Chinese travellers made 131 million trips overseas last year but what happens when something goes wrong and tourists or businesspeople get into trouble?
The Zeng family’s experience in Sweden earlier this month shows how the lines between travel and geopolitics can quickly get blurred in China.
Zeng and his two elderly parents arrived at the Generator Hostel in Stockholm at midnight on September 2, around 12 hours before they were supposed to check in. The hotel was fully booked so the Zengs asked to wait out the night in the lobby. Management said no but they refused to leave and police were called in to escort them off the premises.
According to Zeng, they were then dropped at a cemetery on the edge of the city. The distraught traveller said that at this point his father – who has cardio-vascular problems – almost lost consciousness.
“I could not imagine this happening in a modern country, especially Sweden, home of the Nobel Prize. It is so ironic they talk about human rights the whole time,” the Global Times quoted the irate tourist as saying.
At first Chinese netizens were outraged by the story and joined the Global Times in calling for compensation and an apology.
Then Swedish media published a police video of the incident showing Zeng and his mother wailing dramatically on the pavement outside the hotel. Public sentiment shifted with many calling the Zengs an embarrassment for their histrionic behaviour.
The hostel owner also defended the measures taken against the family, saying that the three individuals became verbally abusive after being denied access to a room.
Regular readers of WiC will be aware that unruly tourists are a perennial theme irking Chinese media and netizens.
The Zengs’ case though is interesting because the Chinese government came down strongly on the side of the family saying that they had been “brutally abused” and Sweden had violated “their basic human rights”.
The Chinese ambassador to Sweden, the Chinese Foreign Ministry and the Chinese Ministry of Culture and Tourism all made statements about the incident, demanding that the Swedish government take measures to “protect the safety and legitimate rights and interests of Chinese tourists in the country”. (Around 100,000 Chinese visit Sweden annually.)
On September 14 the Chinese embassy in Sweden published a security warning saying it was “highly concerned about the safety and legitimate rights of Chinese citizens” in the Scandinavian country.
However, there was later a note of embarrassment when the foreign affairs ministry was forced to make a rare public apology. It admitted that in an official statement a staffer had incorrectly identified the incident as having happened in Switzerland.
The ministry apologised to the Alpine nation and said the employee had been punished.
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