20 August 2005

A Noble Sentiment (i)

The Ugly China Tourist?

About 4 Sundays ago, the Straits Times had a feature on the strange behaviour of tourists from China. With the recent increase of the Chinese middle classes finding they can afford foreign vacation, unfavourable reports have slowly come to light. There was an incident where they staged a sit-in protest at a Malaysian hotel, which had issued them food coupons stamped with pictures of a pig. Pictures are available here. On a different occasion, a plane delay caused another group of Chinese tourists to stage a sit-in, effectively grounding the aircraft until the airline had to pay them off with a small sum ($50). These major incidents, coupled with other lesser anecdotes on the poor graces of the China tourists, led to ST pondering if we have a problem of The Ugly China Tourist.

I thought the answer was obvious, yet the ST still did not say it the following week, when they ran an update on the issue. It then falls to me to say it: their protests and sit-ins are indicative not of boorishness, but of a far nobler sentiment. In China itself, protests are staged regularly against perceived national insult (Yasukuni, Japanese textbooks, sex tourists...), poor administration at village or factory level, and so on. Far from discouraging these sometimes violent, but always boisterous demonstrations, it is understood and communicated by the media that these patriotic displays are good, and are to be encouraged.

The average urban Chinese is accustomed to demonstrating, almost at the drop of a hat. At home, under conditions of political repression by the one-party state, regular incited protests act as a valve, to ensure pent-up public ire is directed away from the Communist Party, and to stoke an ever-present sense of nationalist pride and suspicious of the foreign devil, who is always out to 'get' them.

Once abroad, it is inconceivable that the same Chinese citizens not react vocally and vehemently to perceived slights. It's a matter of national pride, one might say.

On patriotism

Elsewhere on the internets, as part of an admitted exercise to invoke nationalism in time for the General Elections (see the Tagboard here - and just for the record: What does nationalism have to do with a General Election??? Whiskey Tango Foxtrot! Is voting for the non-preferred party an act of not-patriotism?), someone laments the fact that Singaporeans react with cool and studied indifference to national slights by foreign politicians. Look, he says, why are you turning a blind eye that someone just called our country a little red dot, a piece of snot? Why do you keep finding fault with your own country? Do you hate it so much? Why don't you just go away, he asks...

Well, look at the Patriotic China Tourist - I don't ever want to be like them. It's very common for politicians to create a bogeyman during politically difficult periods, by diverting unwanted criticism of domestic policy to a foreign enemy. A great piece of political theatre that benefits even the foreign enemy, who then has a chance to whip up fervent support from his countrymen and override his own political weaknesses. Readers will probably recognise this principle in Malaysia-Singapore relations during Dr Mahathir and LKY's reigns ("Turn off the water!", "Water is our sacred national right, enshrined in the partition agreement!", and the more bizarre instance where Singapore mobilised its reserves during a National Day to prevent an invasion from someone), or between Malaysia-Indonesia relations, even.

And no. "My country, right or wrong" is not patriotism. True patriotism is holding one's country to high standards, to speak power to the truth, to point out where things are wrong, and when the Emperor is wearing no clothes. This is the patriotism of Thomas Paine.


Anonymous said...

What does the expression "Whisky Tango Foxtrot" mean?

KnightofPentacles said...

"Whisky Tango Foxtrot"

As in WTF.

"My country, right or wrong" is not patriotism.

Thank you for pointing that out. I fear this understanding is sorely lacking amongst many of our outspoken "patriots".

rench00 said...

my stance is, good or bad, right or wrong, i love my country. and because i love my country, all the more i will work to right the wrong and make good the bad.

akikonomu said...

rench00, that sounds very sensible. As patriots, we must all be willing to point out the wrongs of the system! Equally important, we cannot let other patriots who insist that nothing bad should be said about the country dominate the national discussion.

Unknown said...

For them to trigger a demostration at the hint of an unintended mistake made by another country's people who might not understand their culture, I think it's a good sign that these China tourists did not pack their brains with their luggage.

But maybe we should also reflect on the way Singapore Tourists behave when travelling.