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With its tourists behaving badly, China embarks on some soul-searching

By Didi Kirsten Tatlow

New York Times

BEIJING >> Two young Chinese tourists carve their names on the Great Wall. Hundreds of picnickers leave their garbage moldering on the banks of the Yellow River.

Such episodes during the recent National Day holiday have produced a flurry of photographic postings and a spasm of soul-searching in China, highlighting anxieties over the habits and image of tourists at home and abroad in a nation that is increasingly cash-rich but, some say, short on manners and experience with the outside world.

They are also raising questions why a “tourism blacklist” the government set up last year to name and shame misbehaving travelers does not seem to have had a greater effect.

In May 2015, to counter the impression left by an array of widely publicized episodes that have included travelers storming a buffet in Thailand to consume all the prawns, throwing hot water at a flight attendant, carving inscriptions on an ancient Egyptian monument, allowing children to relieve themselves in public places and opening emergency exits on airlines “for fresh air,” the government announced the blacklist.

People may land on it either for legal crimes or moral offenses at home or abroad, according to People’s Daily.

Possible offenses include interfering with aircraft or public transport, damaging public property or the environment, defacing cultural relics, disrespecting local customs and participating in gambling, illicit drug activities, prostitution or “dangerous sexual activities.”

People added to the list remain there for three years, during which their names are made available to travel companies, airlines, work units and the Public Security Bureau, among other groups. This puts the person on notice that he or she is under watch and could be barred from tour groups. They may be barred from flying or from visiting scenic spots. But there is no financial penalty.

Overall, the blacklist appears to have had a slow start, suggesting the difficulty of policing human behavior even in an authoritarian nation.

The list is unavailable on the website of the China National Tourism Administration. But according to the Shenzhen Metropolis newspaper, only 24 people are on it.

That number includes two people added over the recent holiday, according to the China National Tourism Administration: Hou Geshun from Heilongjiang province, who was accused of burning Vietnamese money in a bar in the Vietnamese city of Danang, and Lu Shan from Beijing, who was said to have beaten up her tour guide in Yunnan province.

The report did not explain why Hou burned the money, but China and Vietnam have a testy relationship over conflicting territorial claims in the South China Sea that have led to nationalistic demonstrations on both sides. The reason for Lu’s outburst was also not given, but disputes between tour guides and tourists are common, often over travel conditions or shopping requirements.

Hundreds of millions of people made 593 million domestic trips on national transportation networks during the weeklong holiday, according to the Tourism Administration. That number does not include trips by private car. An additional 6 million traveled abroad during that period, the Tourism Administration said.

Last week, after the fresh round of episodes over the holiday, Xinhua, the state news agency, questioned the list’s effectiveness.

“Carving Names and Drawing Pictures on the Great Wall, Throwing Garbage in the Yellow River, Why Does the Blacklist not Control Uncivilized Tourists?” its headline asked.

An article on the WeChat account of Guangming Online asked whether the list was merely a “paper tiger.”

One man added to the blacklist shortly after it was set up told The Zhejiang Elderly News that being on it did not change his life much.

“I got back from Thailand and am off to Korea,” said the man from Jiangsu province, identified only by his surname, Wang. “At the worst, you can’t join a tour group. Independent travel is the thing to do.”

But perhaps travel will grow more difficult for Wang and others on the list.

In August, The Qianjiang Evening News reported, officials drafted another set of rules that has not yet been approved, but it includes a ban on foreign travel.

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