Chinese worry about image abroad

Updated: 2013-08-02 10:44

By Li Xiang (China Daily)

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It may be frowned upon by some, but enjoying and playing with a water fountain on a hot summer day is common and acceptable in France.

Chinese worry about image abroad

The fountain of Tuileries Garden near the Louvre Museum in Paris is an ideal place for visitors to take a rest in summer. Christophe Guibbaud / for China Daily

But a recent photo of Chinese tourists soaking their feet in the fountain outside the Louvre Museum in Paris has sparked heated debate in China on whether the image of Chinese tourists has been deteriorating.

The picture was widely circulated online and was picked up by a number of Chinese news outlets across the country with sensational titles such as "Foreigners astonished as Chinese have foot spa in Louvre fountain".

To me, it is not so much the Louvre story as the outrage and criticism it has generated that is worth noticing.

As tourism grows increasingly popular, Chinese are becoming particularly sensitive to improper behavior and incidents involving their compatriots abroad that could possibly damage our collective image.

The central government recently held a conference calling on citizens to respect public order, local social customs and religious beliefs, and not litter or spit on the ground.

After a Chinese teenager's carving graffiti on an ancient Egyptian temple in May generated widespread criticism at home, the Louvre story once again raised the question: Why is it that Chinese people are rich enough to travel around the world but still haven't received the respect they expect?

China has become the top spending nation in the world's outbound tourism market. According to the World Tourism Organization of the United Nations, Chinese tourists spent $102 billion overseas last year, compared with the $84 billion that German and American tourists spent.

The media may have made a big fuss over the Louvre story, but we have to admit that China is facing an image crisis abroad. The emotional responses reflected the sensitivity of many Chinese toward the issue and the urge to improve our tarnished image, and to make it match the economic success that the country has managed to achieve.

What is also worth discussing is the role cultural differences play when we consider a certain behavior to be "uncivilized" or not.

Bikini-clad or half-naked sunbathing in public beaches or parks is perfectly OK in many Western countries, while it may raise some eyebrows in China. Similarly, speaking loudly in restaurants or in public is considered rude in the West, while we Chinese often find it normal.

But as the proverb goes: When in Rome do as the Romans do.

No matter what cultural and social norms we follow at home, abiding by local laws, respecting local customs and religious practice should always be considered good manners and a necessity.

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