Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

Launch campaign to make tourists behave properly

By Bai Ping (China Daily) Updated: 2013-06-01 08:11

In the run-up to the 2008 Olympic Games, on the 11th of every month, tens of thousands of volunteers in Beijing would be dispatched to encourage people to queue up to use public transportation.

Under posters promoting the number 11 (to signify two orderly queues), groups of volunteers formed queues at subway stations for commuters to follow their example. On one such day, Olympians draped in slogan-bearing ribbons thanked passengers for standing in queues at subway stations, while army generals distributed flyers to praise the practice at a bus stop.

The drive was arguably the most successful part of an improvised "good-manner" movement that targeted people behaving in an uncivilized manner. It is one of the most lasting Olympic legacies because orderly queues continue to benefit millions of commuters and shoving and jostling have become a rare sight.

It is also an example of what a determined nation can do to shape people's behavior, especially at a time when it is seeking ways to curb the shameful behavior of its tourists overseas, the latest of which was a 15-year-old boy scrawling his name on a 3,500-year-old carving in Egypt's Luxor Temple.

Amid the national malaise, the government has urged tourists to behave properly and warned of possible punishments for their roguish acts. But its instructions are non-binding on people and the damage would already have been done if hosts and tour agencies imposed fines on Chinese tourists or abruptly cancelled overseas trips. The battered image of Chinese tourists could deteriorate further as more people go sightseeing abroad.

Perhaps it is time to revive the Olympic "good-manner" campaign. Unfortunately, although queue jumping has been effectively controlled, talking loudly in public, jaywalking, spitting, littering, vandalism and other chronic ailments of everyday life have come back with a vengeance.

While earning the sobriquet of the stereotypical "Ugly American", who is loud, ostentatious and rude, Chinese tourists behave offensively because of the bad habits they acquire in their own land. In contrast, the "Ugly American" behaves differently overseas, annoying locals because of cultural arrogance or ignorance, according to the namesake book.

For example, graffiti vandalism has deep cultural roots in China, where for thousands of years, successful artists, scholars and politicians have tried to become "immortal" by inscribing their names or smart remarks at tourist attractions.

Some Hong Kong residents were disgusted to see a woman from the Chinese mainland encouraging her young son to pee into a bottle in a restaurant. But in Beijing, adults are often seen urinating in public: On the outer ring roads, for instance, drivers often veer off the road to relieve themselves on the emergency lane in broad daylight.

A perennial, forceful courtesy campaign can make more tourists behave properly because it will instill in the whole population a widely accepted code of behavior that has been destroyed by past iconoclastic social upheavals. It will also encourage people to be more kind to and considerate toward fellow citizens and make good manners their second nature.

On a recent Friday evening when I brought my son home from his kindergarten, he held the door to the entrance of our residential compound for me to pass because I was laden with shopping bags. When I looked back, I saw him still holding the rusty iron door in chilly winds while a stream of men and women hurried through. Some patted his head, which I have always been leery of, but nobody took over from the four-year-old the simple courteous task of holding the door for others.

As I watched aghast, I began to understand why a living sage has said that it would take a long time for his country, a much more affluent Asian society, to become gracious with cultivated living. He has said he wouldn't be able to see it in his lifetime. But I hope to in mine if an incessant courtesy campaign is launched in China.

The writer is editor-at-large of China Daily. E-mail:

(China Daily 06/01/2013 page5)

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