The deputy governor of the southwestern province of Yunnan was forced to shop after he joined a group tour as a civilian, state media reports.
State mouthpiece People’s Daily reported on Wednesday that Deputy Governor Chen Shun had been taken to a tourist shop alongside other travellers, and was told he would not be allowed to leave until he purchased up to a certain monetary value of items.
Chen, who took up his post last November, had reportedly joined a “low-cost” tour in Yunnan prior to Lunar New Year, in order to observe tourism industry practices in a civilian capacity.
“What he saw and heard made him extremely surprised,” the newspaper wrote. “There were old and young in the tour, how could they do something like that?”
According to China Economic Net, Chen reported his observations at a provincial government meeting on February 10. Yunnan Governor Ruan Chengfa then asked: “If these shops are so aggressive, why can’t they be closed? There must be someone behind them.”
Agencies operating low-cost tours often charge very low fees – or even none at all – for hotel accommodation and transportation. However, they usually require tourists to purchase goods from designated shops, reaping profits from commissions.
The tours are popular among some mainland Chinese travellers, but have led to clashes with tour guides.
Communist Party newspaper Beijing Youth Daily added that in 2014, a viral video showed a tour guide in Yunnan calling a tourist a “prostitute” for not purchasing goods.
“If [Chen] had only been a normal tourist, who would have given his experience any attention?” the newspaper wrote.
“Let the governor personally experience the seriousness of Yunnan’s thugs, mafia and bandits,” wrote Weibo user Erwotoulaiye.
In Hong Kong, a mainland tourist died in October 2015 following a street fight with a tour guide over forced shopping. The guide was convicted of common assault and sentenced to five months in prison.
Last October, the China National Tourism Administration said that it investigated and met with operators of several popular tour-booking platforms, warning them and requesting that they no longer advertise any “unreasonably low-cost tours” on their websites.
However, HKFP has noted that some popular websites still offer several-day tours in Yunnan priced at only several hundred RMB, inclusive of accommodation and travel.