May 30, 2013
The Chinese Schoolboy who carved his name on a sculpture on the wall of an ancient temple in Egypt has had his name exposed online & is now being subjected to online harassment as a result. While graffiti on ancient sites is something to be condemned, it is hardly a new problem – even Byron (who much criticised Elgin’s removal of the Parthenon Sculptures) carved his initials on the Temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounio.
Having said this, Egypt’s antiquities currently face far bigger problems than initials scratched on a wall – and perhaps focusing people’s attentions on this distracts from the enormous scale of the actual issues faced at present.
Chinese schoolboy, 15, exposed as Egypt’s ancient temple graffiti vandal
Internet users name and shame teenager who scratched 3,500-year-old artwork
Tuesday 28 May 2013
The parents of a Chinese teenager who scratched his name into a 3,500-year-old Egyptian artwork have apologised for his actions after internet users tracked down the boy to name and shame him.
The 15-year-old, from Nanjing, was identified after a photo of his graffiti – which said “Ding Jinhao was here” in Mandarin – at the Temple of Luxor was posted online on Friday.
A microblogger named Shen, who visited the temple on the banks of the River Nile three weeks ago, cited the graffiti as an example of shameful behaviour by Chinese tourists abroad. The posting attracted a torrent of replies, including suggestions that the perpetrator be tracked down.
Investigators used the internet (known in China as “the human flesh search engine”) to trace Ding Jinhao and released his age, his school and other personal details. Hackers even compromised his former primary school’s website, forcing visitors to click on a sign parodying Ding’s graffiti before they could enter the site, the Global Times newspaper reported.
Ding’s parents admitted their son had defaced the artwork a few years ago but said he was sorry for his actions. “We want to apologise to the Egyptian people and to people who have paid attention to this case across China,” the boy’s mother told Nanjing’s Modern Express newspaper at the weekend.
Ding’s parents said it was their lack of education and supervision that led to his mischief. They said the attack happened when their son, now in middle school, was little. They were with a tourist group and did not notice when he scrawled on the sculpture, the mother said. “We have taken him sightseeing since he was little and we often saw such graffiti. But we didn’t realise we should have told him that this is wrong,” she added. She also implored internet users not to hound her son.
The boy’s father asked for his son to be left alone, saying: “This is too much pressure for him to take.” However, the Egyptian ministry of antiquities said the damage to the temple was superficial and it was being repaired.
The number of Chinese who can afford foreign holidays is soaring, and they spent £67bn overseas last year. Earlier this month, Wang Yang, one of China’s four vice-premiers, said the “uncivilised behaviour” of some Chinese tourists was harming the country’s image. Graffiti is relatively rare in China and there are laws to protect cultural sites. Punishments for intentionally defacing relics can involve a short stint in jail and a fine of up to 500 yuan (£54).
Anger over Ding Jinhao’s graffiti was also directed at Chinese authorities, who were accused of failing to protect ancient sites such as the Great Wall of China from polution and structural decay.
“We don’t apologise if we tear down the walls of an ancient city,” wrote one microblogger, Ding Laifeng. “We don’t apologise if we bury an ancient burial site. We don’t apologise if we destroy ancient buildings with pollution? So where do we get the face to ask a graffiti child to say sorry?”
Another commentator, Yu Minhong, blamed the boy’s parents and said China was right to be ashamed by Ding’s actions. “When you go to every tourist site, you can see something like: “X has been here”. We feel ashamed if we do it abroad, why not in China? We should learn to protect our cultural relics and understand it is also a shame to write on our own faces.”
Egypt’s antiquities face bigger problems than Chinese graffiti
How a young Chinese boy defaced an ancient Egyptian temple, and unwittingly joined a long tradition in the process.
By Dan Murphy, Staff writer / May 28, 2013
A picture of a graffiti that a Chinese boy wrote on one of Egypt’s grandest Pharaohnic temples went viral on Chinese social media over the weekend, stirring debate in that country over whether the legions of inexperienced tourists it sends abroad each year is replacing the old image of the “ugly American” with that of the “ugly Chinese.”
The photo was posted on Friday by a fellow Chinese tourist, who was outraged to find that a countryman had defaced the monument.
In Egypt, the questions were far more practical in nature: Why, and how, is the government failing to protect the ancient temples, tombs and pyramids that lure millions of tourists a year? And how did this particular instance of defacement go undetected for so long (the parents of the boy, now in middle school, indicated he defaced the temple on a trip some years ago).
The Chinese teenager scrawled “Ding Jinhao was here” on one of the reliefs at the Temple of Luxor, which Pharoah Amenhotep III began constructing circa 1340 BC, or nearly 3,500 years ago. It has remained untouched for years. The temple is in the center of modern-day Luxor, a town on the banks of the Nile that was known as Thebes in antiquity and is today on the UNESCO World Heritage list, along with the surrounding region.
After the pyramids at Giza, the temple, connected to the equally famous Karnak Temple by a sphynx-lined boulevard, is one of Egypt’s most visited ancient monuments.
At busy times, thousands of tourists a day pour through the complex (and at night, when it is spectacularly lit). That it’s possible to scrawl graffiti there is unsurprising, though that it went unnoticed and unaddressed for so long is more alarming – as is the fact that parents would leave a child unsupervised long enough to carry out his vandalism.
State-run Xinhua, which generally operates as a government mouthpiece, writes that Jinhao’s graffiti “caused his countryfolk to reflect on how to build a good national image… Leaving graffiti is common among Chinese tourists, damaging historic sites and demonstrating poor education and behavior.”
China’s image abroad has been a growing issue for the Communist Party that runs the vast country because in the past decade it’s begun unleashing ever more of its increasingly wealthy citizenry on the world. In April, the United Nation’s World Tourism Organization said China had for the first time become the largest source of international tourism, with 83 million Chinese traveling abroad last year and spending $102 billion in the process. The UN said Chinese spending on tourism is up 8 times from what it was just a decade ago.
China’s export-led economic growth has been phenomenal, and has already left profound marks on Egypt and across the Middle East, displacing much of the local textile industry and manufacturing. Even local crafts have not been spared. In Egypt, it’s traditional to light ornate lamps called fanoos during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, yet in recent years the locally produced glass and tin lanterns have been displaced by cheaper plastic Chinese versions.
From an Egyptian perspective, the graffiti at Karnak is the least of the problems for its antiquities – a minor nuisance similar to a group of Russians who illegally climbed the Great Pyramid at Giza a few months ago and obtained some amazing pictures in the process. Far more troubling has been the rampant looting of less famous Egyptian sites accompanying the collapse of law and order since the ouster of Hosni Mubarak two years ago. Dahshour, a 4,500 year old grave and pyramid complex not far from Cairo, has been particularly hard hit.
The Muslim Brotherhood-led government of Egypt, at times publicly ambivalent about the symbols of pre-Islamic Egypt, has not made protecting that site a priority, though whether out of disinterest or distraction, is hard to say.
At any rate, the Chinese boys graffiti joins a long tradition of defacing Egypt’s monuments that, when they get old enough, become interesting in themselves. The oldest vandals may be the Pharoahs themselves, who had a habit of defacing the tombs of dead predecessors, scratching out the cartouches that named the royal builders and often replacing them with their own names. When the Greeks came to Egypt, they felt compelled to scrawl on the monuments, as did the Romans after them. Egypt’s early Coptic Christians wrote their names and crude paintings on the grand old temples, as did French soldiers in Napoleon’s expedition to Egypt at the end of the 18th century (an earlier version of this piece stated the wrong century), as did the British who came after them.
Studying this graffiti is common among archeologists and historians.
All of which is to say, that young Jinhao was joining a grand and ancient tradition, however destructive, without knowing it. The world’s wealthiest and most powerful nations have been drawn to Egypt for thousands of years. As the Chinese move into those ranks, more of them will come to Egypt, and leave their mark in one way or another.
- Ancient bronze tripod returned to China : April 10, 2006
- Could Egyptian artefacts be returned as loans? : May 1, 2007
- Egypt requests return of looted artefacts from Europe & USA : December 4, 2009
- The British Museum holds more looted Chinese artefacts than any other institution : November 18, 2010
- British Museum: “The removal of any material from an archaeological site is damaging” : January 19, 2010
- A Conversation with Zahi Hawass : June 27, 2007
- The Grand Museum of Egypt : July 19, 2006
- Egyptians secure return of Ramses II hair : April 11, 2007