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

Categories: East Asia, China, Travel
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. [1]

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 [2].

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 [3] 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 [4] 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 [5] 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 [6] in Egypt to allowing their children to defecate in public [7], 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 [8], 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 [9] from mainland Chinese culture:


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 [10] the Singaporean newspaper's comment:


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 [11]:


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 [12] 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.