The Grumpy Giraffe

Critiques on social and education issues

Teen engraves presence on Egyptian temple: “I was here!”

“Respect people and property” has been a rule ingrained into my skull since kindergarten in Hong Kong. I had stepped out of line once (literally) when we were lining up to go to the park, and I had my recess taken away because I had not followed instructions to the dot.

Kindergarten is a time where children aged 4 or 5 come to school to learn about manners and social etiquette. Did you say “please”? Did you say “thank you”? Did you hold the door open? Did you wave to the person who said hello? Did you say “good morning/afternoon/evening/night”? Did you say “excuse me” when you sneezed? Did you make sure that you did not go in front of anyone in a line?

The above all seem like common sense, but that is because we are accustomed to social norms already. We’ve already been taught explicitly and implicitly (the latter usually through shame and embarrassment).

But not for Ding Jinhao. He engraved the cliché tourist phrase “[name] was here” onto a 3500 year old Egyptian temple in Luxor, Egypt. Shen, a 41 year old tourist (unrelated to Ding), snapped the following photo, which blazed virally over the Internet and on major news channels.

The news spread like wildfire on the Internet, but soon the flames caught onto Chinese media as they felt the shame and embarrassment. Face (i.e. reputation) is very important to them because they are constantly seen in a negative light, not only internationally (where “they stole our jobs” is still a common phrase), but also in certain parts of China, like the special district of Hong Kong.

In a society that puts face as the number one priority (right next to wealth and status), how could a teen think of doing something so disrespectful, to deface a historical monument?

There were several shocking points of the news story. First off, the Chinese community has reacted in various ways. Hong Kong, known to be in rivalry with Chinese mainlanders, quickly assumed that this was typical behaviour, saying comments like “Of course a mainlander would do this”, or “I told you they were a crude type of people”. This type of ethnocentricity showed up in radio shows and talk shows, or phone-in shows where the audience could contribute their comments. Although understandable from the behaviour exemplified by mainlanders (ex. squatting by streets, urinating in trash cans, etc.), it is not a display of respect either. This tension between Hong Kong and mainland China has been present since 1997, when England passed Hong Kong back to China.

China, as a country, was ashamed, as explained earlier due to the social value of face. They always try to present their best side, especially on the international stage. There have been multiple quality-control incidents (i.e. lead in toys, milk powder was contaminated, ethical issues with work conditions at Foxconn, the factory that produces Apple iPhones), but this incident will be remembered across the globe. China blamed the parents instead of the child.

And this makes me question the state of parenthood and childhood in developed society. The teenager is 15. Although legally a minor, teenagers have long left kindergarten and have been through elementary school to learn about manners, social etiquette, and respect. Surely he would be responsible for his own actions? However, cultural standards blame the parent if the child does something socially deviant, strongly believing in John Locke’s theory of the child as tabula rasa.

Tabula rasa has been on a tidal wave of popularity recently, where parents storm up to teachers demanding the reason for their child’s low grades, and the teacher is stripped of their authority. Blaming the parent for the child’s actions is not only present in China, but is sweeping across Western societies too, such as Canada and the United States. What does this do to the child?

It lets them think that they can get away with monstrosities such as defacing a 3500 year old historical monument.

Generation Y is constantly dubbed as the generation of needy, whiny children who have no patience nor respect. And yes, each generation insults the next one, but unfortunately, it’s starting to look more real every day. We want things when we think of them, instantly, in front of us. Instant gratification is the new moral foundation. This is seen in the #yolo trend, which died as fast as it had come up, to promote living for the moment and forgetting to plan for the future. We have more and more children saying they are “entitled” to things, when really, very few things are entitled to them other than the human rights. Adding onto that, the word “right” is being abused more and more everyday, and being used interchangeably with “privilege”.

Of course, each generation, including Gen Y, has outstanding individuals who have contributed greatly to society and the betterment of humanity. But those who are loudest are the ones who make the most trouble, and the “good kids” are silenced and pushed into the backdrop. These are the people who have a strong sense of responsibility, who take care of their family, who respect their elders (not for their age, but for their wisdom and experience).

The Hong Kong government always has public/general education TV programs playing at prime times. They don’t broadcast everyday, but it’s regular enough so that many citizens know what the program is about when it starts playing. They teach the citizens to put their litter in trash cans, and (recently) to put recyclable materials in the recycling bin. They also have short cartoon clips of children displaying manners, such as saying “Good morning”, and the “rude” children getting a short lecture on how they should behave. There are also clips for adults, such as how to put out a stove fire (i.e. use a wet cloth to cover the pot), or what to do with cigarette butts.

Western society has no general education programs. Some may say that China is collectivist, and that they’re “brainwashing” its citizens to behave in a certain way. In a sense, that is true. Respect is interpreted in many ways (we can use the traditional example of Japanese people not making eye contact with their superiors) by various cultures, but being cordial and not vandalizing property seems to be the same expectation of respect in all cultures.

Western Kindergarten does focus on manners and social etiquette, but parents need to work together with schools to create a community in which manners are always important. We do not always need to say “please” or “thank you” (although it would be best if we were all so cordial), but if we have children who do not even understand the simple rule of not vandalizing property (especially that which isn’t yours), then we as a society have failed even the most basic qualities.

Another question to ponder about is if this tourist was not Chinese, and was a Caucasian, would news reporters like CBS, CNN, CBC, MSNBC, ABC, etc. have specified his nationality?


4 comments on “Teen engraves presence on Egyptian temple: “I was here!”

  1. iHijinx
    June 3, 2013

    A very interesting post and thought provoking. In answer to your question, I would say yes. A persons place of origin is always specified – isn’t it?

    • The Grumpy Giraffe
      June 3, 2013

      Not from what I’ve seen…

      Andrei Chikatilo murdered 53 women and children, and was a Ukrainian. However, newspapers make no mention of his Ukrainian background, and this was a serious case.

      There are others as well who are not given nationality, but those who are visible minorities are usually associated with a nationality. For example, we don’t hear about Ted Bundy as “American Man Murders Many”, but as “Ted Bundy”.

      I’m really just curious as to whether giving the person’s nationality actually serves purpose in Ding Jinhao’s offense of defacing a monument. Does it help that we know he’s from China? Or does it build into stereotypes?

  2. WhichEverWay
    May 30, 2013

    A great read!

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This entry was posted on May 30, 2013 by in education, society, teaching and tagged , , , , , , , , .


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