On 24 May 2013, a Sina Weibo user named ‘Independent Sky Traveller’ uploaded an image he said caused him to feel shame and loss of face. A graffito reading ‘Ding Jinhao was here’ (Ding Jinhao dao ci yiyou 丁锦昊到此一游) defaced an ancient frieze at the Luxor Temple complex in Egypt.
An animated discussion on social media ensued about this vandalism, which many felt had caused all of China to lose face. Within a day angry Internet users discovered that Ding Jinhao was a fourteen-year-old boy living in Nanjing. Ding’s parents apologised on his behalf and asked for forgiveness from the public. But the debate raged on; within a week the original post was forwarded almost 100,000 times and generated close to 20,000 comments expressing anger, embarrassment and deep sadness.
This came amid an explosion of Chinese outbound tourism. According to the World Tourism Organization, a UN body, Chinese tourists took ten million international trips in 2000; this grew to eighty-three million in 2012. In the wake of the incident, the China Daily pointed out that Chinese tourists have in recent years been associated with bad manners such as spitting and littering, damaging China’s image abroad.
The issue of uncivilised behaviour – particularly graffiti – by Chinese tourists is a very common problem within China as well. A few days after the Ding Jinhao story broke, Yunnan province’s Spring City Evening News (Chuncheng wanbao 春城晚报) reported on the scourge of ‘Chinese-style I was here’ graffiti, which it said was all over the scenic areas of Yunnan. The newspaper dispatched reporters to a range of tourist destinations, where they found evidence of ‘I was here’ (dao ci yiyou 到此一游) and other types of graffiti on old buildings, trees and bamboo, toilets and tourist facilities.
Such reports regularly appear in Chinese newspapers, often couched in a mournful tone, accompanied by soul-searching. In October 2012, Shanghai’s Youth Daily (Qingnian bao 青年报) reported that some of the 200,000 visitors to the Sunflower Festival during the Golden Week holiday in Zhejiang province had vandalised row after row of the flowers by scratching smiley faces on them. After every holiday, the Chinese media reports on the mountains of garbage left behind at tourist spots, and reflects on the general lack of civility and asks what can be done.