Travel back in time

How have Chi­nese peo­ple’s trav­el­ing habits changed since China’s re­form and open­ing-up?

Global Times – Metro Shanghai - - FRONT PAGE - Page Edi­tor: chen­[email protected]­al­times.com.cn

China has, in just the past few decades, be­come one of the largest tourism mar­kets in the world. Ac­cord­ing to sta­tis­tics re­leased by Na­tional Bureau of Sta­tis­tics, the num­ber of trips made by do­mes­tic trav­el­ers rose from 524 mil­lion in 1994 to 5 bil­lion in 2017. The num­ber of over­seas vis­its of Chi­nese cit­i­zens also in­creased from 3.73 mil­lion in 1994 to 135.13 mil­lion in 2016. But this was not the case in the 1970s and 1980s, when the con­cept of trav­el­ing was still un­fa­mil­iar to most or­di­nary Chi­nese res­i­dents. To glean in­sight into how China’s re­form and open­ing-up pol­icy has changed the idea of trav­el­ing among Chi­nese cit­i­zens, the Global Times re­cently in­ter­viewed dif­fer­ent gen­er­a­tions of lo­cals and in­vited them to share their travel ex­pe­ri­ence from child­hood to the present.

For Chi­nese se­niors born and raised in a more closed and fru­gal so­cial en­vi­ron­ment, their child­hood mem­o­ries re­lat­ing to travel are rare. Zeng Aiai, 58-year-old, was born in a fam­ily with six sib­lings in Dong­tou, a dis­trict in Wen­zhou, East China’s Zhe­jiang Prov­ince. She said trav­el­ing was “just a dream” in her child­hood and ado­les­cence.

“In the 1960s, food was sup­plied and dis­trib­uted in a planned way. Wear­ing a beau­ti­ful dress was a rare treat. We didn’t have the con­cept of trav­el­ing at that time,” she told the Global Times.

Her first trav­els hap­pened when she was 17, and her des­ti­na­tion was to Taishun, a nearby county in Wen­zhou. “I had just grad­u­ated from mid­dle school at that time. The hot springs in Taishun are very fa­mous.”

Sim­i­larly, 68-year-old Shang­hainese Yu Ke­hui only had one travel ex­pe­ri­ence in her child­hood. “In 1956, my mother took me to visit my el­der sis­ter in Bei­jing, as my sis­ter was about to give birth. I was only five. We vis­ited Tian’an­men Square and Bei­hai Park, and that was an un­for­get­table mem­ory,” she said.

Yu added that trans­porta­tion in the 1960s was still in­con­ve­nient; for in­stance, it took her around 36 hours from Shang­hai to Bei­jing by train. Around 1966, Yu went up to Bei­jing again. She no­ticed that be­fore her train crossed the Yangtze River in Nan­jing, East China’s Jiangsu Prov­ince, the train had to be dis­as­sem­bled into sev­eral parts and trans­ported by fer­ries.

“Af­ter cross­ing the river, the train parts would be re-as­sem­bled into a whole train,” she ex­plained. But as their in­come and liv­ing stan­dards im­proved with the de­vel­op­ment of China, trav­el­ing grad­u­ally en­tered into their life.

See­ing the world

Around 1997, Yu had an op­por­tu­nity to visit to Malaysia, Sin­ga­pore and Thai­land. “Trav­el­ing abroad was re­ally rare in China at that time. I had the op­por­tu­nity through my com­pany. My col­league and I joined a travel group of around 10 Chi­nese peo­ple,” Yu told the Global Times.

In re­cent years, Yu and her hus­band, as well as her son, fre­quently go on self-driving tours to dif­fer­ent re­gions of China. Apart from do­mes­tic travel, Yu has also been to around 19 for­eign coun­tries and re­gions, in­clud­ing Egypt, the US, France, Por­tu­gal, Spain and In­done­sia.

“When I first trav­eled abroad in 1997, I didn’t feel Chi­nese peo­ple were re­spected over­seas. But nowa­days I can feel for­eign­ers’ at­ti­tude to­wards Chi­nese trav­el­ers be­come friend­lier,” she said.

Like­wise, Zeng’s de­sire to ex­plore China and the world be­gan af­ter re­tire­ment. “My fi­nan­cial sit­u­a­tion and good health al­low me to travel. I also would like to go out more to see the world,” Zeng said. “My first over­seas travel was to Sin­ga­pore, Malaysia and Thai­land, and my sec­ond over­seas travel was in 2009 to Bali Is­land in In­done­sia with my fam­ily.”

In 1995, the num­ber of over­seas trav­el­ers in China only ranked 17th glob­ally. But from 2013 to 2016, the num­ber of Chi­nese trav­el­ers abroad stayed the largest in the world, xin­huanet.com re­ported in Oc­to­ber 2018.

With the rise of over­seas trav­el­ing in and out of China, Chi­nese tourists’ trav­el­ing habits also have changed with the times. Ac­cord­ing to a 2018 in­dus­try re­port by Chi­nese on­line trav­el­ing web­site mafengwo.com, in­de­pen­dent travel has be­come hugely pop­u­lar with Chi­nese tourists, vis­it­ing 1.45 for­eign coun­tries and re­gions on av­er­age, sohu.com re­ported in Oc­to­ber 2018.

No­tably, the re­port also re­vealed that more and more Chi­nese tourists are look­ing for au­then­tic and high-qual­ity

ex­pe­ri­ences in for­eign des­ti­na­tions (as op­posed to fol­low­ing a planned tour group). The trend is more ob­vi­ous among the younger gen­er­a­tions.

Go­ing in­de­pen­dent

Twenty-seven-year-old Ding Xuyan, a woman born in Wen­zhou, East China’s Zhe­jiang Prov­ince, is en­thu­si­as­tic about over­seas in­de­pen­dent trav­el­ing.

“I have been to Rus­sia, Spain, the UK, South Korea and Thai­land,” Ding said, adding that she now trav­els abroad twice or three times a year; her spend­ing on travel ac­counts for around 10 per­cent of her to­tal an­nual in­come.

Ding said Chi­nese of her gen­er­a­tion tend to ar­range their travel plans on­line. “With travel mo­bile apps, I can eas­ily or­der tick­ets and ho­tels abroad with a few clicks on my phone. The ad­vance­ment of tech­nol­ogy en­ables me to travel abroad when­ever I’d like,” she said.

Com­pared with se­nior in­ter­vie­wees like Zeng and Yu, who pre­fer nat­u­ral land­scapes or fa­mous tourist spots, Ding said she prefers to visit museums and gal­leries in for­eign cities, learn­ing about the lo­cal cul­ture and ar­chi­tec­ture, in­stead of just go­ing to pop­u­lar tourist at­trac­tions.

Ding also likes to travel with a theme. “Ear­lier this year, my friends and I trav­eled to Spain un­der the theme of wine and Miche­lin-starred restau­rants. We went to time-hon­ored chateaus in Spain, and en­joyed high-qual­ity dishes,” she told the Global Times.

“Learn­ing about the cul­tural dif­fer­ence be­tween coun­tries is the most mean­ing­ful thing I get from trav­el­ing,” Ding said. “In re­cent years, I have strongly felt that for­eign­ers are re­spect­ing and ad­mir­ing Chi­nese peo­ple more. When some for­eign­ers find out I am a Chi­nese, they be­come very in­ter­ested and ask me about my cul­ture.”

A nor­mal part of life

For Gen­er­a­tion-Z Chi­nese born af­ter 1995, who grew up in a more pros­per­ous and open society, trav­el­ing hap­pens much ear­lier in their lives, and their travel scale also be­comes wider and more di­verse.

Xia Zhang­wen­jia, the grand­daugh­ter of Zeng, grew up in Shang­hai and had been to around 37 Chi­nese cities and 50 for­eign coun­tries and re­gions by the ten­der age of 10. She said trav­el­ing is a nor­mal part of her life, like school or play­ing.

She ex­plained that she first trav­eled abroad when she was only 11 months old; she cur­rently prefers do­mes­tic cities dur­ing short hol­i­days, and trav­el­ing abroad twice or three times a year for win­ter and sum­mer hol­i­days.

One of her most un­for­get­table travel ex­pe­ri­ence was to South Amer­ica dur­ing Spring Fes­ti­val of 2017. “In the first few days, we trav­eled to Peru and Bo­livia, both which have long his­to­ries. But when we ar­rived in Buenos Aires, the cap­i­tal of Ar­gentina, we found the city was very mod­ern. Then we also went to Ushuaia, which is known as ‘the end of the world’.”

Xia also has an abun­dant col­lec­tion of sou­venirs from dif­fer­ent parts of the world sit­ting on her book­shelf. “Ev­ery coun­try has its own unique his­tory, cul­ture and eth­nic cus­toms. So when trav­el­ing to a coun­try, I like to buy lo­cal cloth­ing and pose for pic­tures,” she said.

Like­wise, nine-year-old Shang­hainese girl Xu Ziqing has been to seven Chi­nese cities and eight for­eign coun­tries and re­gions, in­clud­ing Ja­pan, In­done­sia, Sin­ga­pore the US and the UK. Xu en­joys trav­el­ing and con­sid­ers it a nor­mal part of her life. Her first trip was to Sin­ga­pore at the age of four.

“I travel abroad four times per year and once or twice do­mes­ti­cally,” Xu said, adding she prefers over­seas trav­el­ing, as the land­scapes and cul­tures in other coun­tries and re­gions are more unique.

Her most un­for­get­table travel ex­pe­ri­ence was a six-day ski­ing trip in Hokkaido, Ja­pan. “I went there with five of my friends and our moth­ers. It’s ex­cit­ing to learn real ski­ing; I skied from the very top of a moun­tain to the bot­tom,” she said. “We also en­joyed the beau­ti­ful ‘laven­der sea’ in Hokkaido and ate lo­cal ice cream.”

This story was writ­ten by Wang Han based on two Global Times videos.

Photo: VCG

Photos: Chen Xia/GT, Lu Ting/GT and cour­tesy of Yu Ke­hui, Ding Xuyan and Zeng Aiai

Clock­wise from top left: An old pic­ture of Yu Ke­hui on China’s Great Wall; Ding Xuyan (third from left) at a cook­ing class in Spain; Zeng Aiai (right) poses for photos with her hus­band on a vol­cano.

Ding Xuyan

Xia Zhang­wen­jia

Xu Ziqing

Zeng Aiai

Yu Ke­hui

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