The Remaking of a New Global Tourist: How Chinese Society Created the Chinese Tourist

Yunzi Zhang, Purdue University


The rapid growth of China's outbound tourism market has greatly contributed to today's global economy. While destinations benefit economically from the activities of Chinese tourists, some public behaviors of this segment of the market have been criticized as disruptive to destinations' social orders and are considered unexpected and annoying. The disapproval of these behaviors deserves scholarly attention as it essentially implies a socio-cultural disagreement on the appropriateness of public conduct. Applying a mixed method approach, this study first provides a theoretical portrayal of the Chinese tourist through the synthesis of classic Chinese scholars' works. It then examines U.S. residents' opinions about Chinese tourists' unexpected behaviors, as well as public sentiments in China about these behaviors. Liang Shuming and Fei Xiaotong were two prominent literati in the modern history of China. Their scholarships developed during the early 20 th century and are regarded as literary classics. From the review and synthesis of their works, this study concludes that land and family are two central concepts around which Chinese society has been evolving. Despite China's industrial advancements in contemporary times, this study suggests that peasantry remains an innate aspect of the character of the Chinese population and constitutes a representation of Chinese-ness. Therefore, the public conduct of Chinese tourists in Westernized environments inevitably contradicts the fundamentals of the latter's societal principles, hence creating unexpected and perplexing situations for those who are accustomed to abiding by the rules of a society, such as the United States, whose rise has been founded primarily on industrial revolutions. This difference has significant theoretical implications for studies on the Chinese tourist. It should be recognized that Chinese tourists are first and foremost members of Chinese society, which implies that their behaviors, either in domestic life or during a leisure trip, are guided by beliefs and habits grounded in Chinese-ness. Therefore, to expect Chinese tourists to immediately modify their behaviors outside of China seems unrealistic, as it may force them to fight their own intuition and guiding principles. To understand the unexpected behaviors of Chinese tourists as perceived by U.S. residents, this study adapted a survey instrument used in an earlier Macao study and modified it based on a review of trade and public news and media in the U.S. and Pan-Asian region. Through an online survey of 485 U.S. residents, this study reveals that U.S. news and media networks and outlets are likely to report negative events associated with Chinese outbound tourists, whereas their Chinese counterparts are likely to report the economic and political power of China's tourism. Overall, U.S. residents have a relatively neutral impression of Chinese tourists, unlike the image portrayed by most U.S. media. Compared with a similar study of Asian residents, U.S. residents show different interpretations of what behaviors qualify as private or legal. Americans are more tolerant of certain unexpected behaviors than their Asian counterparts. This study also includes a qualitative analysis of social media data, which shows that Chinese society has mixed opinions about the unexpected behaviors of Chinese tourists, though their views of public conduct still follow a Western perspective. It suggests that the materialistic, social, and political dimensions together form a Chinese tourist's interactions with a destination. Tourist-receiving communities interpret unexpected behaviors differently based on their respective socio-cultural differences. The Chinese tourist as a new global participant of tourism has significantly influenced how tourism is developed, which bears various implications for tourism research about China and other emerging markets in a globalized world. For some time now, tourism theories have been developed through the views of the West. As China rises, understanding the Chinese tourist requires fresh perspectives that incorporate China's own voice. Presenting how tourist behaviors may be viewed differently in the Chinese and U.S. value systems, this study proposes the critical role of history and culture in interpreting the Chinese tourist's behaviors and Chinese civilization in general. It explores how indigenous thinking in China may be integrated into theory-building in the field of tourism. In addition, the current research may serve as a base for future studies on tourists from emerging markets that exhibit distinct characteristics from their Western counterparts. It strengthens the notions that the world population of outbound tourists is diverse and only applying Western-centric conceptions is insufficient for the development of tourism knowledge.




Cai, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Social psychology|Sociology

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