Tourons… with Chinese Characteristics

“…with Chinese characteristics” is a phrase used when China takes something (like socialism) and changes it to better suit China. Or, when the changes are so drastic that the thing actually becomes something else, “…with Chinese characteristics” is used to refer to the blatant incongruities between what a thing is labeled and what it really is. It was originally coined by Deng Xiaoping, the great reformer of the 80’s who is usually given much of the credit for China’s current economic progress due to his firm preference for economic pragmatism over political ideology. He’s the one who famously said, “It doesn’t matter if the cat is black or white, so long as it catches mice,” which is a very Chinese way of saying, “We’re going to make money in this economy whether Marx likes it or not,” and they call it “socialism with Chinese characteristics.”

Now, we’ve mentioned tourons (tourist + moron) before, who until recently were comprised almost exclusively of obnoxious white Westerners oblivious to how rude/embarrassing/patronizing we are when guests in other peoples’ countries. The rest of the world has, for most part, more or less graciously tolerated us in exchange for the tourist dollars.

But now the tables have turned! Or, they’re turning. Mainland China is now sufficiently open with enough people sufficiently rich to send waves of tourists abroad. I have no idea how many (100 million by 2020?), but the numbers will only go up. And like most countries, China’s Foreign Ministry offers free advice to its globe-trotting citizens, some of whom have apparently lost no time in joining the rest of us in becoming total tourons, albeit tourons with Chinese characteristics. This isn’t just Foreign Ministry advice for tourists; it’s Foreign Ministry advice with Chinese characteristics (AP via MSNBC):

“Keep peaceful in public places, don’t talk loud and avoid sticking out,” said the guidelines, seen on the Foreign Ministry’s Web site Tuesday.

“Don’t get involved in other people’s quarrels in public places,” it added, a nod to the Chinese habit of gathering in large crowds to observe or even take part in others’ arguments and fights.

The suggestions also urged Chinese tourists to respect local laws and not to attempt to cut corners or make threats.

“When your legal rights are violated, avoid making things worse and resolve the problem through upright channels, not through extortion or other illegal methods,” the guidelines said.

As incredible as it sounds, resorting to threats and “extortion” or threats and an “unofficial out-of-court settlement” is, by all reports we’ve seen, the preferred method of solving public disputes here (and this actually becomes quite understandable when you start digging into the “whys” behind this preference). We’ve blogged before about certain Chinese cultural preferences regarding how to settle/join in public disputes, after one of our associates learned this the hard way when he and his three small children were involved in an accident. His language teacher had to explain during his next class what he should have done (and how to use the surrounding crowd of spectators to your advantage).

Anyway, we’ve used the phrase “…with Chinese characteristics” before, and we’ll use it again in the future. Now you know what it means.

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