Chinese tourists being photographed riding Wall Street's famous Charging Bull has sparked a controversy in China. A Beijing Television reporter spotted the scene and lamented in her blog about the lack of civilized behavior among some of our countrymen.
Once again, netizens played sleuths, but this time for evidence against the reporter. They reposted photos of Western tourists on top of the same bull, adding that this particular piece of sculpture is open for "riding".
Wikipedia notes that the Wall Street Bull was actually not commissioned by the New York government, but a result of "guerilla art". It was created and installed by someone named Arturo Di Modica, who still owns it. The entry does not mention whether it is okay for an ordinary tourist, obviously without the prior approval of either the sculptor or the city, on whose land it sits, to ride the bull.
Therefore, I cannot come to a conclusion whether a tourist, Chinese or otherwise, is behaving inappropriately if he or she does it.
But I'm not surprised the reporter thought that way. It is often reported that some Chinese tourists have bad manners while traveling overseas.
I've witnessed it several times. I don't think they're deliberately "destroying the image of China". Instead, I deem it a continuation of long-wrought bad habits. If you go to a popular tourist attraction in China and wait for your turn for an ideal photo spot, you may never get it. You'd have to bull your way into it.
I don't think a single Chinese can represent the whole country. There are many who take efforts to observe local customs. But, if too many carry on their indecorum wherever they go, it's bound to happen that some outsiders may view us - all of us - in a negative light.
That's why we need education campaigns to change those behaviors. And we should start from home. Let's refrain from the traditional thinking that a personal faux pas would mar the national image. Let's create the notion that a good citizen should not act improperly, whether in Waihuan Street or Wall Street.
Netizens are wrong to infer that it is appropriate to do something simply because others, possibly locals, are doing it. Would you rob someone if you see a robber doing it without getting caught?
That said, some sculptures on public land are indeed for "interaction". I was walking in a park in Yixing, Jiangsu Province, the other day and spotted a couple of boys frolicking on top of a sculpture. As soon as I pointed my camera at them, they turned stiff and an old gentleman who wore a park badge started shouting at them. I asked him whether he would leave them alone if I, a reporter, had not shown an interest in them. He nodded. What the kids were doing was "naughty" to him, but a symbol of innocence to me.
To take the bull of manners by the horns, I offer the following advice: If you want to ride that famous bull to ensure you'll be part of a future bull run, look for signs first. If they have words like "No climbing", don't do it. Take photos in front of it instead. Since most sculptures on public land do not allow body contact, so to speak, you can assume the default rule is "No". If you find words to the contrary, from either posted notices or nearby security guards, go ahead, why not have fun with it?
Better use delicacy while tackling a bull than be a bull in a china shop.
(China Daily 11/24/2007 page4)