Tourism Traps and The Chinese Word You Need to Know

Chinese General Traps

Something anyone traveling in China should be aware of is over-exaggerated tours that will rip you off. Often walking down a street of a famous area in China, you will be approached by tour agencies trying to get you to buy some tour to nearby areas for some supposedly low price.
This happened to me once when I was traveling in Suzhou. We had just one day left there and wanted to see as many of the unique, local attractions as we could. A man approached us and convinced us to go to their nearby tourism agency office. Once in there, we were surrounded by at least 4 salesmen hounding us about how we are making bad choices and to listen to them and take the tours they advise as they know the area so well. We took them for an agreed upon price. These “tours” turn out to be a huge amount of time in a bus, being left at some breakfast restaurant for a long time in an obvious attempt to make us buy food from their friend’s shop, and then one of the tours being a silk museum, which was less of a museum and more of a shop selling silk. Clearly the entire itinerary was a tourist trap and they profited from getting tourists to come to these areas and buy things from the shops.
There is a perfect Chinese word to describe how these salesmen get your money: 忽悠. The verb “忽悠 (hūyou)” was originally from a northern Chinese dialect. It was a folk saying that meant “to flicker.” Afterwards, it became a popular internet slang about deception. It has the following meanings:
忽悠 (hūyou) — carelessly guide; deceive; trap.

(colloquial) to flicker; to shine unsteadily; to shake; to rock.
(neologism) to coax; to bluff; to dupe; to trick.


Wǒmen qù hūyōu hūyōu tā.
我们      去   忽悠    忽悠  他。
We need to go trick him.

Nĭ bié hūyou wŏ le.
你 别   忽悠   我 了。
Don’t cheat me any more.

Afterwards, 忽悠 (hūyou) was given a new meaning. It can mean “boast; agitate for; promote,” for example, when you are describing someone in front of a public audience and you boast about them and oversell the person to win them the audience’s favor. This is usually false praise or over-exaggerated. In this case, you could say about the speaker:
Zhè gè rén kě zhēn néng hūyōu.
这   个  人   可  真    能     忽悠。
This person can really boast.

These meanings can be used in different scenarios to mean different things. But, one thing these meanings have in common is they are all used in a derogatory sense. Therefore, students should use them in a combination with actual situations and try not to use them wrong! And remember, sometimes tour guides are just 忽悠 (hūyou) you.

HSK 3 quiz

1. Which of these scenarios could not be described with “忽悠 (hūyou)”?
A. Claire persuaded people to trust the leader despite his bad reputation.
B. The teacher encouraged the student to participate in the competition.
C. He convinced John to take a job that included boats even though he knew John was scared of water.
D. I bought a useless bag because the store’s salesman persuaded me it matched my shoes perfectly.

—Written by Elizabeth Brown—

Elizabeth Brown works in China and has studied Chinese for 4 years. She has been a student at eChineseLearning for 2 years and is preparing to take the HSK 5.

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