Taking teenagers on holiday is rarely straightforward. But few such holidays have generated quite the extent of the misery experienced by one family from Nanjing, who took their son Ding Jinhao on a trip to Egypt.
Whilst on an excursion to a 3,000-year-old temple in Luxor on the banks of the Nile, young Ding spotted a bit of free space on a sandstone wall. He added the words (in Chinese) “Ding Jinhao was here”.
Perhaps he imagined that future visitors would chuckle at this colliding of two of the world’s great cultures. Or he may have envisaged coming back in future years to try and find his work. But if Ding had known what would then unfold, he would surely have thought twice before he started carving.
In May another Chinese tourist spotted the graffiti and took a photo of it. On returning to China, he posted it on weibo and described his disgust at seeing Chinese characters inscribed on the ancient monument.
“This was our saddest moment in Egypt,” he wrote under the photo. “I felt ashamed.”
The photo unleashed the “human flesh search engine” – an online frenzy of netizens working together to unearth information – on a frightening scale. Within 24 hours Ding’s identity had been uncovered and then the fun began. His school website was hacked and replaced with a message saying “Ding Jinhao was here” spawning a series of copycat cartoons and jokes, some of which even poked fun at China’s territorial claims in the East and South China Seas.
“200 years from now we will be able to use his carving to say Egypt also belonged to us,” wrote one weibo wag. “He is a true patriot,” agreed another.
Others failed to see the funny side, saying Ding was typical of too many Chinese tourists. Even Vice Premier Wang Yang has said so. “They speak loudly in public, carve characters on tourist attractions, cross roads when traffic lights are red, spit anywhere and indulge in other uncivilised behaviour. It damages the image of the Chinese people and has a very bad impact,” he lamented.
The number of Chinese travelling overseas has risen rapidly in the past decade with more than 83 million trips abroad last year, according to data from World Tourism Organisation. But the sudden appearance – often en masse – of Chinese visitors in foreign destinations has not always gone down well (one hotel in Paris even banned Chinese tourists as too uncouth, although the restriction was later reworded to apply only to “bus loads” of visitors from China: see WiC168).
Ding’s parents have now apologised for their son’s behavior. “We have taken him sightseeing since he was little, and we often saw such graffiti. But we didn’t realise we should have told him that this is wrong,” his mother told the Modern Express newspaper, rather incredibly.
Ding’s father then begged for his son to be left alone: “This is too much pressure for him to take.”
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