they have assimilated. They haven’t been exposed to mainland Chinese culture as much as born-and-bred mainlanders have.

The rude ones tend to be the nouveau-riche, known as 土豪 (tuhao). The newly minted Chinese who’ve perhaps made a fortune through hard work, connections, or selling farm land and resources. Whatever it is, the combination of growing up during the Cultural Revolution and new money has resulted in the lack of civility. The speed at which the Chinese attained their wealth superceded the time they had to learn civilised behaviour or the etiquette of the upper-class. They were not taught how to dress, talk, or behave.

But the population of the well-travelled, highly-educated Chinese isn’t big enough to redeem the image of Chinese that the badly behaved ones have tarnished. With “saving face” (to keep one’s reputation, avoid humiliation, preserve dignity) being one of the core values of Chinese culture, the aforementioned highly-educated Chinese clearly don’t want to be seen as one of those ill-behaved mainlanders. Neither does the Chinese diaspora, which comprises second or third generation (and above) Chinese born and raised in Southeast Asia, North America or Europe; who have very little to no connection to their so-called “motherland”.

For me, it’s not about saving face. Putting it simply, I don’t want to be discriminated against when I travel to Europe or other countries, just because I’m yellow. I don’t want to be painted with the same brush as the rude mainland Chinese tourists, because I’m not one of them. I am ethnically Chinese, but I do not relate to mainland Chinese culture as I did not grow up in it. Some of us have grown up in the culture of the country we’ve been raised in; be it Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Taiwan, Hong Kong, the UK, or any other country with a Chinese population outside of mainland China.  My ethnicity is a secondary part of my identity.

This is going to sound like a first world problem. I’m not trying to be oppressed or marginalised; I am not, seeing as I’m part of the majority race in Singapore––I know I’m privileged. But I hope that I don’t have to take a separate train in Switzerland for Chinese tourists just because I am ethnically Chinese. Nor do I want to be treated badly just because a shopkeeper somewhere in Europe has had enough of Chinese tourists and decides to take it out on me.

Thankfully, none of that has happened to me yet. But perhaps it’s happened to somebody else, and who knows when it’ll be my turn? The mainlanders still have a long way to go when it comes to etiquette, but I hope that during my travels, natives would be able to tell by the way I talk and how I behave that I’m not one of the newly rich mainland Chinese before subjecting me to that stereotype.

It’s not a stereotype I want to be associated with; not until mainlanders learn some manners.

Cindy Tan

about Cindy

Cindy heads Departure’s Curator section. She is an avid traveller and night owl, known for her contrarian stance on a number of issues. She has criticised such public and generally popular figures as Mother Teresa, Taylor Swift and Pope Benedict XVI.

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