THE GRAND TOUR
I chose the "Classic European," a popular bus tour that would traverse five
countries in ten days. Payment was due up front.Airfare, hotels, meals, insurance,
and assorted charges came to the equivalent in yuan of about twenty-two hundred
We headed for our first stop: the modest German city of Trier. Though it's not quite
a household name for most first-time visitors to Europe, Trier has been unusually
popular with Chinese tourists ever since Communist Party delegations began
arriving, decades ago, to see the birthplace of Karl Marx. My Chinese guidebook,
written by a retired diplomat, said it once was described as the Mecca of the
We milled around awkwardly in front of Marx's house, snapping photographs
Until recently, Chinese people had abundant reasons not to roam for pleasure.
Travelling in ancient China was difficult.
Over the centuries, Chinese migrants settled around the world, but Mao considered
tourism anti-Socialist, so it wasn't until 1978, after his death, that most Chinese
gained approval to go abroad for anything other than work or study. First, they
were permitted to visit relatives in Hong Kong, and, later, to tour Thailand,
Singapore, and Malaysia. In 1997, the government cleared the way for travellers to
venture to other countries in a "planned, organized, and controlled manner." (China
doles out approvals with an eye to geopolitics.
Most countries begin to send large numbers of tourists overseas only when the
average citizen has a disposable income of five thousand dollars. But China--where
urban residents are at barely half that level--has made travel affordable by booking
tickets in bulk and bargaining mercilessly for hotels in distant suburbs. Last year,
more than fifty-seven million Chinese people went abroad, ranking China third worldwide in international tourism. The World Tourism Organization predicts that
before the end of the decade China will double that.
Just as apparatchiks once flocked to Marx's house, Chinese literature lovers began
trooping to a muddy riverbank on the campus of Cambridge University to glimpse
a specific stand of willow trees.
"Cambridge is a romantic place."
The French hotel group Accor began adding Chinese television and Mandarin-
speaking staff. Others were moving beds away from windows, as dictated by feng-
shui. The more the Chinese went to Europe, the cheaper tours became. By 2009, a
British travel-industry report had concluded that "Europe" was such a successful
"single, unified" brand in China that individual countries would be wise to put
aside pride and delay promoting "sub-brands" such as France or Italy.
At times, he marvelled at Europe's high standard of living--bombarding us with
statistics on the price of Bordeaux wines or the average height of a well-fed
Dutchman--but, if there was ever a time when Chinese visitors marvelled at
Europe's economy, this was not that time. Li made a great show of acting out a
Mediterranean life style: "Wake up slowly, brush teeth, make a cup of espresso,
take in the aroma." The crowd laughed. "With a pace like that, how can their
economies keep growing? It's impossible." He added, "In this world, only when
you have diligent, hardworking people will the nation's economy grow."
I dozed off, and awoke on the outskirts of Paris. We followed the Seine west and
passed the Musee d'Orsay just as the sun bore through the clouds. Li shouted, "Feel
the openness of the city!" Cameras whirred, and he pointed out that central Paris
had no skyscrapers. "In Shanghai, unless you're standing right next to the Huangpu
River, you can't get any sense of the city, because there are too many tall
buildings." Europeans, he added, "preserve anything old and valuable." He was drawn to Europe, above all, because of "culture." (In Chinese surveys,
"culture" often leads the list of terms that people associate with Europe. On the
negative side, top results include "arrogant" and "poor-quality Chinese food.") --
ties in to the theme of authenticity
"When Europe was ruling the world, China was strong as well. So why did we fall
behind? We've been thinking about that ever since."
Our group moved with purpose. Promise and his parents, followed by Zhu
Zhongming and family, turned right, after the Rolex counter, and headed into a
luminous Louis Vuitton boutique. Acorps of Mandarin-speaking salesgirls, in
matching neckerchiefs, worked the counters. On average, a Chinese tourist buys
more than a thousand dollars' worth of tax-free stuff abroad--more luxury bags,
watches, and designer clothes than any other nationality, including the Japanese,
according to Global Blue, the tax-free-shopping refund service. Chinese tourists
abroad spend nearly twice as much on shopping as they do on hotel rooms.As
opposed to affluent Europeans who spend fortunes on hotel rooms.
." "That one looks like the same junk we have on the mainland,"
That night, we stayed at a hotel in the suburbs called the Dream Castle. It had coats
of arms in the lobby and a giant statue of a king in flowing robes.
Wherever the cheapest flights are on a given day, Chinese tours see opportunity.)
Li's portrait of the West contained at least one feature of unalloyed admiration. He
mentioned a Western friend who had quit his job to go backpacking and find his
calling in life. "Would our parents accept that? Of course not! They'd point a finger
and say, 'You're a waste!' " he said. But, in Europe, "young people are allowed to
pursue what they want to pursue."
"Cheaper thanAmerica. Much cheaper than Shanghai!" Rise of Chinese Tourism:
• 3rd largest number of tourists ( US, Germany)
• 70 million Chinese outbound 2011 up 22%
• 150-200 million people who live there
• upper class much smaller
• middle class have a lot of accesibility to travel outside of country
• Chinese went through periods of travel restrictions
o weren't allowed to leave China, slowly broadened then boundaries
o massive industrialization
o same phenomena as industrial revolution had in Europe -- workers holidays and
leisure time so more time to travel
o Many french learning Mandarin to interac