What was I thinking? A 3-day/2-night “flag and hat” Chinese tour off the beaten track in Hainan culminating in a super-soaker armed crowd at an annual water festival. If I was just asking for a bad China day, I certainly got it; but that wasn’t anything compared to what happened to some of the Chinese ladies in the crowd.

Women ‘assaulted’ during festival

China Daily – Several women were sexually assaulted on Thursday during festivities to mark a local water festival in the island province of Hainan, according to eyewitnesses. Around 8:30 am, several men tried to touch some women’s breasts, tearing their clothes during celebrations in Qixian Square, Baoting Li and Miao autonomous county.

Li Min, a tourist from Wanning in Hainan who has participated in the festival for the past five years, told China Daily that four or five women were assaulted after an opening ceremony, andthe attackers were taken away by police.

“I saw a man take off a young woman’s clothes, while similar situations also happened to four or five other women who were playing with water in different areas of the square at the same time.

“Later, police came to restore order, taking the men out of the square,” Li said, adding that he couldn’t tell how many men were taken into custody.

A publicity officer for the county, who did not want to be identified, confirmed the incidents but said only one teenage girl had been sexually assaulted.

Some witnesses might have been mistaken about what they saw, according to the officer.

“It might be the carelessness of the girl wearing a vest playing with the water,” he said, adding the real situation was not as serious as netizens described.

Comments on the Chinese version of the article (there are over a thousand) included:

: Are there still people who want to go to these kinds of places? They should think about it, if their own girlfriends or wives were humiliated like that, how would they feel? Would they still smile so happily? 这样的地方还有人愿意去吗?他们应该想想,自己的女友或爱人被人这样侮辱,自己是什么感受,是不是也一样笑得那么开心?

: If this kind of good holiday can be spoiled by people’s shameless behavior, maybe we shouldn’t celebrate it any more. 如果一个那么好的节日,因为他们的无耻行为被破坏了,那么这种节目就不要举行了

: Hainan has always been barbaric! 海南自古都是蛮夷之地!

I was there, at the Water Splashing Festival in Baoting, Hainan. I’d foolishly agreed to go along with a friend on a 3-day/2-night Chinese tour. The trip cost over 700 yuan per person, but we were invited to go for free, since they wanted some Laowai faces to show up in the trip photos and video. Turns out that even though the trip was free for us, it wasn’t really worth the money we paid.

I’d heard lots of bad things about travelling with Chinese tour groups, but I figured it would be a great way to get myself out of the house during my short summer vacation and actually practice my Chinese face to face, instead of just on Skritter. I’d have an adventure.

I was also interested in the fact that one night we’d be tent camping. Terrific! I love tent camping but haven’t had any chances to do it since I moved to China seven years ago. Unfortunately, the version of tent camping we did on this trip involved setting up the tents on the track of a middle school sports field around midnight, using a space blanket as a mattress, “sleeping” with the stadium lighting on full blast all night, and a wake up call at 5:30 AM to pack up the tents and our belongings. And the bathrooms at the stadium? Gag inducing is probably the nicest thing I can say.

So I was probably already a bit cranky when, a little after 6 AM, we were told to carry our luggage and follow the tour guide’s flag across town to where our bus was parked. Bleary-eyed and burdened with luggage, we struggled to keep up with the chipper unladen flag-waving guide, and soon our large group of tourists was strung out through the streets in clumps of two and three. Having lost sight of the merrily waving flag far ahead of the line, I focused on following the couple in front of me, conveniently wearing our matching tour group shirts and hats.

The streets were beginning to fill with crowds out for the day’s Water Splashing Festival, which was scheduled to begin with a ceremony in the square at 8 am.  Suddenly, I heard loud shouting. “Laowai! Laowai! Get the Laowai!” I looked up to find I’d been surrounded by 15-20 young men, and they began spraying me from close range with high powered water guns. I’d been expecting to get wet that day, and actually was looking forward to enjoying the fun of the water splashing festival, but this was not fun. Not only was I completely drenched, but all my luggage was soaked as well. Plus the looks on the faces of the young men as they screamed “Laowai, laowai!” was not fun or friendly. Their attitudes were menacing, and I was unhappy to have been attacked before the official start of the festival, while carrying all my luggage, and to have been singled out because I was foreign. Getting a free vacation for being foreign seems like a nice perk, but I’m not sure it’s always worth the trade-offs.

When I finally managed to break away and find my way to the tour bus, I discovered that none of the hundred plus Chinese tourists in our group had gotten wet at all while carrying their luggage, but every one of the laowai had been targeted on our walk across town. None quite as badly as me though — I was soaked through and dripping from head to toe.

I decided I’d already participated enough in the water splashing festival. I stowed my luggage safely on the bus, shut the curtains and changed out of my dripping things, put on dry clothes and a poncho, and spent the rest of the festival happily ensconced in a second floor coffee shop window booth, watching the action from above. Most of the participants seemed to be having a great time, and I was sad that I’d been soured on the fun so early on. I thought maybe if I went back out now that I’d had a decent breakfast, charged my phone battery and my patience both in the cheery coffee shop booth, I’d get into the spirit of things and enjoy; however, on my way to meet some friends on the next street over for lunch later on some other guys decided it would be fun to stick their high powered water guns up less than two inches from my eyes and try to dissolve my eyeballs with who knows what kind of dirty contaminated water. While of course, screaming “Laowai, laowai, get the laowai!”

What happened to me of course is nothing compared to what happened to the women who were sexually assaulted during that same festival, on those same streets. The roving bands of young men made me feel unsafe and drove me into refuge. I got to change out of my wet clothes and my luggage dried out fine in the end, but these women who had their clothes torn off in public and were groped will not recover so easily.  I’m especially angry that the police stated that “It might be the carelessness of the girl wearing a vest playing with the water.” Nope. Not her fault. Doesn’t matter what she was wearing (or not wearing) it’s no excuse for assault. Not just “assault” in quotes like in the China Daily headline either. Sexual assault.

The water splashing festival fell on 七夕, Chinese Valentine’s Day. It should have been a sweet memory of a fun filled light-hearted day, and I really think it was for most of the people who were there. It’s unfortunate that the atmosphere was ruined for a few, by a few. Hopefully next year will be better. If you go, I hope you have a great time and don’t run into any troublemakers. Me? Think I’ll try something different next year — another adventure!

For further information, and the assault story in Chinese, you can check here and here.


  1. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea magna culpa.

    Both times that Nicki got completely surrounded by hooligans yelling
    “get the laowai” I was walking just far enough behind her that most of them were surrounding her and didn’t have the chance to see me.

    The first time was especially scary since most of the group were on motorbikes (on the theoretically closed to traffic streets) and the second time (also on the theoretically closed to traffic streets) there was a car driving down the street that nearly hit me when I was running away from the crowd which then nearly hit Nicki because she couldn’t see after the intense water gun to the face experience.

    Most of the people we saw seemed to be having a lot of fun. Of course, at the same time, from our second floor coffee shop window we could see that the elderly, people with children, and Chinese people carrying bags or obviously valuable camera equipment not only weren’t being soaked but were mostly dry.

    Getting splashed by the person throwing buckets of water over a balcony at any and all who passed too close or the crowd with water guns at the bridge was all in good fun. There were also a few other groups with water guns and buckets and whatnot on the walk to lunch who took in the sight Nicki in a poncho and me with a poncho wrapped around my laptop bag as well as our please don’t expressions and DIDN’T get us wet.

    Unfortunately, for us (and for the women who were assaulted with more than water) there was a sizable enough minority of hooligans to make what should have been a lot of fun into something that wasn’t much fun at all.

  2. Dude, that sucks! Same thing happened to me at a Beijing water festival but it was much more fun as I was prepared for mass quantities of water to the face. It was a much lighter atmosphere as well with girls in bikinis and no sexual predators. So sorry to hear about this.

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  4. You will never find desperation and sexual assault tactics in Thailand’s Songkran Festival even with ladies wet in bikinis. China is coming up and their conservatism is becoming less closed doors

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  6. I think that type of thing you can find anywhere in the world could happen in the US or UK just as much as China. However, i do agree with “East Asia Travel” slightly that conservatism in China just like Japan and Korea is on the decrease.

    • I agree that it could happen anywhere (and probably does, most sexual assault is NOT reported, due to issues of shame and fear, and the culture of victim-blaming). That said, most of the people there were having great innocent old fashioned water splashing fun. And that’s what it should be about.

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