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Chinese Tourists in Europe: Getting Robbed Is Part of the Experience

“The Best Anti-Theft Strategy in Europe”? Chinese netizens are sharing tips how not to get robbed during their Europe trip.

Manya Koetse




My bag was stolen in Amsterdam, my phone was snatched in Paris, and my camera was robbed in Rome. Chinese social media is brimming with accounts from Chinese travelers sharing their unfortunate experiences of falling prey to theft during their trips to Europe. Getting robbed in Europe has become so common that Chinese apps like Xiaohongshu and Douyin are now flooded with numerous “Europe Anti-Theft Strategies” and “How Not To Get Robbed in Europe” guides.

In this post-pandemic days, a growing number of Chinese tourists are making their way to Europe, some for the first time in years. As the practice of chronicling one’s journey on social media has become part of the travel experience, Chinese platforms like Xiaohongshu, Douyin, and WeChat have witnessed a surge in posts capturing Europe trip adventures.

Unfortunately, many of these posts are about Chinese tourists getting their phone stolen, their wallet nicked, or being robbed of their travel bags.

When it comes to European destinations, Paris stands out as one of the most notorious places where Chinese travelers frequently report incidents of robbery. However, social media is also filled with posts recounting unfortunate experiences in cities like Barcelona, Rome, Venice, Amsterdam, and London.

The average Chinese tourist is often a vulnerable target for thieves and pickpockets in Europe for several reasons. They are often equipped with premium gadgets, wear designer’s clothes, and are frequently engrossed in their smartphones. Many Chinese tourists also find handling wallets, cards, and physical currency unfamiliar due to their background in a cashless society.

Additionally, the challenges of using China Unionpay cards for payments in many European locations, coupled with difficulties in withdrawing money from conventional ATMs, lead Chinese travelers in Europe to carry substantial amounts of cash. This, combined with a general lack of awareness about potential dangers, makes Chinese travelers in Europe more susceptible to theft.

Getting robbed in Europe is now so commonplace among Chinese tourists, that some argue that “if you haven’t been robbed, you didn’t get the full Europe experience.”


“The Europe Experience”


So what is that ‘Europe experience’ people are talking about?

Of course, many posts concerning Europe travel among Chinese tourists center on savoring delightful cuisine, admiring beautiful architecture, and exploring world-famous sites. Yet, a significant portion of these posts is focused on sharing personal experiences of becoming victims of theft in European cities.

Below, we have highlighted the most-mentioned cities on Chinese social media when it comes to getting robbed and what kind of experiences are shared for these locations.

◼︎ Amsterdam: Subtle and Sudden

Many who share their unfortunate experiences of falling victim to theft in Amsterdam or other parts of the Netherlands often recount having their valuables stolen on trains or at train stations, frequently right after arriving in the country from Schiphol Airport or traveling from other European destinations via international trains. Numerous accounts emphasize how a mere moment of distraction can lead to the sudden discovery that their bags have disappeared. The same vulnerability applies to stolen phones – some people share how one moment their smartphone was in their hand, only to be gone the next minute, without even realizing they had somehow let go of it.

Furthermore, alongside incidents involving theft on trains or at train stations, another common way tourists experience robbery in Amsterdam is through valuables being stolen from parked cars. A recent account highlights an incident where an individual’s parked car, situated near a hotel, had its windows smashed, resulting in the loss of all items except their Van Gogh museum souvenirs.

◼︎ Barcelona: Bold and Brazen

Barcelona is also infamous for tourists becoming victims of theft. In July of this year, the Chinese Consulate General in Barcelona even issued a warning to Chinese nationals about the risks. Accounts shared by Chinese travelers on social media highlight that theft experiences in this city lack subtlety compared to those in Amsterdam; thieves in Barcelona tend to employ bolder and rougher tactics.

Several Chinese tourists recount incidents where, upon exiting the subway, they encountered individuals who deliberately splashed paint, ketchup, or other substances on their bags or clothes to create a distraction. Caught off guard and attempting to clean off the mess, they became vulnerable to pickpocketing and subsequently lost their phones and wallets.

There are exceptionally audacious thieves who won’t hesitate to snatch bags or phones from tourists right within the subway or even on bustling streets like the Ramblas. They make a swift getaway with the stolen items. Certain Chinese bloggers have shared their experiences of attempting to fend off thieves who targeted their crossbody bags or other belongings, only to feel a sense of regret afterward, realizing that the thieves might have been armed with knives.

◼︎ Brussels: With Love and Chocolates

There are also reports coming from Chinese tourists in Brussels who are warning others of their experiences with thieves there. Some of these thieves seem surprisingly sweet-toothed and romantic, like the thief who first told his victim “I love you” before trying to snatch their phone.

Compared to other theft experiences, another man’s encounter in Brussels took on a somewhat amusing tone. He shared his exasperation over an incident where a man unexpectedly reached into the bag of chocolates he had just purchased in the Belgian capital and snatched a piece of chocolate.1

◼︎ Paris: Nowhere is Safe?

Paris is renowned as one of the most infamous destinations for theft, with many Chinese tourists labeling the city as “unsafe.” From minor pickpocketing incidents to brazen daytime carjackings, a variety of crimes pose challenges for travelers in the French capital.

Paris is a favored destination among Chinese travelers who frequently indulge in shopping sprees, purchasing luxury items like Chanel or Louis Vuitton handbags, which increases their vulnerability to theft. Many shoppers bring their bags back to their hotel for safekeeping, and, as an extra measure of caution, opt to store their most valuable things inside the hotel room’s safety box. However, some Chinese tourists recently recounted the unsettling experiences where even their own rooms weren’t secure havens for their valuables. Upon returning to their accommodations, they were dismayed to find everything missing. When raising their concerns with the hotel management, they received the response that the hotel claimed no responsibility for the incident.

The notion that ‘nowhere is safe’ is further underscored by accounts from travelers, including those with rental cars, who have encountered incidents of smashed windows and theft of bags even while inside their vehicles.

Another aspect worth noting about Paris is that certain Chinese nationals, particularly those who are residing in the city temporarily rather than just visiting briefly, have reported experiencing theft for the second time. A user on Xiaohongshu recounted an incident where they were assaulted and robbed near Porte de Clignancourt. Additionally, there are accounts of multiple thieves collaborating to target unsuspecting commuters on the subway.

◼︎ London: Picky Pickpockets

London thieves are infamous for targeting phones, often using aggressive tactics. “Gangs” on scooters or bicycles speed by and snatch phones from people’s hands, especially when they’re using them by the roadside, such as at bus stops or traffic lights.

Some Chinese in London have shared their experiences of thieves attempting to steal their phones, only to realize they were Huawei devices and then tossing them back, seemingly disappointed since they were expecting iPhones. Another Xiaomi user recounted a similar incident. In a separate older post, a Chinese young man recalled a 2022 incident where a duo of thieves snatched his bracelet and watch near Bond Street. Interestingly, they returned his belongings later (with the second person pretending to assist) after realizing they held no significant value and weren’t worth the effort.

Xiahongshu user Alex Ya Yulun shares a nasty experience near Bond Street.

Another person shared how they discovered that a thief had somehow gotten into their wallet at Euston Station and only took their creditcard, leaving his cash and debit card. The idea behind this – of only stealing one credit card instead of the entire wallet – is that it buys the thief time to go and spend money on the card before it is canceled, as it might take a while for tourists to discover it missing. In this case, the victim was quick to discover and cancel his card via his bank. Just seconds later, he received a notification that someone had attempted to make a purchase worth of 3000 pounds (US$3820) with his card. “That’s how sneaky they are,” he wrote: “They just take one card to buy themselves time.”

◼︎ Milan: Distracted by Pigeons

How nice it is to have dinner outside and enjoy the vibrant citylife. But in Milan, Chinese travelers warn about groups of young people who will come up to your table, pretending to promote something and hand out flyers. While distracting you, they will nick the phone they have spotted on the table.

Distraction seems to be a popular tactic among Milan thieves. Another female Xiaohongshu user shares how she was waiting for someone at a high-end hotel in Milan center, when a man called out to her in English. She turned around to see why, and before she knew it another man had grabbed the purse that was right to her.

Xiaohongshu user BoomerXu shares their experience of the pigeon scam in Milan.

What better distraction than pigeons fluttering around near the Duomo di Milano? A popular Milan tactic involves thieves and scammers coming up to people admiring the view and the many pigeons near the square, and then handing them birdseed causing the pigeons to all come over at the same time – a perfect picture moment. The scammers will then use this as an opportunity to suddenly surround tourists with multiple people and demand money in a forceful and aggressive manner.

◼︎ Rome: Don’t Judge by Appearance

Rome is another notorious place for getting robbed. Some experiences shared on Chinese social media about becoming a victim of theft in the Italian capital are less subtle than those of others. One female solo traveler shared how she walked back to her hotel at night while listening to some music on her headphones, not far Roma Termini, when someone suddenly grabbed her by her throat from behind and robbed her of her camera before running off.

In August 2023, a Chinese PhD student shared a previous incident involving the theft of her belongings in Italy. While enjoying a moment at a cafe in Rome with a group of four women, they engaged in conversation, casually placing their bags on two vacant chairs beside them. Shortly thereafter, they were met with the shocking realization that their belongings had disappeared. This incident was particularly distressing for the PhD student, as her stolen bag contained not only her passport but also her laptop housing valuable research materials and papers.

The circumstances leading to the ladies not noticing the perpetrator’s proximity can be attributed to the deceptive nature of appearances. As fellow travelers emphasize, it is vital not to judge Roman thieves based on their looks. That stylishly attired, elegantly tall woman seated adjacent to you on the subway might very well be a pickpocket.

◼︎ Returning Home

Chinese tourists have also reported instances of theft during their return journey to China. When travelers need to make transfers within Europe on their way back to China, there’s a risk of items being stolen from their suitcases, including valuable possessions like stylish handbags.

Some online users share that the locks they use on their suitcases seem ineffective, as airport thieves seem knowledgeable about opening them. The combination of a Chinese name, a destination in China, and a relatively nice suitcase appears to be an opportunity for thieves. One traveler even recounted the surprising discovery that their box of chocolates had been opened during transfer and partially eaten!


The Anti-Theft Strategy


With so many people getting robbed in Europe, it is only natural for netizens to actively search for content on how to protect themselves.

Those who have had the unlucky experience of getting robbed share advice on how not to become a victim of theft while traveling, but many of these online “Preventing Theft and Robbery Guides” (防偷防抢指南/欧洲防小偷指南) or “Anti-Theft Strategy” posts (欧洲最强防盗) are also written by Chinese nationals studying or working in cities like London, Amsterdam, Paris, who have become adept at spotting theft tactics and protecting their belongings.

Anti-theft products recommended by Xiaohongshu user 一只小卷卷🍓.

Here is a compilation of recurring tips gathered from various Chinese netizens, vloggers, and bloggers on avoiding theft and safeguarding your belongings while in Europe:

◼︎ Wear an anti-theft waist bag / waist belt (防盜腰包) to store valuables such as cash, phones, passport, or creditcards.

◼︎ Other Chinese social media users go a step further and even recommend special underpants with pockets to store valuables such as passport and cash money.

◼︎ Try to maintain a low profile while traveling. Refrain from wearing designer clothing, don’t wear expensive watches, and leave your jewelry at home. This is a tip that is repeated by most anti-theft guides.

◼︎ When going out, it’s best to carry minimal valuables and leave the rest in your hotel room. Given existing concerns about hotel room safety, it’s advisable to use the hotel’s safety box to store your belongings.

◼︎ Some people suggest using phones with lanyards attached to your body to prevent the phone from being snatched while you’re distracted. (However, there’s a potential drawback to this approach – if a thief employs aggressive tactics and snatches the phone while running or on a motorcycle, it could lead to injury.)

◼︎ Many posts also recommend purchasing different strong locks for Europe travels: S-locks for handbags to prevent zippers from being easily opened, a strong anti-theft lock for the suitcase, and even door locks to prevent (hotel)doors from being opened from outside.

Images showing variou lock to prevent theft, by Xiaohongshu user 岛屿啊.

◼︎ Stay vigilant about your surroundings: who is walking in front of you, who is walking behind you, who is at your left and right, and is anyone getting too close?

◼︎ Since public transport and stations are a pickpocket hotspot, it is better to walk to your destination if possible instead. At night, go by taxi.

◼︎ When traveling by train, it’s crucial to keep your luggage within sight at all times. For many Chinese tourists, this might be an unfamiliar practice, as on high-speed trains, luggage can be conveniently stored in designated compartments, allowing travelers to relax until their destination is reached. However, the situation is quite different in Europe.

◼︎ A thief only needs a small window of opportunity to snatch your phone. When you’re outside, try to minimize the frequency of looking at your phone or having your phone in your hand, and always stay vigilant. Never put your phone in the outer pockets of your coat.

◼︎ When renting a car in Europe, it’s imperative to never leave valuables behind inside the vehicle.

◼︎ Stay vigilant against distraction tactics. Whether you’re on the street or dining at a restaurant, if someone approaches you to ask questions, hand out flyers, display a paper or sign, be mindful of your phone and wallet. While they engage you in conversation or divert your attention, another individual could take advantage and attempt to steal from you.

◼︎ Don’t accept any items from strangers. For instance, in Rome or Paris, some people might try to offer you a bracelet, claiming it’s free, but then demand money if you take it.

◼︎ When using a taxi during your travels, ensure that you keep valuable items near you. Also, make sure to personally place your luggage in the back of the taxi or watch the driver stow it for you. One Chinese tourist shared her experience on Xiaohongshu, where she entered the taxi while the driver loaded her luggage into the trunk. Unfortunately, upon reaching her destination, her luggage was nowhere to be found.

◼︎ When purchasing luxury items such as Chanel or Louis Vuitton bags, make sure to take your purchases out of the original luxury shopping bags and carry them in normal tote bags. Walking around with a Vuitton or Chanel shop bag just screams: ‘I just bought a super expensive designer product’ and not only street thieves will know, but people working in and around the hotel will also notice.

◼︎ Using a simple canvas tote bag is a recurring tip in the online Europe anti-theft guides. However, a controversial tip advises travelers to use frog-themed bags to ward off Roma thieves because they think that they see frogs as signs of bad luck.


Disappointed, Disillusioned


The changing view of Europe as a potentially hazardous destination for Chinese tourists signifies shifting times. Instead of a dream destination, Europe is increasingly described as a place that is “chaotic” or that is “lacking law and order.” Many people who share their experiences online suggest that they are “disappointed” or “won’t be coming back.”

Partly, this phenomenon could be labeled as the “Paris syndrome,” an extreme sense of disillusionment experienced by certain individuals during their visit to Paris, where they find the city not aligning with their expectations. This condition is often seen as an acute form of culture shock.

However, this trend also signifies changing times. In the present context, many Chinese citizens consider their home country a secure haven, largely free from concerns like robbery or personal safety on the streets; their major cities are considered much more secure. As mentioned by some bloggers, this disparity has seemingly become more noticeable after the pandemic. At the same time, due to all the warnings about theft in Europe, Chinese travelers are more conscious of how they are being perceived as attractive targets for thieves while traveling abroad.

Besides the risks of getting robbed, one factor seemingly influencing this portrayal of a “chaotic” Europe, particularly among Chinese travelers who have fallen victim to theft in Europe and reported such incidents, is their perception of local law enforcement as unresponsive or inadequate when addressing such thefts.

From Italy to the Netherlands, Chinese netizens express frustration about police merely making police reports for insurance purposes, but otherwise not actively chasing thieves, even if there is security footage or if the perpetators were caught on camera. “The chances of ever getting your stuff back are very, very low,” one Xiaohongshu user said. One Weibo user reiterated this idea, sharing how the police responded after their Rimowa suitcase with all their belongings was stolen on a Munich train station: “They were actually very quick in providing a written case report, but it was clear that no measures would be taken to actually solve the case. When we told them there were surveillance cameras on the platform recording the incident, the police officer stated that they didn’t have the authority to view the surveillance footage according to the law.”2

Another person shared how their laptop was stolen inside a train in Amsterdam and that even though they could show the police the exact location of their stolen laptop due to the ‘Find my Apple’ function, the police officer seemed “lethargic” and told them to try and find the laptop themselves. “I was simply stupefied, more upset by this response than the actual theft,” they wrote.3

Xiaohongshu user (一只虎虎酱) shares experiences of reporting a theft at Dutch police station.

Besides the lack of police actionability, immigration and lack of border security are also often mentioned as additional factors that contribute to Europe being perceived as a ‘messy place.’

“Is Europe really that chaotic?” one person recently asked on Xiaohongshu, getting over 3000 likes and more than 160 replies. “In Europe, many illegal immigrants resort to stealing money for survival because they don’t have jobs,” one person replied, with others explaining: “Sigh, insisting on whatever humanitarian efforts, they’ve let in a large influx of African refugees, as well as Roma people. When you travel or have a tour guide, they’ll always remind you about this. Additionally, we Chinese are relatively wealthy and tend to flaunt luxury purchases, which makes us targets for theft.”

“Although countries in Europe are mostly very developed, the public order is not safe at all,” one Chinese vlogger reports: “The thieves aren’t necessarily strictly locals; many are outsiders. Because in Europe, you know, there are no borders or security checks, so getting in is quite easy and straightforward.”4

For individuals who have not yet traveled to Paris or other places in Europe, the abundance of negative posts detailing incidents of theft may not exactly serve as an encouragement to visit.

“I’ve decided not to return to Paris or visit Europe for the time being. I’ll see how it is next year,” wrote one commenter: “If a city cannot guarantee my safety, what’s the point of traveling there?”5

“God please make sure I don’t get robbed in Europe this time around,” another Weibo user wrote: “I’m just a poor guy. If anything, give me some money instead of stealing it from me.”

“You should just assume that everyone around you is a thief,” some travelers on Xiaohongshu recommend: “That’s the only way to prepare yourself for your upcoming Europe trip.”

By Manya Koetse, co-author & initiator Miranda Barnes

1 我和我朋友走回家的路上,大概下午6点左右,走到Primark那条街上(人挺多挺杂的),我俩买了一袋散装的巧克力,因为拿了两块吃,所以袋口是打开的。刚走出店门,一个男的迎面走来,要把手伸进巧克力袋子,给我朋友吓懵了,等她反应过来,那男的手已经伸进袋子了,而且直接伸到最底下抽出一块,然后离开,我真的崩溃了。听描述好像觉得我们完全可以拒绝或者立刻离开之类的,但实际上事情发生的太突然了,估计也就3到5秒。我们最后把整袋巧克力都扔了。

2 发现箱子被盗后,立即做了报警处理。警方倒是痛快,很快出具了书面的立案报告,却显然并不想采取任何有助于破案的措施。当我们提供站台上有监控录像的信息时,接待的警察表示,根据法律其无权查看监控录像。

3 “偷东西的不见得是非常本地人了,很多都是外来人,因为欧洲这边嘛,他没有边境也没有安检,所以想进来很容易很简单”

4 我直接惊呆了,这比小偷偷我包还气愤,一个关键的交通枢纽大机场的警察竟然让我们(我和我男朋友)自己去找。然后我质问说,如果我们找到了,小偷要攻击我们怎么办?

5 如果一个城市无法确保我的安全,还有什么谈论的旅行可言呢?

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Manya Koetse is the founder and editor-in-chief of She is a writer, public speaker, and researcher (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends, digital developments, and new media in an ever-changing China, with a focus on Chinese society, pop culture, and gender issues. She shares her love for hotpot on Contact at, or follow on Twitter.

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China Fashion & Beauty

Clicking Into the Craze: Exploring the Rise of “Ethnic-Themed Photos” Among Chinese Tourists

Patriotic, problematic, or purely photogenic? The trend of ethnic photoshoots has sprouted across Chinese social media platforms.

Zilan Qian



What looks like a professional photoshoot in a fashion magazine, is actually a local photo service found in one of China’s many popular tourist destinations. Dressing up as various ethnic minorities is not just a souvenir for domestic Chinese travelers; it presents a chance to indulge in a glamorous fantasy.

Exquisitely blushing cheeks, voluminous artificial eyelashes, meticulously styled hairdos, alluring ethnic garments, and enchanting landscapes. These are the captivating elements of the “ethnic-themed photo” (民族风写真) trend that has become increasingly popular on Chinese social media.

The trend is all about Chinese domestic tourists, predominantly young women, who adorn themselves in the traditional attire of China’s ethnic minorities while exploring various regions across the mainland, seeking to capture glamorous moments for their social media posts.

The favored destinations for these photoshoots predominantly encompass regions like Yunnan, Xinjiang, or Tibet— home to various Chinese ethnic communities. For the shoots, they usually wear popular ethnic dresses that are aimed to simulate those worn by people belonging to the Tibetian, Miao, Naxi, or other ethnic groups who each have their own unique cultures and traditional clothing.

Meanwhile, a flourishing industry has emerged to cater to the production of these ethnic photos for tourists. While some visitors simply rent ethnic dresses from shops, many opt for more comprehensive and professional services provided by local photo studios that offer a convenient “one-stop” experience.

Ethnic photos shared by netizens on Xiaohongshu.

Situated in popular tourist destinations, these studios not only provide an extensive selection of ethnic dresses and accessories, but also skilled makeup artists catering to individual preferences, professional photographers capturing moments throughout the daytime excursions, and photo editors perfecting the final photos.

For example, a studio located in Lijiang, Yunnan, promoting its services on the social media app Xiaohongshu, boasts a diverse collection of more than 300 dress choices along with complementary accessories. Their offerings encompass makeup services, ranging from applying false eyelashes and intricate small-scale face painting to skillfully braiding hair.

A studio located in Lijiang advertising on Xiaohongshu. It offers ethnic dresses, makeup, photography, and retouching starting as low as 59 yuan ($8.5).

The studio even promises to deliver the final retouched photos within just 24 hours. Prices for these convenient “one-stop services” differ, starting from less than 100 yuan (approximately US$14) and going up to over 1700 yuan (about US$240). The final cost depends on several factors, including the studio preference, preferred styles, the number of people in the photographs, and the quantity of retouched photos the tourists opt for.

Unique Captures: The Thriving Dress-Up Photography Industry

As the trend of snapping ethnic-inspired photos during trips gains traction in China, the idea of indulging in dress-up photoshoots with stunning makeup and glamorous outfits is not exactly new.

Photography studios specializing in diverse personal portrait services have been a fixture in China for quite a while. These all-inclusive packages usually encompass makeup, hairstyling, outfit selection, backdrop arrangement, skilled photography, and the final retouching.

Some of these studios focus on offering uniquely themed photo shoots, from Tang Dynasty to Disneyland or the magic world of Harry Potter. The customs and backdrops are usually carefully crafted to create extraordinary settings. It is quite common for people to have a series of artistic photos captured for special occasions, such as birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, or weddings (read more about wedding photoshoots in China here).

Haimati (海马体), a trending photography studio, advertising their new styles of Alice in Wonderland and Harry Potter photoshoots.

In recent years, this concept of unique photoshoot experiences has been embraced within the realm of travel. What were previously staged backgrounds painted on canvases have evolved into real tourist attractions, and the studio attire has made way for genuine local outfits. Rather than opting for Disney princesses or Hogwarts students’ costumes, Chinese tourists are now embracing a variety of outfits like kimonos, Hanbok, and Chut Thai as they explore destinations like Japan, South Korea, and Thailand.

Netizens posting photos of themselves in Chut Thai, traditional Thai clothing, when visiting Thailand on Xiaohongshu.

Netizens posting photos of themselves in Hanbok, the traditional clothing of Korea, when visiting Seoul on Xiaohongshu.

Netizens posting photos of themselves in kimonos when visiting Kyoto and Tokyo on Xiaohongshu.

The popularity of these practices has grown so much that many Chinese internet users have shared stories of mistaking young women wearing kimonos for locals and asking them for directions, only to find out they are fellow Chinese tourists. As one internet user commented on a video featuring people in kimonos in Kyoto, “It seems like around 90% of the people wearing kimonos on the streets of Kyoto are Chinese.”

In answer to this tourist trend, Chinese photography studios have started to broaden their horizons and new industries have sprung up in bustling domestic tourist spots in China. These industries offer comprehensive services similar to those provided by traditional studios, but making the people in the photographs look more exotic, elegant, and enchanting.

Following the Stars and Praising the Country: Embracing Ethnic Attire

While the trend of donning ‘exotic’ outfits for sophisticated photoshoots is not new (and not unique to China), the recent growing popularity of local photoshoots themed around Chinese ethnic minority groups is about more than China’s thriving themed-focused photography industry alone – ethnic-themed photos possess a unique appeal for Chinese travelers.

Chinese social media and celebrities have played a significant role in inspiring numerous people to embrace the ethnic clothing trend. Celebrities like Yang Chaoyue (杨超越) and Mao Xiaotong (毛晓彤) frequently appear in online conversations about ethnic-themed photography. Admiring the beauty of these celebrities in ethnic dresses, many bloggers on Xiaohongshu use their photos as references to analyze outfits and photo filters, aiming to recreate similar styles during their own travels. One Xiaohongshu user excitedly shared, “I can’t believe I achieved the same kind of ethnic look as Yang Chaoyue!” alongside a picture of herself dressed similarly to the Miao ethnic group.

Photos of Yang Chaoyue (left, source) and Mao Xiaotong (right, source) in ethnic dresses.

Some individuals take the trend a step further by fully immersing themselves in a fantasy world through dressing up. One Chinese blogger portrays herself as a “playful chieftain’s daughter, beloved by many,” while adorned in ethnic attire. Another, set against a backdrop of snow-covered mountains, describes the liberating sensation of embodying a carefree “daughter of the gods” (神明少女) and a radiant Gesang flower (格桑花) — a bloom cherished by the Tibetan people as a sacred symbol of love and good fortune. To them, ethnic clothing offers an escape from the ordinary routines of daily life, allowing them to embrace a desirable alternate reality within their imaginations.

Furthermore, in contrast to foreign attires such as kimonos, ethnic dresses hold a unique allure as they symbolize the ethnic diversity within China, evoking a sense of patriotism among Chinese travelers.

Recently, numerous videos have emerged featuring bloggers proudly donning traditional clothing from the 55 ethnic groups, apart from the Han majority, with the goal of showcasing ‘the charm of Chinese culture.’

A screenshot from a Bilibili video featuring the blogger wearing traditional costumes of various ethnic minority groups. The video proudly presents itself as “Showcasing the beauty and allure of China’s 56 ethnic groups.”

The growing trend of ethnic photos is being embraced as a way to honor China’s abundant cultural legacy and the essence of being Chinese. “Chinese girls indeed look stunning in red,” one netizen expressed in a blog post featuring photos of her donning a vibrant red Monongalia dress, accompanied by a national flag emoji within the sentence.

A screenshot of the netizen’s Xiaohongshu post.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, this trend and its patriotic undertones have garnered support from Chinese state media, with the People’s Daily recognizing ethnic minority-themed photoshoots as a contemporary portrayal of Chinese ethnic traditions, highlighting “the distinct aesthetics inherent in Chinese traditional culture.”

Perpetuating Problematic Portrayals of Ethnic Minorities?

While there may be plenty of positive stemming from the revival of public interest in China’s ethnic minority communities through the ethnic photoshoot trend, there are also some less rose-colored consequences to consider.

Firstly, certain popular ethnic photoshoots might inadvertently perpetuate problematic portrayals of ethnic minority cultures. While ethnic photos claim to provide a glimpse into the cultures of ethnic minorities, their primary focus lies in showcasing the beauty of those being photographed for social media purposes, often at the expense of the authenticity of the minority culture they claim to represent.

The ethnic dresses provided by studios for tourists often display mismatches with local traditions. For instance, some tourists dress up as Tibetans in Miao villages, while studios located in Yunnan, home to major ethnic groups like Yi, Bai, Hani, Zhuang, Dai, and Miao, allow customers to don Uyghur outfits, even though Uyghurs are primarily found in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.

Additionally, many so-called ethnic dresses are often modified to serve customers’ demands. This may include incorporating elements like black chiffon skirts into traditional Miao attire or introducing ditsy floral patterns to traditional Tibetan dress.

These disparities highlight that the contemporary trend often diverges significantly from the genuine portrayal of the minorities it purports to represent (sometimes, the costumes really have more to do with imaginary minorities than representing actual traditional attire). Instead, it frequently caters more to tourists seeking a fantastical and fun experience rather than fostering genuine insights into local traditions and realities.

A traditional Miao dress posted by China & Asia Cultural Travel (left) and the “Miao dress” provided by a photography studio (right).

A traditional Tibetan dress posted by Tibet Vista (left) and the “Tibetan dress” provided by a photography studio.

As the ethnic photo industry continues to expand, questions also arise concerning its repercussions on local economies and the communities residing within these popular tourist spots.

Accounts from tourists in Lijiang, Yunnan, paint a vivid picture of a bustling scene, where the entire Lijiang old town is alive with visitors seeking opportunities for ethnic-themed photography. One observant netizen notes, “It’s not an exaggeration to say that you can find an ethnic photography studio every ten steps in Lijiang.”

Does this intense enthusiasm for ethnic photos actually serve as a catalyst for local economic growth? Or will it inadvertently reduce the rich cultural experience in these tourist destinations into mere picturesque settings for photography? Is there a risk of these places becoming the next Zibo, experiencing a temporary surge in popularity at the expense of the peaceful lives of local communities, only to eventually face a decline in popularity?

Chinese netizens seem less preoccupied with deeper discussions about the impact of ethnic minority representations and their influence on these tourist destinations. Online conversations are largely dominated by tourists showcasing pretty photos of themselves, while studios vigorously promote their services in a fiercely competitive market.

Photo by Life Photo

Where does the future trajectory of the trend of ethnic photos lead? Will it simply continue to exist as another form of exquisite photo service, providing people with an opportunity to escape from mundane life and experiment with different styles for cherished memories? Or will it evolve into something more significant, igniting broader discussions on cultural representations and the far-reaching influence of tourism?

Images via photo studios promoting their services on Taobao.

While some may find the trend problematic and complex, many see it as merely photogenic and fun. In the end, regardless of where the ethnic photo hype ultimately will lead, it crystallizes a moment where the interplay of China’s social media’s lens, the surge in domestic tourism, and the intrigue surrounding ethnic minorities seamlessly intersect. Whether it’s a mere snapshot in time or a lasting chapter, this phenomenon captures a blend of cultural curiosity, social media dynamics, and new Chinese traditions in the digital era.

By Zilan Qian


Featured image is part of a ethnic photoshoot in Lhasa in 2021, copyright by What’s on Weibo.

This article has been edited for clarity and commissioned by Manya Koetse.


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China Society

Chinese Tourist Alleges Sexual Assault by Butler at Maldivian Ritz-Carlton

The woman’s story has sparked concerns over the safety of Chinese female (solo) travelers abroad.

Manya Koetse



A Chinese woman’s account of being sexually assaulted by a butler at the Ritz Carlton hotel in the Maldives has gone viral on Chinese social media this week.

It concerns a 26-year-old Chinese citizen who is studying abroad and went on a trip to the Maldives, where she claims to have been raped by a member of the hotel staff in her own room.

On Wednesday, the topic ranked first in the Weibo hot search lists and on Thursday, a related hashtag (“Victim of Alleged Sexual Assault Warns Girls To Be Cautious When Traveling Alone” #自曝被性侵女子提醒女生谨慎独自出国#) had received over 390 million views on Weibo.

The story first attracted attention on Twitter on June 18, when the alleged victim, named Xu Yitong, posted a thread on her account @YolyYitong to share her story. The thread [link here] is as follows, slightly edited for clarity:

“I was raped in the Maldives. I don’t know how many people this will reach to, but help me get help. I arrived in the Maldives on the 6th. I was to return to China on the 10th but I extended mg stay and decided to stay at the @RCMaldives [Ritz Carlton].”

“After arriving to the hotel I was allocated a butler, Usham. I checked into the room and he helped me settle down and explained all the facilities in the hotel for me. The same day I unfortunately splashed water into my phone and my phone wasn’t turning on.”

“I was concerned, I didn’t know how to contact my family, so I asked the front desk to help me and they sent Usham. He came and he let me use my sim card in his phone to speak to my mother. He then sat on the bed and started chatting with me, “Why did you come alone, where do you live etc.””

“And then he started asking me questions about what I did last night. And if I slept outside by the room pool. And that’s when I realized he watched me. And I wanted to change the topic. He left the room for a brief moment and came back because my mother had sent a WeChat.”

“And he was chatting with me again, asking questions. And he took chewing gum and started chewing and asked me if I wanted to kiss, which left me numb. I was blank. I said no, I don’t like physical contact. I took my computer and translated it to him in case he didn’t understand.”

“He then said don’t worry you can feel comfortable with me and leaned towards me and touched my mouth. I didn’t open my mouth and he said “you have no need to be ashamed, sex is ok,” and tried to force open my mouth with his tongue. He asked me if I’m gay or not because I didn’t let him.”

“I was in my pajamas. He started forcing his tongue into my mouth and said, “I will be a gentleman.” He then pushed me on the bed and started removing his pants and he put his pen*s in my mouth twice. He then went ahead and touched me down in my private parts and tried to have intercourse with me.”

“I was forcing and trying to stop him but he wouldn’t. His tries to have sex with he was not working. That’s when he stretched his fingers inside my private part. I then got up and ran and wrapped myself in a quilt. He then asked me if he can touch my breasts to cum. I refused.”

“He then used his hands and released himself on my computer screen. He took a towel from the toilet and wiped off my screen with the towel. He then said you need time to open up and he will be back and he left. I gathered myself and informed the managers in the hotel about it”

“He then used his hands and released himself on my computer screen. He took a towel from the toilet and wiped off my screen with the towel. He then said you need time to open up and he will be back and he left. I gathered myself and informed the managers in the hotel about it.”

“They came and made it look like nothing and I requested for police. They said they’ll get police and then two staffs came and took my computer with his semen and the towel too. I told them this should be handed over to police only. Police came and took my statement.”

“They took sample of my mouth. And told me it would take a week to get the result. And I should leave before the results come. And that they had no reason to arrest him yet. I went ahead and did a medical examination as well. I had bruises all over my body.”

“I was then asked to leave the hotel at the earliest. And that it’s a case between police and Usham and nothing ti do with the hotel. And that they can no longer arrange my accommodation. I left the hotel and there wasn’t even an apology.”

“You only train your housekeepers to ask for tip,
@RitzCarlton [Ritz Carlton]. I was raped in your hotel and you did nothing. You told me I did this to get a free stay. I paid the full amount to the hotel. I’m a Chinese living in Australia. My family is well reputed and rich.”

By now, the thread has received nearly 90k retweets.

According to Chinese media outlets, Xu returned home on June 13th and she is currently dealing with severe depression as a result of the assault.

On June 21, the Maldives Police issued a press statement “regarding the alleged case of sexual assault that occurred at a resort in Maldives,” in which they stated that all necessary investigative actions are being taken to look into the case, in which nobody has been arrested yet.

On the same day, Asian regional representatives of Ritz-Carlton allegedly called up Xu to apologize for what had happened to her (#马尔代夫丽思卡尔顿酒店道歉#).

According to Chinese state media outlet Global Times, the Chinese Embassy in Maldives has also become involved in the case and are in contact with Maldivian authorities and are urging them to thoroughly investigate the case.

Safety of Chinese Women Abroad

The safety of Chinese citizens abroad – especially female – have become a recurring popular topic on Chinese social media throughout the years.

The disappearance of Michelle Leung in Australia, which later turned out to be a homicide case, became a trending topic on Weibo in 2016.

In 2017, the brutal murder of two Chinese sisters in Japan became of of the biggest social topics of that year, together with the murder of Yingying Zhang in Urbana, Illinois.

Although concerns about the safety of Chinese women abroad are sometimes justified, they can also be unfounded. When a pregnant Chinese woman posted about her move to West Africa in 2022, netizens became so worried about her whereabouts after she stopped updating her social media that the local Chinese consulate even got involved to make sure she was safe (which she was).

In the case of Xu Yitong, many commenters have once again highlighted the perception that traveling abroad can be particularly unsafe for Chinese female (solo) travelers. They express concerns that crimes committed against them may not be adequately addressed, investigated, or resolved due to regressive and/or misogynistic practices.

Some official accounts have also shared informational images circulated by People’s Daily. These images contain reminders and precautions for female solo travelers, such as never getting into a car with unfamiliar individuals, always noting the name and license plate of taxis they use, and informing family members about their travel schedule, timetables, and destinations.

Two examples of various info images shared by People’s Daily about females traveling alone.

Some people perceive this story as a warning to avoid staying at the Ritz-Carlton, stating, “This hotel appears to be terrifying.”

By Manya Koetse 

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