Ten Days out of the Middle Kingdom

On April 18, The New Yorker published The Grand Tour, a long piece about ordinary Chinese pouring out of China and visiting the world as tourists a few days at a time and Europe is the most popular destination.

Evan Osnos, The New Yorker’s correspondent in China, where he has lived since 2005, wrote the piece.

To research it, Osnos joined a “Classic European” Chinese bus tour that would “traverse five countries in ten days”.  He was the only non-Chinese, and the 38 members of the tour ranged in age from six to seventy.

At 16 printed pages, it took me two sittings to read The Grand Tour, but I found it to be worth my time to learn how serious China is about joining the global community.

However, this transition did not come about easily.

An ancient Chinese proverb says, “You can be comfortable at home for a thousand days, or step out the door and run right into trouble.” Then Confucius threw guilt into the mix when he taught, “While your parents are alive, it is better not to travel far away.”

In fact, in the famous letter that Emperor Qianlong wrote to King George of Britain in 1793, he indicated there was no desire to have foreigners visit or live in China or for the Chinese to leave. “As your Ambassador can see for himself, we possess all things. I set no value on objects strange or ingenious, and have no use for your country’s manufactures.… The distinction between Chinese and barbarian is most strict, and your Ambassador’s request that barbarians shall be given full liberty to disseminate their religion is utterly unreasonable.”

In addition, Osnos said, Mao considered tourism anti-Socialist, so it wasn’t until 1978, a few years after his death, that Chinese started to gain approval to travel to other countries, and in 1997 the government allowed Chinese tourists to visit other counties in a “planned, organized and controlled manner”.

Thirteen years later in 2010, “Fifty-seven million Chinese traveled outside China,” Osnos wrote, “ranking China third worldwide in international tourism.”

During the tour, the first stop was in the modest German city of Trier, which the Chinese language guidebook described as the “Mecca of the Chinese people”.  Trier was the birthplace of Karl Marx, and there was an early morning photo opportunity in front of the house where Marx was born.

In one conversation with another member of the tour, Osnos learns what Chinese think of the Marxist revolutionary ideas that ruled the country under Mao from 1949 to 1978. “We spent thirty years on what we now know was a disaster,” one of the Chinese tourists said.

As for middle class Chinese wanting to leave China to live in other countries, think again. In another conversation in the Swiss town of Interlaken, Osnos heard, “Other than different buildings, the Seine didn’t look all that different from the Huangpu (river in Shanghai). Subway? We have a subway. You name it, we’ve got it.”

A Chinese sanitation engineer on the tour could not help but notice in Milan, Italy the abundant graffiti and overstuffed trash bins. His comment, “If it was like this in Shanghai, old folks would be calling us all afternoon to complain.”

If you want to discover more of how Chinese see the world and what they do as tourists outside China , I suggest spending time reading The Grand Tour.  As I said earlier, it was worth my time.


Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of the concubine saga, My Splendid Concubine & Our Hart. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too.

To subscribe to “iLook China”, look for the “Subscribe” button at the top of the screen in the menu bar, click on it then follow directions.

4 Responses to Ten Days out of the Middle Kingdom

  1. Alessandro says:

    Yes, Mr. Lofthouse, actually when I wrote my comment I didn’t clearly recall that WSJ is part of Murdoch’s News Corp, but now that you have mentioned it, I remembered it all too well…That’s why I don’t like WSJ (as well as FT, Economist and so on) 🙂

  2. Alessandro says:

    Yes Mr. Lofthouse, It can be interesting in some parts, also funny, but I can’t help noticing the usual kind of “american mainstream narrative” in it…even if the author seems to speak chinese and live in China (I really many times wonder how many western people live and work in China without really “living” in it..and I had a few direct example just recently, especially with a WWF manager who has been here for 2 years without knowing ANYTHING at all about China..let alone 1 word of the language).
    The sentences from the travellers (which are representatives of a part of chinese urbanites, mostly Shanghainese people, which are not really much loved in many other parts of the country, Beijing included. One usual way of saying is: they – shanghai people – like to boast how “international” they’re city is, how many foreigners are there…but then they complain of the same foreigner, while they “sell” themselves to foreigners like….b…ches. Actually, in fact, I found foreigners in Shanghai to be the most rude and arrogant that I ever met in China) appears, at least partially, to be carefully chosen to support in the end that said narrative; the usual, unavoidable hint to “democracy” (would be better call it “western liberal democracy, cause we haven’t the monopoly on the term and ours isn’t at all the only possible form of it…it always is as anyone in the world should be the same and love the same exact thing the we have), the laugh to Marx etc. (in 1.3 billion people some are like this, especially “nouveau riches”), the usual hint to the “right” to protest (what good is it to protest when there’s absolutely no one to listen to you, and too often your protests doesn’t bring any change cause the “powers” in charge don’t bother to listen, or don’t care. Some time I think our marches and protests have become little more than a kind of sport, a valve to let us vent our anger to growing injustice and social inequality, while keeping the situation as it is), while in China protests happen (never seen someone ready to protest and complain for anything as the chinese) but in different ways, etc etc. The worst is the mention of Facebook and it block in China, as if Facebook was absolutely necessary to be happy in life and the ultimate sign of freedom, as if nothing else like it existed, as if it was not also a means (as Google and others are) to back and spread american/western cultural colonialism in the world, as if it was not collecting complaints also in the west for the way he gathers, keeps and uses the infos regarding people who use it.

    One point that really made me laugh and think at the same time was the sentence about the Wall Street Journal: ““When I read a foreign newspaper, I see lots of things I don’t know about.”
    Now, it is certainly true, but it is also true for the american who try to read, let’s say “China Daily” or any other foreign newspaper..they see a lot of things they do not know about…isn’t it? Even for me, a westerner, an Italian, if I read, let’s say, an Indian or a Korean newspaper, for sure I’ll see many things I didn’t know anything about.
    What made me think in that sentence is: 1) it makes it seem The Wall Street Journal like a somewhat very trustworthy, independent, objective newspaper that anybody should read to be informed..while we know it’s not at all like that: Wall Street Journal is the expression of a precise group of power, the views expressed pertain to a particular american/western view of the world, and of course it has it’s own, quite clear, political agenda.
    2) Once more it remembered me how much our western culture/world has become impervious to new/different ideas coming from outside. We always think, as if it was something almost “in the natural order of things”, that everybody else should, on a cultural/social/moral/political point of view, learn from us and imitate us (and mostly, let us and our corporations, do as we want in their countries), but we never do that ourselves. We never think we could have (and we definitely HAVE) something to learn from China or any other country/culture in the world. Even worse..so many time things that are not somewhat “western” or dare to protect their peculiarity, are often made fun of or ridiculed as “strange, queer” or whatever…if we don’t answer to it as if it was a “threat”

    • Alessandro,

      You may not know this but “The Wall Street Journal” is part of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp empire and Murdoch is known to be a Western neoconservative in his political beliefs, and neoconservatives believe in building nations in the Western image, which probably means corporate driven consumerism.

      Neoconservatives also believe it is okay to lie if it helps accomplish their political agendas.

      Neoconservatives see nothing wrong with lies and even call these lies noble — the “noble lie”. If you visit the neoconservative Website, you may read that the neoconservatives claim they don’t lie anymore but that is a lie.

      As an example, remember President G. W. Bush’s claim that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and he used this as his reason for going to war in Iraq.

      It is a well documented fact, that the Bush White House was filled with neoconservatives and American neoconservatives have been traced back to a Nazi, white supremist influence. I read a book on this topic that was very revealing called “The Crusading Spirit in Modern America: George W. Bush and the Radical Conservative Elite”. The book was well documented with footnoted sources.


Comments are welcome — pro or con. However, comments must focus on the topic of the post, be civil and avoid ad hominem attacks.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: