Parents of Egyptian Temple Name Scrawler Forced to Apologize (But is this Fair?)

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Like many readers, my initial reaction was of outrage and disgust when I first read about the defiling of an ancient Egyptian temple by a Chinese tourist.

The scrawler, a 14-year-old Nanjing gradeschooler, was eventually "outed" after a concerted "human flesh search" campaign sparked by a Weibo post by another Chinese tourist who spotted the kid’s name and subsequently posted the photo on his Weibo page.

The timing of the post, which came on the heels of a prominent government official publicly decrying the bad behavior of many Chinese tourists overseas, could not have been worse. The ensuing sh*tstorm culminated in a public apology (as reported in the China Daily) by the child’s parents:

The parents of a teen vandal from Jiangsu province have apologized to the public for the graffiti their son scratched on a stone sculpture in an ancient temple in Egypt, which triggered an online uproar as Internet users dubbed it a "loss of face" for all Chinese people. A micro blogger found the Chinese characters carved on a cameo at the Luxor Temple, one of Egypt’s most renowned archaeological sites, in early May. The characters say "Ding Jinhao was here".

The micro blog, posted on Friday night, triggered heated discussion online as the act of vandalism was condemned as being disrespectful to cultural relics. Ding Jinhao’s parents, who live in Nanjing, the capital of Jiangsu province, apologized for his behavior on Saturday and asked for forgiveness from the public after angry Internet users discovered and revealed the identity of the young man, aged 14, a middle school student in Nanjing.

"We want to apologize to the Egyptian people and to people who have paid attention to this case across China," Ding’s mother said in Modern Express, a local newspaper.

Public outrage aside, The Telegraph quotes the boy’s mother as saying the graffiti was scrawled by the boy when he was "younger" (though it does not specify how many years ago this occurred). While this incident and ensuing outrage is certainly regrettable, I can’t help but feeling bad for this boy.

The uncouth behavior of Chinese tourists overseas is certainly notable, but it’s unclear what the exact circumstances were of that day. Were the parents aware? Did he wander off from the group and scrawl his name incognito? How old, exactly, was he? More importantly, is it really fair to make a 14-year-old the target of an entire nation’s self-directed ire?

Last weekend as I was having lunch with my 5-year-old daughter at local establishment near my house I struck up a conversation with the manager. It was a nice meal and good company, but as we were chatting my daughter decided it would be a good idea to pick up the ketchup squeezer from the table and suckle its tip (imitating her 1-year-old brother).

Although it wasn’t a huge deal and the manager laughed it off, it felt rather embarrassing – kids will be kids, but as any parent could attest, their occasional uncouth behavior in public makes us all feel a bit insecure about how our parenting is perceived by others. In the case of the Egyptian scrawler, the national character soul-searching is probably a good thing, but at what cost to this family? Is it just me that finds this entire affair slightly troubling?

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