By this point most people have heard that Queen Elizabeth II was caught on camera describing visiting Chinese officials as “rude,” a hot mic accident that has made international headlines.
The Queen was referring to an incident last October, during President Xi Jinping’s state visit to the United Kingdom. The visit was aimed at encouraging Chinese investment in Britain, part of the so-called “golden era” of economic relations between the two countries.
The comments in question occurred during a garden party at Buckingham Palace earlier this month, when the Queen was being introduced to a female Metropolitan Police Commander who had been in charge of security during the state visit. An official was recorded telling the Queen that the commander had been “seriously, seriously undermined by the Chinese, but she managed to hold her own and remain in command.”
In response, the Queen said she was aware that the Chinese officials had been “very rude to the ambassador” – the British Ambassador to China, Barbara Woodward. According to reports, the Chinese officials had, at one point, walked out of a meeting and threatened to cancel the the state visit.
Those are the extent of the recorded comments. Such breaking international news, right?
But while most of my expat friends have gleefully posting the story to social media – always with a joke about spitting, pushing on the subway and other rude (at least by Western standards) behaviors most people witness every day in China – some of the native Chinese people I know were actually offended by the trending news story. News articles about the Queen’s comments have been censored here in China, but plenty of people have ways to get around that.
One Chinese woman that I know posted a link to the story, along with the following comment, on social media: “Foreigners are not always polite when [sic.] come to China.”
An editorial published by the Global Times, a Chinese state-run newspaper, said the British journalists who reported the comments were “disrespectful gossipers,” according to a translation provided by The New York Times. It also suggested they could learn some class by being exposed to Chinese culture.
“The disrespectful gossipers in the media there, narcissistic and baring their fangs, seemingly retain vestiges of the inelegance of barbarians,” the editorial said. “We believe, however, that with constant contact with the 5,000-year-old civilization of the East, they will make progress.”
A lot of Chinese people I’ve met actually have some kind of strange admiration for not only Britain, but the monarchy itself. I suppose the Queen is part of the fairy-tale fantasy many people have about England: A country full of elegant women and handsome gentlemen who sip afternoon tea near the gates of Buckingham Palace.
I realize that I sound patronizing; I’m writing this because I’ve probably heard this description of England from dozens of my Chinese students. It’s nicer than the way I’ve usually heard people describe the United States (guns, hamburgers, large people).
Anyway – for people who see England as the center of polite behavior and a fairy-tale monarchy, it must have come as a blow to hear that Queen herself describe the visiting Chinese as “rude.” Perhaps it has been perceived as making the entire nation “lose face.”
Not that this is the first time China has made headlines due to what has been perceived as rude behavior overseas. Whether its urinating anywhere and everywhere in public, defacing a 3,500 year-old Egyptian temple, or making so much noise that a country decided to introduce special train cares solely for Chinese tourists, Chinese travelers usually have a pretty bad reputation.
In 2013 the Chinese government released a “Guide to Civilized Tourism and Travel” in attempt to reign in some of these behaviors. The guide warns travelers against spitting, urinating, defecating, picking noses and sleeping in public.