Chinese tourists appall North Koreans by throwing candy at their kids

Chinese tourists’ boorish behavior has raised hackles from Egypt to Washington, D.C. in recent months as growing incomes send millions of Chinese overseas, often for their first-ever trip outside the country.

Now it is North Korea’s turn.

Mainland Chinese tourists throw sweets at North Korean children “like they’re feeding ducks,” Simon Cockerell of Koryo Tours told the South China Morning Post. Not surprisingly, “North Koreans think that’s undignified and offensive.” North Koreans also complain that Chinese visitors are too loud, and pick up strangers’ children for photographs.

Making matters worse, North Koreans “always thought of themselves as richer than the Chinese or having a purer brand of socialism, and they are now very jealous of China’s wealth,” Barbara Demick, Beijing bureau chief of The Los Angeles Times told the SCMP. Chinese might be even less popular than Americans in North Korea, she added.

A Chinese tourist poses for pictures at the border between between China and North Korea, in Hunchun, Jilin province August 29, 2011. REUTERS/Carlos Barria (CHINA - Tags: POLITICS TRAVEL) - RTR2QH8P
Smile if you’re socialist! (Reuters/Carlos Barria)

China is North Korea’s largest trading partner and biggest oil provider. But trade has slowed and relations chilled between the two countries after North Korea’s nuclear test in February.

Tourism, though, still appears to be booming, with dozens of companies in China specializing in tours to North Korea. The number of Chinese traveling to North Korea is disputed, with estimates ranging from 10,000 a year by tour operators to more than half a million by North Korean officials.

A member of a Chinese delegation takes pictures at the costal area of the Mount Kumgang resort in Kumgang August 31, 2011. Long grass grows around the idle hotels , shops are covered in cobwebs and a big padlock hangs off the front of the bank at the deserted shopping centre. This is a North Korean ghost-town, one funded by its wealthy southern neighbours. The deserted Mount Kumgang tourist resort was once a symbol of cooperation between the two Koreas, but today is stark reminder of the big divide that still stands between the sides who are still technically at war having only signed an armistice, not a peace treaty, to the end 1950-53 Korean War. Three years ago the shooting of a South Korean tourist by a North Korean soldier here resulted in Seoul halting tours to the complex, effectively drying up a  source of much needed hard currency for the impoverished North. REUTERS/Carlos Barria (NORTH KOREA - Tags: POLITICS TRAVEL) - RTR2QKXD
Members of a Chinese delegation at Mount Kumgang resort in North Korea. (Reuters/Carlos Barria)

The itinerary of these trips is tightly-controlled and full of staged events. This four-day tour with Dandong Chosun Tour Service, for example, features a stop at the “International Friendship Hall where gifts presented from foreign countries to President Kim Il Sung and leader Kim Jong Il are displayed” as well as stop at the the Pyongyang Children’s school to “appreciate the performance of children,” and mandatory attendance at the Arirang Mass Games, a summer festival intended to showcase North Korea’s athleticism and cultural prowess that features gymnastics and a flower show.

Tourists traveling with a Chinese group to North Korea are encouraged to bring Chinese renminbi, US dollars or euros (no Korean money allowed), to keep their thoughts about the local government to themselves and are forbidden from leaving their hotel without their tour operator.

What about handing out candy to children? Maybe the Chinese tourists were just taking their cue from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. This year on his birthday, he distributed a kilo of sweets to every child in the country.

home our picks popular latest obsessions search