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Defacing Displays


  Text by Yin Xing

  The outbound flow of Chinese tourists grew dramatically to 83 million in 2012 up from only 10 million in 2000, but Chinese tourists’ reputation did not improve with the number. Foreign tourist destinations are happy to welcome Chinese wallets, but locals frequently complain about the improper behavior of the wallets’ owners. Recently,due to an internet post showing “Ding Jinhao was here” scrawled by a Chinese junior high student on a stone sculpture in Egypt’s Luxor Temple, discussion about Chinese tourist behavior has become a hot topic.

  China’s own tourist landmarks are no stranger to such behavior. Bricks of the Great Wall and bamboo in Beijing Botanical Garden have been defaced with text such as “Tom was here”. In China,the custom can be traced back to ancient times, when emperors and men of letters often etched their signature or poems while traveling. The first well-known “I was here” appeared in Journey to the West, left by the monkey king, the protagonist of the classical Chinese novel. However, defacing historical artifacts has never been a custom unique to China. The Great Wall has seen a plethora of “Tom was here” in various languages, but why are more such etchings found in Chinese at the foot of the Statue of Liberty and on the Eiffel Tower?

  “Because domestic punishment is in sufficient,”opines Ma Weidu, a scholar and expert on cultural relic protection. “The penalty for violating regulation is too low.In China, serious punishments are not supported by law. Fines are not punitive. They are only calculated in terms of compensation.”If a person lives in an environment lacking regulation, when visiting another place, he or she is easily capable of behavior that would shock locals.

  According to Chinese regulation, the fine for defacing or slightly damaging relics is generally under 200 yuan (US$32).But in Egypt, a judge can hand down a maximum five-year prison sentence for intentionally damaging relics. The latest Egyptian relic protection regulation even stipulates that punishment for destroying temples or ancient statues can reach $10,000 and a life sentence. On May 7,Russia raised its fines for individual violation of relic protection regulations from 1,500 rubles ($47) up to 200,000 ($6,248).

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