面子 (MiànZi) – ‘face’. A person’s manzi is very important in China, but so is the face of the whole country. I’m sure you have witnessed a news event where a Chinese official was ferociously defending his country – whatever the charge was – and saying that instead, each country should take care of their own business. Not publicly, discreetly.
Things get trickier when the ones to blame for the attack are not the liberal American media or European intellectuals, but when the cause are the Chinese people themselves. And how they behave, abroad.
Travelling abroad is a recent trend in the Chinese society, bolstered in the recent decades by the growing income and the ease of obtaining a passport and other travel documents. As China and her economy grows stronger, political and diplomatic ties do as well. Nowadays, China is already the world’s largest source of international tourists. That being said, most of the Chinese travellers are still experiencing some type of restrictions, whether it be the need to travel in an organised group (so that we know where you are, at all times), or a clearly stated business or educational purpose.
The trouble usually ensues when the former – groups of overeager tourist – flock to the most crowded tourist destinations around the world. Not often, but sometimes, bad and inconsiderate behaviour ensues. Even if it is not the norm, when the eyes of the world are turned to China, it is enough to tarnish the image of an already struggling country. Meaning, struggling in international social circles.
Recently, the news of some poorly behaved passengers on AirAsia on their flight from Thailand to Nanjing were charged of throwing a cup of hot water and noodles at the stewardess, who refused to change the seating order so that the two couples could be seated together. If that was not enough, one of the passengers threatened to blow up the plane. The plane had to go back to Bangkok for an emergency landing, and the four partners in crime refused to leave the airport, going as far as threatening to beat up the airport staff, until it was clearly stated that their bad manners shall not go down in the official police records. Wow.
To curb their penchant for bad behaviour, the Chinese government introduced a series of tourism laws which aims to guide the tourists on their way of more proper behaviour in the world. For example, one should not carve initials into the ancient Egyptian (or any other) ruins, as one Chinese teenager did last year. Nor should one do, brag about, or post photos of eating endangered sea clams. Or falsify marriage papers, just to get a better restaurant details. And then there is the classics: spitting, shouting and questionable bathroom etiquette.
“Tourists shall respect public order and social morality in tourism activities, respect the local customs, cultural traditions and religious beliefs, take care of resources, protect the environment and respect the norms of a civilised tourist behaviour,” as Section 13 instructs.
Despite these faux pas, countries are practically tripping over themselves to attract Chinese tourists. Among those is the city of London, which is afraid of missing out; rumours have it they are putting more efforts in Chinese-style breakfast and visa discounts (which can’t compare with Sydney, Australia, where they are building a $450 million Chinese theme park, centered on a full-size replica of the gates to the Forbidden City and a nine-story Buddhist temple).