China Tourist

Flying the flag

Patriotic tourism on the rise for Chinese

Guo Bin w

Tapped out: Guo Bin (right)

Why do you go on holiday? To relax? To see new places? Or soak up the sun? WiC is guessing that ‘avenging historic wrongs’ and ‘furthering your country’s strategic interests’ aren’t high on your list.

Not so in China, where some tourists like to mix a bit of politics with their R&R.

Property tycoon Guo Bin is one example. On September 18 – the 85th anniversary of the Japanese invasion of Northeast China – he posted a message on social media saying he likes to leave the taps on when staying in hotels in Japan as an act of revenge.

Other instances of patriotic tourism abound. There are tours to the disputed islands of the South China Sea. Then there is the Chinese government’s policy decision to reduce the number of tourists permitted to visit Taiwan, as a means to punish economically the island’s new pro-independence president Tsai Ing-wen (see WiC340).

In some ways it is the natural follow-on from Red Tourism – domestic holidays to key places from Communist lore, such as Mao Zedong’s birthplace and Yan’an, the Party’s revolutionary base in the forties.

But not everyone is comfortable with this new mix of fun and patriotism. Even the government sometimes balks at extreme examples, such as when 7,000 Chinese from a direct-selling firm assembled at Los Angeles airport in 2014 to sing China’s national anthem.

Guo Bin, it seems, also crossed the imperceptible red line with his water-wasting antics. Worse still, Guo is married to former table tennis world champion Wang Nan and during their wedding in 2008 his wife’s bridesmaid was Japanese ping-pong star Ai Fukuhara, which has not gone unnoticed. Netizens called him out for being petty and hypocritical – ‘what was he doing in Japan anyway if he hates the country so much,’ they asked? And newspapers said he had cheapened the memory of the anniversary.

“This narrow-minded, irrational type of patriotism is extreme and dangerous. We commemorate September 18 to remember history and the heroes who gave their lives for our country. We cannot blaspheme or lower it by actions which are undignified or unworthy,” wrote a peeved People’s Daily.

“A mature society should not encourage naïve actions and extreme words. Patriotism takes different forms but wasting water shows a lack of morality, not a love of one’s country,” wrote China Youth Daily.

The state-run newspaper also pointed to the recent protests against KFC in the wake of the Hague ruling on the South China Sea. “Being patriotic is our duty, like filial piety, but we have to find the right way to express it. Standing in front of KFC or leaving the tap on doesn’t help anyone,” wrote the Global Times.

These official reactions to Guo’s case also play into a wider government campaign to improve the behaviour of Chinese tourists abroad by threatening troublemakers be put on a no-travel blacklist.

Some netizens asked if Guo would be added to the list. “This is exactly the kind of behaviour which damages our national image,” said one.

The backlash triggered memories from 2013 when China launched its first cruise to the disputed Paracel Islands (which are also claimed by Vietnam). Then tourists posted photos of themselves touching and even eating endangered species like the giant clam. This also drew criticism.

That said, China is trying to enforce its claims to disputed islands. In the run-up to the Hague ruling in July Beijing announced it would authorise cruises to another disputed island cluster – known in English as the Spratlys, and as the Nansha in Chinese – by 2020. Indeed, in the days after the ruling – which China roundly ignored – it landed two civilian jets on Mischief and Subi reefs – rocks and low-tide elevations that have been turned into artificial islands.

However it is not clear how popular such ‘conflict’ cruises will be.

Some who have already sailed to the Paracels have claimed there is little to do apart from sing a few patriotic songs and attend flag raising ceremonies. “I gave up a potential tour to Okinawa to come to Xisha [the Chinese name for the Paracels]. But now I think for the same amount of money I would have more to enjoy in Japan,” the South China Morning Post quotes one visitor as saying.

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