A recent incident involving a hotel and some Chinese “tourists” in Sweden has sparked a diplomatic row between Sweden and China. According to initial media reports, a Chinese family arrived at a hostel not long after midnight, when they had a booking with a check-in time for noon that day. The family claimed that the Swedish hostel refused to check them in and instead proceeded to kick them out, calling the local police to escort them out. The police was accused by the family of “abusive maltreatment” and “leaving them for dead” outside a “cemetery”. In a rare move, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement condemning Swedish authorities of violating the Chinese nationals’ human rights. Swedish authorities in turn denied the allegations, and video footage of the incident was uploaded online.
The video footage showed that in no occasion did the Swedish police manhandle the Chinese nationals; all the police did was to carry the tourists away after they refused to cooperate. Management of the hostel involved also issued a statement, saying that they had not refused to host the tourists; they actually allowed the tourists to rest in the lobby until their check-in time. The hostel also recounted that the son of the Chinese family brought a Chinese woman in from outside to stay with them at the hotel lobby. He claimed that the woman was a Chinese international student who was also unable to find accommodation for the night. The management stated that when the staff objected to hosting the woman at the lobby, the Chinese family threw a huge temper tantrum and was disruptive. As a result, the hostel asked the party to leave and called the police to escort them out.
After the footage was released, online critics highlighted that the son in the video had “taken a dive” when being escorted by police, in a bid to frame them for abuse. It was also revealed that the family first booked two double rooms and then changed their booking to one triple room, and that the woman who was supposed to be an “international student” was none other than the son’s wife. It was speculated to be a scheme concocted by the Chinese family to sneak the wife in in order to save some money, yet the savvy hotel staff caught them red-handed and objected to their plan. And the “cemetery” turns out to be the Skogskyrkogården – a UNESCO world heritage site south of central Stockholm that is adjacent to the local train station – a place where the local police often goes to drop off unruly people.
The incident took another turn when a Swedish television station produced a satirical mock info-video for would-be Chinese tourists to Sweden, “educating” them on what not to do and what Sweden doesn’t stand for, such as defecating in public or making abusive remarks towards people of other ethnic backgrounds. The Chinese authorities retaliated, accusing the Swedish of discrimination and other acts that supposedly offended “Chinese feelings”. Around the world, news of the incident also sparked a revival of critical remarks against Chinese people at large for their antisocial behaviours, as well as more videos of other incidents of Chinese antisocial behaviours or lack of civility, such as an Instagram video of a Chinese man in Ghana defecating in someone else’s garden.
Apologists for the Chinese often come up with several cliché responses to excuse such gross misbehaviours. Let’s examine them here and try to rebuke them one by one.
Tu Quoque, Whataboutism and “Stink Bugs”
When confronted with gross misdemeanour by the Chinese people, Chinese apologists usually jump to an “appeal to hypocrisy” or Tu quoque in Latin, meaning “you also”. In Sino language societies, this fallacy was made famous by Lu Xun in his work, Foreign Nations Has It Too, in which he coined the term “the Stink Bugs Talk” – Parents often hear this fallacy when disciplining their child for doing something naughty: “… but he did it too!” The Soviet Union had also employed this fallacious argument when the West condemned them, by citing problems in the Western world to cover for their own transgressions. Such tactic was called “whataboutism”.
What Chinese apologists say usually amounts to: “but Westerners would do such and such, too!”, or “how would you know that Westerners don’t do it as well?”, as if Chinese’s own misbehaviours are somehow justified because someone else also did something bad or similar. It’s such a childish argument, and for those of us who are parents, the logical counter argument is “just because someone else does it, doesn’t make it right”. Simply put, “two wrongs don’t make a right”.
Cultural Differences They Aren’t
Many left-wing apologists would resort to the argument of “cultural differences” in order to defend Chinese who commit anti-social behaviours. The Hong Kong SAR regime did so in 2014, when Gregory So, the then Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development, excused a Chinese family for allowing their daughter to defecate publicly on the street in Mongkok, after Hong Kong localists slammed the Chinese parents involved for a lack of propriety, civility and insight.
I have an uncle who also excuses Chinese misbehaviours such as public urination by citing that many Chinese who come to Hong Kong are often “fresh from the village”, and are therefore unaware that it is wrong to urinate publicly on the streets. People such as my uncle would counter argue that we should “educate” them in a nice, civilised manner on what proper behaviours are. However, from those situations captured on camera that have been circulating online, when those Chinese who committed gross misbehaviours were confronted (most often in a civilised manner), they would aggressively defend themselves, and condemn the person who confronted them for making much ado about nothing, rather than submissively acknowledging their ignorance and learning to become better. Other times, they would even react physically to those that confronted them. For instance, the Chinese parents who let their daughter defecate publicly in Mongkok reacted by yelling and throwing their toddler at those who confronted them. Other times, these Chinese people would ignore others entirely despite being politely asked to not do something gross. Back in July 2014, for example, a Chinese family continued to allow their child to defecate on the seat after boarding a plane in Detroit en route to Beijing, despite being urged by flight attendants and other passengers to go to the bathroom to finish their “business”. ( https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2708316/Airline-passengers-kick-stink-Delta-flight-Beijing-Detroit-Chinese-family-let-toddler-DEFECATE-seat.html )
Moreover, it is not like we were still in the early 20th century where people were just emerging from the dark ages, nor is it our responsibility to educate these Chinese as to what is proper. It is highly preposterous to suggest that those Chinese who have the means to travel abroad in this day and age would lack such basic understanding in Civilised Manner 101. It is pretty certain that these Chinese would not do their acts in their own home, nor would they allow others to do so in their own home. Why would they do it to someone else if it is not their way to assert their superiority over other people?
The Numbers Game
Another commonly employed fallacy to defend the Chinese focuses on numbers. One common response is that these terrible behaviours are “only isolated instances”. Critics of course know that the culprits are “isolated cases”; yet when different but similar cases accumulate to the point where there is a growing social uproar, those so-called isolated cases have become a phenomenon. The fact that the culprits are not related to each other makes the problem even more serious, as it suggests a much more prevalent issue in Chinese society at large.
Another argument which supplements the “isolated instances” fallacy is that the media are responsible for blowing a few isolated cases out of proportion, constantly recycling the same incidents over and over so that such incidents appear to be growing in numbers. A basic understanding of how news media operate would refute this fallacy. News media by nature are reactionary, in that social phenomena or issues usually do not make it to the news unless they have reached a critical mass of interest on the issue. Therefore, by the time a problem has gone from the sharing of similar experiences by word-of-mouth to actually making it as a news item in the media, it has reached a level whereby a significant proportion of society are able to relate to the problem through having experienced it themselves.
In this argument based on numbers, one other fallacy often heard is that the apologists would claim to have met some very nice Chinese people, as if that proves not all Chinese are anti-social miscreants. However, just as these apologists claim that there is no evidence those offenders are representative samples of the whole, neither are these examples of “nice Chinese” a representative sample. Furthermore, just because someone is nice in one situation – such as able to stand in a queue instead of jumping into one – doesn’t mean the same person won’t commit a different offence, such as raiding local supermarket shelves of essential baby milk formula.
In addition, tying in with the tu quoque fallacy mentioned above, even if problematic Chinese represent a minority amongst their own kind, the problem is a matter of proportion. Let’s assume hat only 1% of the 1.3 billion Chinese (not including those emigrated elsewhere) go around misbehaving. That’s already 13 million of them going around creating problems and that’s TWICE the total population of Hong Kong! Now divide that 13 million throughout the world – that’s still thousands to tens of thousands at a locale creating a mess! In places where the size of their population is only in the hundreds or thousands, the addition of a few hundred of miscreants will create a true nuisance. If these 1% of miscreants misbehave on a yearly, monthly or even a weekly basis, how frustrating is it going to be for those who have to suffer in the hands of these offenders?
Full of Shattered Glass
Apologists for the Chinese would often depict the Chinese as a disempowered minority, making it seem like the critics are the bullying the weak and powerless. Yes, these people may be powerless against their tyrannical regime in China, but when they are out to the rest of the world, these supposedly disempowered Chinese often fall back on their “powerful country” to defend their gross behaviour or force others to concur with their worldview – such as the case with certain hotels and airlines being forced to stop listing Taiwan and Hong Kong as “countries” on their websites. Even those Chinese who aren’t miscreants, when confronted with their problematic brethrens, would still fall back to the above fallacies to defend their people, rather than calling out these bad apples which are spoiling the bunch. By this alone the Chinese who weren’t the perpetrators become culprits when they choose to ignore the problem. The reason why seemingly “good” Chinese are unwilling to face reality is their low self-esteem created from their “poor me” narrative, which can only be numbed by a false sense of bravado. To admit that they have a problem would shatter their hearts of glass.