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Mainland Chinese ‘Bad Behavior’ Abroad Is a Strategy for Success at Home

A viral photo circulated on Chinese social media on  a brawl among four women on a flight from mainland China to Hong Kong. Photo from Weibo.

A viral photo circulated on Chinese social media of a brawl among four women on a flight from mainland China to Hong Kong. Photo from Weibo.

The image of mainland Chinese has taken a hit again in the world's press after a brawl between four women on a flight from mainland China to Hong Kong over a noisy baby almost forced the plane to return on December 17, according to reports.

Two women became angry at the noise from an infant in the row behind them and retaliated by reclining their seats. An argument ensued and escalated into a physical fight. The scuffle went on for a while before cabin crew stepped in, warning that the flight would return if they did not stop.

The incident occurred only days after a Chinese woman attacked a flight attendant with a cup of hot noodles in a row over seating arrangements on a Thailand flight and her boyfriend threatened to blow up the plane.

In a scathing statement, China’s National Tourism Administration said the tourists disrupted the flight, hurt other passengers and “badly damaged the overall image of the Chinese people.”

Such incidents come at a time when the Chinese are traveling more but also becoming notorious for rough behavior. More than 100 million people from China have travelled overseas this year, more than any other country.

Backed by rising incomes, more Chinese are venturing outside their home country for the first time. Chinese tourists have gained a reputation for spending large amounts on luxury goods while abroad, leading some retailers to hire Mandarin-speaking staff to cater to them. Some countries are also streamlining their visa processes in the hopes of attracting more Chinese tourists.

Chinese tourist overseas have also developed a reputation for bad behavior, ranging from drawing graffiti on ancient monuments in Egypt to allowing their children to defecate in public, and to making rows and brawls on flights.

Singapore’s news website zaobao.com posted an article after the “cup noodles incident” attributing Chinese tourists’ rudeness to the Chinese strategy for success at home: you can make it only when you become fierce. “Living in China is like crossing the street there, with few Chinese obeying the rules. So sometimes you need to become fierce to make things done,” it said. “Either you can get things done by money or power, or you must be rude to do it. You would get no response without escalating the conflict.”

The conclusion was cited by one of China’s media outlets, the National Business News, on popular microblogging site Sina Weibo, sparking heated discussion about mainland Chinese qualities and character. It attracted more than a thousand comments and thousands of republicatons.

Ye Tan, a well-known financial commentator, believed the unruly behavior stems from mainland Chinese culture:

恐惧文化,越凶越有人害怕,一村人全怕升级为村级恶霸,一县人全怕就是县级恶霸,以此类推,可得出黑社会运作规律。

It stems from China’s culture of fear, which means the crueler you become, the more people will be afraid of you. A man who can make everyone in a village afraid becomes the village bully; a man who can make everyone in the country afraid becomes the county bully. That's how the underworld operates.

‘Mr_MAKE_THE_CHANGE’, who has lived overseas, echoed the Singaporean newspaper's comment:

回国一段时间就深深体会到这一点、要么有权、要么有钱、没权没钱的就必须凶恶、不然客客气气谨守规则的基本办不了事,要么就会被人当SB耍!

I understood it deeply after I came back to China for a while. Without power or money, you must become fierce to get something done. If you’re polite and abide by the rules, you either make nothing or are taken for a fool by others!

‘I’m Miss Nan’, a columnist for Marie Claire and ELLE, described the reality further:

这个倒是有可能,好好说话没人理。以前我一个朋友从悉尼回来,在上海好几次吃饭遇到好好说话没人理,得粗声粗气才上菜的遭遇。后来回悉尼也这么说话,一下子自己被自己吓到了说:啊我现在在悉尼啊,我不用这么说话了。我可以友善了!

When you’re polite, you can’t get good service. I have a friend who came back from Sydney before. She found out that when she was polite in restaurants in Shanghai she got no responses. Only when she acted angrily could she get her dishes on the table. When she went back to Sydney, she scared herself as she still behaved forcefully in restaurants. Then she said to herself, I'm in Sydney now, I don't need to be like this anymore. I can be nice!

‘Hyper_Emotion’ believed the distortion of mainland Chinese character comes from its political history:

中国就是这样 丛林法则社会 低级社会的特点 就是暴力最强者得逞 规则都是狗屁 遵守规则的 诚信的人就吃亏 野蛮的低素质垃圾就得势 中国这个社会就是劣币驱良币的典型 终究到底 是无产阶级革命的恶果 影响至少几百年

That’s China, a society under jungle law. The lower levels of society are characterized by the rule that whoever has the most violent force wins. Rules are shit. Those who follow the rules or are honest will lose, while those who are barbarous will gain. China’s society is typical of ‘the bad drives out the good’, which results from proletarian revolution and will influence the country for a long time.

  • yerfakkingmammy

    Thank you for posting this article. I live offshore in a country where fierce rudeness is an unavoidable thread. With this eastern explanation, I at least have permission to become perturbed -but not necessarily to act out on it.

  • Tony

    The rudeness and arrogance of some Chinese tourists can be so shocking in Sydney there is a growing backlash. I have a boutique featuring beautiful local clothes. Along with locals I sell to tourists from around the world. Some of the Chinese who buy are delightful but some are so horrid that on four occasions I have told them to keep their money and leave my shop. My experiences in Shanghai, however have been wonderful.

  • alaska99801

    The chinese basically are uneducated by the rest of the traveling world standards. Many have acquired the ability to travel but havent acquired the sense of self of being abroad.
    Chinese are still thinkng like communists and will be for decades.
    You cant lose that behavior in one generation. And what we must do is to let them they are extremely rude and throw them out from wherever they are at the time of that behabior.
    Sooner, rather than later, the word will get bavk home that people outside china wont stand for that.
    I heard a chinese woman said something like this, ” chinese are rich now…” Well, no, chinese are not rich by western standards. They just have enough money, some of them, to travel abroad. China as a whole still is a very poor country, without any sense of sophistication, and culturally backward in their understanding of the outside world.
    Too much self propaganda at home. They need more documentaries from the outside so one day they could learn proper behavior.

    • Alia

      I agree with most of your comment, but to call their bad manners a result of communism or proletarian revolution is ridiculous. Have you ever been to any other communist/ex-communist countries? Except for the one-party system, I assure you that China doesn’t have anything to do with communism, and neither does it’s people. It’s more like capitalism on steroids.

      • Guest

        I can’t speak for all countries of the ex-Soviet block, but as to countries that were once a part of the Austrian empire, strong aristocratic traditions preserved those countries from the excess of proletarian swinery, which, unfortunately, was at its full in the ex-Russian empire. Proletarians are vulgar by definition, sorry, guys.

    • stan

      I agree with your point that there are many, many, many Chinese that are super rich but still have no sense of sophistication, which resulting in bad, ignorant, rude manners (I myself is a Chinese). But these bad behaviour, I would assume from the title – strategy for success. is just ONE of the few reasons that caused it. Try seeing this from another perspective, the one-child policy in China, makes most of the families with less children or even only one child. Eventually, the parents will treat their child like king, fulfilling them materialistically (just because they can afford to), leads to an ignorant, self-centred, rude, and arrogant behaviour in the child. You can say that they are taught well, with money and power you can do whatever you want, in a capitalist world, and the children definitely learn well. Obviously they know what is rude and what is not, but they just prefer to choose the former.

  • mmp60

    If one of these rude mainlanders tries this crap with me, they will get a polite American fist in the face.

    Have a nice day.

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  • Jane Fitzer O’Shea

    I have watched Chinese people knock my small son out of the way to get the last donut at the buffet, spit off the balconies, encourage their children to stand and urinate into the swimming pool and stuff everything that is not nailed down off the breakfast buffet into their backpacks for their day trips, as well as being so loud that meal after meal was ruined by the din, all of this at five star hotels throughout Asia. We will do anything to avoid having to share a holiday destination with them. We all need to be proactive when they visit our countries and let them know in no uncertain terms that this type of behavior is not tolerated in other parts of the world. Sadly, I see the same (and worse) every day in China.

  • Kevin

    Actually it’s not just the PRC as Hong Kongers are as bad

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