Swedish TV satire on Chinese tourists sparks fury

Calls to boycott Sweden after show depicts Chinese travellers as people who eat dogs

The Chinese Embassy in Stockholm called for the programme to engage in "profound reflection and immediately issue a sincere apology".
The Chinese Embassy in Stockholm called for the programme to engage in "profound reflection and immediately issue a sincere apology".PHOTO: REUTERS

HONG KONG • Tension between China and Sweden over the treatment of a group of tourists in Stockholm has escalated after a satirical skit depicted Chinese travellers as people who eat dogs and need to be told not to defecate in public.

The incident has led to repeated complaints from Chinese diplomats, and calls on Chinese social media for boycotts of Swedish products and travel to the country.

The tensions began earlier this month when a Chinese man and his parents arrived at a hostel in Stockholm after midnight, hours before their reservation started the next afternoon. The hostel said the family could not stay overnight in the lobby and called the police when they refused to leave.

Video of police forcibly removing the family, who were protesting against their treatment, was posted online. The incident has been given extensive coverage by Chinese media. The ire from the Chinese side rose after the skit was aired last week by the Swedish national broadcaster SVT.

The satirical skit was billed as a guide for Chinese tourists to avoid causing problems while abroad. It said pet dogs should not be seen as potential meals, and warned against defecating outside historical monuments. A portion of the skit was uploaded on Youku, a Chinese online video service.

On Monday, Mr Geng Shuang, a spokesman for China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, called the programme "a gross insult to and vicious attack on China and the Chinese people". He said the TV host's comments were "full of prejudices, biases and provocations against China and some other ethnic groups".

Mr Thomas Hall, the programme manager for SVT, said on Monday that it had been a mistake to upload a portion of the skit onto Youku. He said the intention of the skit was to mock racism and highlight how "sinophobia" was not considered as much of a concern as other forms of discrimination in Sweden.

SVT's programme director Jan Helin said the network would not apologise for the satire, the network's news division reported.

The Chinese Embassy in Stockholm on Tuesday called for the programme to engage in "profound reflection and immediately issue a sincere apology". It also said the Chinese family had been "brutally abused by the Swedish police".

The Swedish Prosecution Authority said the Public Prosecution Office has determined that the police had not committed a criminal offence, and would not open an investigation.

Meanwhile, the Swedish Foreign Ministry said it has no comment, adding that "freedom of expression applies".

But on Wednesday evening, Mr Hall apologised on his blog "to those individuals who were offended by our programme". The show, he added, had been insensitive to how the skit could be perceived.

The diplomatic strains have reverberated on Chinese social media. While some people said the family travelling in Sweden acted inappropriately, the strongest sentiment seemed to be anger at the programme's depiction of Chinese tourists.

It is unclear whether calls to punish Sweden economically will have any lasting effect. Chinese nationals are a small but rapidly growing part of tourism to Sweden. Ikea, the Swedish furniture giant, has eight outlets in mainland China, and they are often packed with shoppers.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 28, 2018, with the headline 'Swedish TV satire on Chinese tourists sparks fury'. Subscribe