Monday, June 26, 2006

The Ugly Chinese?


The phrase “ugly Americans” has come to stand for the supposed cultural insensitivity of Americans overseas, which is a lot of insensitivity considering that roughly a million Americans are abroad at any given moment.

Today, “Chinese Tourists Export a Mix of Cash and Brash” describes a new phenomenon: ugly Chinese, the beneficiaries of the People’s Republic’s ongoing economic boom and loosened political strictures that are combining to send Chinese tourists abroad in record numbers:

For decades after the 1949 Communist takeover, the idea of traveling overseas for pleasure was anathema, a sign you were ideologically suspect, even a possible spy. "I couldn't imagine a trip like this a couple of decades ago," said Han Yushu, 63, a retired teacher heading for Europe, his first trip outside China. "Life is really improving."

About 32 million Chinese ventured overseas last year, a sixfold increase over 1997 and a fiftyfold increase since 1985, with 100 million projected annually by 2020.

"The potential is just enormous," said Jia Yiyuan, outbound deputy general manager with China Comfort Travel, a Beijing-based travel agency. "Some people say Venice is sinking because of all the Chinese tourists."

Although most remain close to home, a growing number are venturing to Europe, Latin America and Africa. Their priorities are also different. Even as they scrimp on rooms and food, they're shopping aggressively for luxury bags, watches and designer clothes to the tune of $987 per overseas visitor, more than the Japanese, making them the world leaders, according to a survey by ACNielsen and Tax Free World Assn.

It’s definitely worth reading Mark Magnier’s article, as he goes on to describe how Chinese tourism is used by Beijing as a carrot for shunning Taiwan, as well as how visitors from the Middle Kingdom have clashed with the well-scrubbed culture of the Magic Kingdom, a.k.a. Hong Kong Disneyland.

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