The boutique Zadig Hotel, scheduled to open in 2014, will be a cozy, 40-room establishment on Paris’ chic Left Bank. But it won’t be open to just everyone: its owner Thierry Gillier told Women’s Wear Daily in an interview that caused a stir last week that certain kinds of guests would not be allowed:
“We are going to select guests. It won’t be open to Chinese tourists, for example. There is a lot of demand in Paris – many people are looking for quiet hotels with a certain privacy.”
The founder of the high-end fashion label Zadig et Voltaire later urged the trade journal to change “Chinese tourists” to “busloads of tourists,” the French daily Liberation reported, although a screengrab of the original article is available here. An unidentified company spokesperson told the French daily that M. Gillier had not been misquoted, but misinterpreted. “Chinese are only an example, but this applies to tourists of all nationalities.”
Zadig et Voltaire operates a store in Hong Kong. Chinese tourists spent $47 billion on their bank cards abroad last year, the Financial Times reported, two-thirds more than a year earlier. The average Chinese tourist in France spends roughly $1,900 on shopping, by far more than any other tourists, according to Le Figaro — which also noted that the number of Chinese tourists to France are expected to rise from 900,000 last year to 4-5 million by 2015.
So far, the story has not attracted much attention among Chinese micro-bloggers, but for those netizens who have noticed, the statement hits a raw nerve. According to a popular urban legend, a sign reading “No dogs and Chinese allowed” hung at the entrance to the Huangpu Park in Shanghai when the city was a European entrepôt — a symbol of Western arrogance so reviled that Bruce Lee kung-fu kicked it into pieces in the 1972 classic Fists of Fury.
The story also hints at an undercurrent of unease among European labels over China’s surging buying power, albeit one caked in layers of xenophobia. Abe Sauer, writing at BrandChannel, notes that while Chinese buyers are practically driving the luxury goods market singlehandedly, some fashion houses see them as brand-diluting parvenus who should be dissuaded from conspicuously consuming their goods. And while the hordes of Chinese tourists that annually descend on Europe rarely cause resentment, they are often greeted with no small amount of bemusement and consternation; read Evan Osnos’ terrific account of his experiences on a Chinese package tour for more on this.
But the roots of French concerns over rowdy Chinese visitors go deeper: In the 1974 French comedy Les Chinois a Paris, Chinese Communist Red Guards invade France and set up their headquarters in Paris’ most famous department store, the Galeries Lafayette.
Gillier should have watched the movie: after a brief occupation, the Chinese occupiers retreat as they despair over the country’s decadence and debauchery.