Wade Shepard says it happens a lot:
An old blog post of a situation that seems to have gotten way worse. Hotels in China are still segregated by ethnicity and national origin. Imagine if you went to a hotel in the USA and they refused to let you stay just because you were from China?
And here is the 2012 blog post in question. Sample:
Imagine this: You travel to a new city, scour the streets looking for a good, cheap place to sleep, and when you finally find one you’re told you can’t stay just because you’re a foreigner. Now play this story out over and over again for 90% of the hotels you try to stay in and you have an idea of what it’s like to travel in China.
Technically, Chinese hotels are suppose to have a special permit before they can admit foreign guests. To get this permit they first must have the proper surveillance equipment installed — meaning a computerized registration system — and, or so it is my impression, be up to snuff and project the image of China that the government wants the outside world to see, which is to say: modern, developed, new, clean, and expensive.
These rules are nothing new, but, from my previous travels through China, I don’t remember them ever being enforced very readily. It has been my experience that one out of every two or three inns that didn’t have a foreigner’s permit would let you stay anyway. Like so, travel in this country was not that much of a hassle: when denied at one inn you’d just walk over to another until you found one that didn’t give a shit. But now this seems to be getting more difficult, for the first time in all my travels in China I was defeated when trying to find accommodation. […]
It wasn’t happening. I couldn’t stay in this inn. My foreign face and accent gave me away, and the inn would not give me a room no matter how much I pleaded. No problem, I’ll just walk on to the next one. I asked the lady at the reception desk if she knew of another cheap inn 旅馆 that I could stay at. She told me to go to a hotel 宾馆. The difference between the two is one little character, but the impact is colossal: it means the difference between spending $5 and $30.
Fact check: I cannot confirm the 90% figure, but the idea that many Chinese hotels refuse to accept foreigners is ABSOLUTELY TRUE. Exhibit A: An expat colleague and I were turned away by a hotel in the city of Wuxi in 2010 for precisely this reason. Exhibit B: In 2016, an American friend living in Shanghai’s Yangpu district was told by virtually all of the 10 or so hotels within walking distance of his university that they couldn’t accommodate his foreign friends. Again, this was in a central district of Shanghai, not some backwater town. This friend has had similar experiences in Beijing and elsewhere in China.
Now, I should make it clear that I’m not complaining at all. China is a sovereign country and has the right to subject foreign nationals to this treatment for whatever reason it wants, or for no reason at all — and it’s completely pointless to gripe about it.
Also, I can’t speak for anyone else but if I were travelling to a new city I would very happily pay $30, as opposed to $5, for the privilege of staying in an actual hotel rather than a guest inn or hostel. That’s just me though.
The comments below Shepard’s recent post, however, are fascinating as a cross-section of the types of responses that any criticism of any aspect of China inevitably elicits. Let’s take a look at some:
PERSON A: Exaggerated.
Wade Shepard: Go out of a big city and try it.
PERSON A: Simple research will point foreigners to several hotels in smaller cities. Article’s title is very misleading.
Wade Shepard: Research will lead you to tourist hotels. I’m talking about the cheap local inns. Not places you can find online. Anyway, the point is that accommodation is segregated based on nationality not whether you can find a place to stay somewhere from looking online.
Then there’s this guy, who took the opportunity to offer some insider “tips and tricks” that might be helpful to a theoretical person not named Wade Shepard:
PERSON B: The alternative is to make friends with the owner of the establishment, then walk with them down to the police dispatch to register temporary residence (24 hrs for urban areas/ 72 hrs for rural areas), perfectly acceptable if one has a residence permit and not a tourist visa. One can then give their new friend a 200 kuai hongbao as a thank you. The same can technically be done on a tourist visa provided one declares precise details of their travel schedule in advance. Mandarin skills are ultimately the key to getting anything at the local price.
Well, hokay — no problem then! Shepard’s reply is impressively patient:
Wade Shepard: Hello Connor, I had a residence permit then and I speak Mandarin. 200 kuai hongbao!?! haha I’m talking about 50 kuai per night rooms here 🙂
Then there’s this guy who appears to think that China is a market economy — totally missing the point that the foreigner registration system is imposed on hotel owners by the government:
PERSON C: Any entrepreneur, including hotel owners, should have full choice on who to serve. The customers then have the corresponding right to select which firms they support and carry their money to. That’s called a market economy.
Honestly, it’s rather embarrassing to witness Westerners trying to impose their culturally biased views about equality on other cultures. I was under the impression that modern Western culture is pretty much all about respecting the rights of others and especially those from other cultures. Well, live and learn.
And no discussion of this type would be complete without the guy who interjects his own irrelevant and misleading personal anecdote:
PERSON D: Really? I have never had a problem when travelling with a Chinese companion- maybe it’s more of a language thing.
Freedom of speech is important, but so is freedom *from* speech — i.e. the freedom to tune out other people’s ignorant yammering. Seriously, some people just need to STFU when those with actual knowledge and experience are trying to make a point.
UPDATE: It seems I’ve unleashed the dogs of war. I sent the link to Shepard’s post to my friend Antonio Graceffo and, well… hilarity ensued: