The Chinese are Coming!

During my first year in China (1984) I was an English teacher at a small teachers college in Zhengzhou, Henan Province. My students were middle school English teachers in smaller cities around the province. Many had previously been Russian teachers, but were now being re-trained as English teachers. For most of them, I was the first foreigner they had ever seen.

As is common practice in an EFL classroom, I tried to come up with activities to get the students to practice; to actually use the language (not something they were used to). Of course, asking questions that require some thought is a good technique.

I remember asking my first class of students “if you could go anywhere in the world, where would choose, and why?” and being greeted with absolutely blank stares. To me it was a rather simple question, but for them the possibility of traveling to another country was so far out of the realm of possibility, and thus the realm of what they could imagine, that they couldn’t even answer the question. I might as well have been asking them what planet they would like to visit and why.


Not so anymore. According to an article on the travel website Skift, there were over 100 million Chinese tourists traveling abroad last year, and by 2019, that number is expected to nearly double:

Here are the numbers: 174 million Chinese tourists are tipped to spend $264 billion by 2019 compared with the 109 million who spent $164 billion in 2014, according to a new analysis by Bank of America Merrill Lynch. To put that in perspective, there were just 10 million Chinese outbound tourists in 2000.

How much is $264 billion” It’s about the size of Finland’s economy and bigger than Greece’s.

I have seen this first hand since moving back to the States from China 2 years ago. I have had the opportunity to travel quite a bit around the United States and Canada. Every single place that I have been I have heard Chinese being spoken. And I’m not just talking about the famous and oft-visited places such as Las Vegas, Pike’s Peak, Disney World, or Chicago’s Magnificent Mile. I have run into Chinese tourists in some pretty out-of-the-way places, from sand dunes in Utah to ferries in Southeast Alaska.

And now, a half-dozen of my friends in Beijing have 10-year tourist visas to the US.

One of my favorite Chinese phrases is relie haunying (热烈欢迎), which literally translated is “warmly welcome.”

Here’s to hoping that’s what Chinese visitors to the US will experience!

Photo: CRI English

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6 thoughts on “The Chinese are Coming!

  1. I’m surprised, but not surprised. China has changed so much, so much more money, English being taught to everyone (whether they want it or not), just wanting to be able to do what other people around the world do, is a driving force. Big changes.

    • It’s part and parcel with the rise of a middle class, who want to do what middle class people in other countries do…like travel!

      • Well, you would know better than I do. But I only know one (probably) middle class person personally, a school teacher in one of the western cities. She travels to Canada to see her son and daughter-in-law, who live there now. I know people have “houses”, large apartments which are much better and more like ours, cars, etc., but what do you think the percentage is and does the industrialization of China really account for that?

        • It’s still a smaller percentage than in the west; and middle class is defined differently in terms of income. But when you start with 1.3 billion people, even a small percentage is a lot of people. And this got me thinking….pretty much everyone I know in Beijing right now would fall into this category. It doesn’t mean they will start traveling overseas, but many of them could if they wanted to.

  2. It’s amazing how China is changing. Personally I love seeing Chinese visitors to the U.S. I live on Maui and have enjoyed chatting with many tourist from China. Doing my best to help them feel warmly welcomed.