Chinese tourists possess three essential qualities: they are cashed up, culturally barren and above all else, prone to bad behaviour. This is what apparently separates Chinese tourists from all the other throngs of tourists. At least, that’s what we’re told over and over again.
This endlessly touted characterisation of the typical Chinese tourist was once based predominantly on the perceived quantity of transgressions committed by Chinese tourists whilst abroad. The ease of jumping on this bandwagon of condemnation however, has evolved to become less a critique of the actual behaviour of Chinese tourists, and more an exercise in taking issue with the very fact of their being Chinese.
As a keen eavesdropper, I was confused when I overheard two of my peers questioning, “Why are there always Chinese people taking fucking selfies here [in the Quad]?” Given that the majority of the people taking selfies in the Quadrangle were tourists, was this a critique of selfies, or only of the Chinese tourists who dared to turn a camera towards their own visage? If it was a question designed to stimulate contemplation on the former, then why include the particularly pointed identification of “Chinese”? After all, selfies – and incessant photography of every landmark visited – are hardly a phenomenon constrained only to Chinese tourists. No matter where in the world, tourists can and will take photos of themselves and of everything around them.
This aggressive question made clear just how strongly embedded the negative Chinese stereotype is in our collective minds. The stereotype uses race to cast judgement not only on the actions of the tourists, but also on their choice of location for tourism. Since Chinese tourism, as embodied by Chinese tourists, is supposedly unenlightened (see: culturally barren) and the fact the majority of the tourists on campus are of East Asian appearance – reductively, ‘Chinese’ – the implication follows that Sydney University is somehow an inappropriate or confusing place for a tourist, making selfies and/or photos taken here a laughable consequence. Before they are actually assessed according to the reasons that informed their visit, Chinese tourists have already been written off by virtue of their appearance.
Curious as to why Chinese tourists were actually interested in visiting USyd, I headed to the Quad to hear straight from the horse’s mouth. When asked why they had chosen to visit USyd, Chinese tourists, some of whom had come as part of a tour group, emphasised the architecture and the heritage of the university. “Gulao”, which loosely translates as meaning “the quality of having heritage”, was often used. One visitor in his pre-teens thought the Quad resembled Hogwarts – a not altogether uncommon response even from local students. Tour groups that come to the University with their own guides are usually booked in advance online at sites like Ctrip. Da Ziran Luyou, a travel agent I spoke to, also advertised sojourns to USyd by using “gulao” to describe the University’s heritage and impressive neo-Gothic architecture.
But perhaps more importantly, the reasons the visitors come to our campus are pretty similar to the reasons that all other tourists ever had for wanting to see a particular place. How many tourists have visited places like Westminster Abbey, or Piazza San Marco, or the Great Wall, or even Oxbridge, Harvard, and Yale, precisely because of the architecture and heritage associated.
Chinese tourists are no different to all the other tourists that trot the globe. They seek out experiences that have meaning to them like all other tourists, require money to get around like all other tourists and fuck up like all other tourists. If we’re okay with floating down a river drunk and mooning landmarks, then surely we can make our peace with a selfie on campus.