When a Chinese teenager named Ding Jinhao (丁锦昊) in Egypt last week was revealed to have defaced an ancient frieze with the graffito “I was here” (丁锦昊到此一游), there was widespread condemnation of the teen vandal who did so much to damage the image of Chinese tourists abroad. Yet after conducting its own survey of the scenic spots in the province of Yunnan, the Spring City Evening News today reports that “I was here” and other graffiti can in fact be seen all over Yunnan. Ancient buildings and parks have been scarred by innumerable “black hands”, and the paper says that poor Ding Jinhao has now been given all the blame for what many others do all the time in China itself. In fact, the “I was here” graffiti tradition goes back all the way to the Monkey King in the classic fable Journey to the West (西游记).
In Journey to the West , the Monkey King (Sun Wukong 孙悟空) is fooled by the Siddhartha Buddha with the challenge that if he can manage to leap out of the Buddha’s palm, the Monkey King can occupy the Celestial throne. The overconfident Monkey King accepts the challenge, jumps into the Buddha’s palm, and them does an almighty somersault, tumbling through the air for thousands of miles. Finally coming to rest at a place where five massive pillars reach out into the sky, the Monkey King promptly scratched the following characters into the middle pillar to prove he was there:
老孙到此一游 (“The Monkey King was here”)
The Monkey King then gave another almighty leap back where he came from, and landed back in the Buddha’s palm – or so he thought. To this great consternation, the Monkey King looked down at the bottom of the Buddha’s middle finger, where he saw the characters he himself had just carved: 老孙到此一游 (“The Monkey King was here”)
He had in fact never left the Buddha’s palm, and had merely defaced the latter’s middle finger.
Despite the classical origins of the “I was here” graffito, the Ding Jinhao incident came amid some soul-searching in China about the behavior of Chinese tourists overseas. On May 16, vice premier Wang Yang (汪洋) roundly condemned the “uncivilized behavior” of Chinese tourists which he believed was doing great harm to China’s image overseas. Wang’s comments were widely reported in English-language media, and he was somewhat simplistically translated as saying that some Chinese tourists lack “quality and breeding” (see for example AFP). Yet the words Wang actually used (see Chinese report here) were that familiar Chinese concept 素质 (suzhi, referring to a person’s level of development or refinement), and 修养 (xiuyang, another vague concept referring to a person’s cultivation of social mores and rules). Whole books have been written on these two concepts, and rendering them in English is somewhat open to interpretation.
What is certain, however, is that there is a problem with Chinese tourists, both those travelling internally in China as well as abroad. In light of Ding Jinhao’s infamous “I was here” graffito in the Luxor temple, the front page of the Spring City Evening News (春城晚报) from Yunnan province today reports on what it calls the scourge of “Chinese Style I was here”, which the paper says is all over the scenic areas in the beautiful province of Yunnan. Spring City Evening News yesterday dispatched reporters to a range of tourist destinations in Yunnan, including the Western Mountain (昆明西山) and Green Lake Park (翠湖公园) in Kunming, Tengchong county (腾冲县), Lijiang old town (丽江古城), and Three Pagoda Park (三塔公园) in the historic town of Dali (大理).
Green Lake Park in Kunming, the capital of Yunnan, has beautiful bamboo plants that have already reached the height of a three or four storey building. Yet as the newspaper reports, many of these bamboo plants have been given the “I was here” treatment, and as a result many have begun to wilt. As the newspaper puts it, the great pity is that these plants can’t run away, and have to submit to their fate of being scarred by the “I was here” vandals. In fact, there were broadly two types of engravings on the bamboo. The first and most common were the “I was here” variety, but then there were also so-and-so loves or hates so-and-so. And it seems that it’s not just children who are to blame; staff at the park told the reporter about fancy-clad women scratching messages on the bamboo as well.
In Tengchong county, some of the more remote historic buildings in the area have been scarred by the graffiti-scrawling “black hands”, who damaged the ancient wooden pillars of the buildings with a “thousand cuts”, as the paper puts it. In Three Pagoda Park (三塔公园) in Dali, vandals have “everywhere” scratched “I was here” and all kinds of other messages on the toilet doors, on the trees, and on the stones.
Links and sources
China Daily: Parents of teen vandal apologize after online rage
Spring City Evening News (春城晚报): “中国式到此一游”昆明等地多个景区伤不起