A 15-year-old Chinese boy is feeling the full weight of online opprobrium after it emerged that he had scrawled his name on a 3,500-year-old Egyptian sculpture during a visit to the country with his family.
BEIJING – A 15-year-old Chinese boy is feeling the full weight of online opprobrium after it emerged that he scrawled his name on a 3,500-year-old Egyptian sculpture during a visit to the country with his family.
Parents of the boy, Ding Jinhao, have apologized publicly for their son’s actions after a photo of the graffiti surfaced and prompted more than 254,000 mentions on China’s Twitter-like service Weibo.
Internet users decried the defacement of the ancient site and called for renrou sou suo, or the Chinese phenomena of “human flesh search engines,” in which netizens expose those who have run afoul of Internet communities.
As the online manhunt gathered steam – becoming one of the most popular trending topics on Weibo this past weekend – Ding’s family found out that photographic evidence of their son’s vandalism as well as private information about him was being published publicly online.
In a bid to stop the hounding, Ding’s parents did an anonymous interview Sunday with a local newspaper, Modern Express. In it they both apologized for their son’s behavior, describing him as “a good student” but a little bit “introverted.”
They declined to say how old Ding was when they visited Luxor, but they implied that he had been much younger. They also confessed that they had not been watching their son while on tour in Egypt and that they discovered their son’s vandalism the same day it happened.
“When we were told by our son about it, we disciplined him immediately and he realized his wrong doing then,” his mother was quoted as saying.
The couple blamed themselves for their son’s actions.
“When he was little, we often took him travelling,” she said. “When we saw similar situations [of graffiti], we never told him it was wrong.”
Fallout from the confession was immediate and severe. Users hacked the website of Ding’s primary school so that visitors first had to click on an image saying "Ding Jinhao was here" before continuing to the homepage.
“Would an apology be enough if he had destroyed that cultural relic?!?” one Weibo user demanded. “You should take responsibility if you have done something wrong, no matter if you are a kid or not.”
Many users were quick to blame Ding’s parents.
“It is the parents’ fault, children should be taught what cannot be done,” one user wrote,
Others said Ding’s actions reflected a cultural insensitivity on the part of many Chinese abroad.
“All tourists leaving China should be given a brochure and tested to see if they can behave themselves,” another joked. “If they can’t pass the exam, they shouldn’t be allowed to go abroad.”
Cultural sensitivity and bad manners have increasingly become topics of discussion in China. This month, Vice-Premier Wang Yang warned that “uncivilized behavior” of some Chinese tourists was harming the nation’s image.
To combat what Wang called the “poor quality and breeding” of Chinese tourists, China recently passed a new tourism law that will attempt amongst other things to “promote a healthy and civilized way to travel [and] to improve the level of civilization of tourists.”
The new tourism law still faces many issues, such as the fact that its existence isn’t even recognized by the government agency charged with handling Chinese travel. A representative who picked up the phone at China’s National Tourism Administration told NBC News that there was no tourism law and that there had been no discussion of one.
With over 83 million trips overseas last year, Chinese tourists are increasingly leaving a bigger global footprint. It is also an extremely lucrative one for host countries: The United Nations World Tourism Organization reported that Chinese travelers spent a record $102 billion visiting overseas last year, a 40 percent jump from 2011.
NBC News’ Yanzhou Liu and Dalin Liu contributed to this report.