All the details you need on the Chinese tourists who were “brutally” handled by Swedish police

In the past few days, a case where Swedish police removed a Chinese family of three from a Stockholm hotel has made headlines around the world and created a diplomatic row between the two countries.

A lot of rumours are flying around, so I decided to try to clarify some of the most important details by summing up some reporting and information from my native Sweden.

First a brief background: The family surnamed Zeng arrived to Generator Hostel some time before midnight, despite only having a booking starting from the following day of September 2. Upon arrival, the family demanded to spend the night in the lobby, a request that the staff did not want to accommodate.

Despite being told to numerous times, the family refused to leave the lobby and installed themselves in the sofas. After a couple of hours the situation became “threatening” according to the staff, who decided to call on police to remove the family from the lobby.

The drama increased further with the arrival of the police, who the son accused of using excessive violence against his parents. “Excessive violence” is of course in the eye of the beholder. Anyone is free to make their own judgement based on the below videos:

The father allegedly all of a sudden turned so ill that he couldn’t walk, and was carried out from the hotel, and “thrown on the ground”.

“Save our lives!”, the mother screams as the police and a security guard watches in disbelief.

The son repeatedly accuses the police of trying to murder his parents.

While the bottom three videos appeared to have been filmed by the son, the top one was taken by a passer-by (un)lucky enough to watch the scene.

The man gives an interview with Sweden’s biggest newspaper Aftonbladet, where he says the police didn’t look mean or violent at all.

The police tried to calm down the situation while the Chinese family just “shouted and screamed”, the man explained to Aftonbladet. He said the son’s behaviour was particularly strange, suddenly just “throwing himself flat on the ground”.

According to the son – whose account was published by nationalist tabloid Global Times – several more armed police then arrived at the scene, proceeding to force the family into a police car.

Inside the car, he claimed his parents were harshly beaten up by the police while they were driven to a desolate graveyard and thrown out of the car in the cold, forest like environment with animals howling all around them.

While there is indeed no video material from car ride itself, it is worth noting that the family was let off not at a graveyard but at a metro station. The name of the station is “Skogskyrkogården”, or “Woodland Cemetery”, which is referring to a UNESCO heritage site in the shape of an old graveyard in connection to the subway station.

The Woodland Cemetery metro station is located within walkable distance from the very center of Stockholm.

The station is located well within the city limits of Stockholm, less than six kilometers from the hotel where the family had started the quarrel a couple of hours earlier. According to chief prosecutor Mats Ericsson, the station is a common place for the police to drive people who have been disturbing the social order in the city centre.

Nevertheless, Chinese authorities were quick with demanding a public apology, as well as a punishment for the police officers and monetary compensation for the family. The demands were issued on the website of the Chinese embassy in Stockholm this weekend, allegedly after the Swedish side had not given any “feedback” despite communication from the embassy.

Furthermore, Aftonbladet last weekend proceeded to interview Gui Congyou, the Chinese ambassador to Sweden, concerning the case. In the interview – published on the embassy’s website in English and Chinese – Gui is totally siding with the family’s version of the story.

He keeps repeating a set of “alternative truths”. Apart from stating that the family were being “brutally treated”, he also says several times that the family arrived just “a few hours earlier” than their booking and that police tossed them off at a graveyard in a “desolate place”. Here an excerpt from the interview:

Q: Hotels have to call the police when tourists refuse to leave their property. It happens frequently in Sweden.

Gui Congyou: You can continue to talk to the hotel to find out what happened there. But why were the Chinese tourists treated so brutally and tossed at a graveyard in a desolate place by the police when they did not break any Swedish law? Why has the police not informed the Chinese Embassy and not responded to our requests for a meeting? If you will interview the Swedish police, please raise my questions to them.

Q: Yesterday the Aftonbladet website posted a video shot by a witness. I would like for you to watch it and tell me what you think. (The video shows the Chinese tourists calling for help in front of the police on the street.)

Gui Congyou: Why was the Chinese tourist acting like that? His father was ill and had to bring medicine with him. The father was already half-unconscious when being brutally dragged from the hotel and his mother was collapsing on the ground. Why were the Swedish police not giving them any help? At midnight, when they had just arrived in a new place and knew no one around here, what else do you think these helpless people could do?

By coincidence, I actually stayed one night at the Generator Hostel this very summer when back in Sweden. As the time for check in is afternoon, and the family arrived before midnight, they would have missed their check-in time with about 15 hours and not “a few”.

Also, there is a restaurant and a café belonging to the hotel just by the lobby. By buying a coffee there, the family could for sure have waited until it was time for check in. (Though this café is not mentioned in any reporting so far.)

The ambassador also spends a considerable amount of time talking about the bad security situation in Sweden. Before he was posted here, Gui Congoyu says, he had learned how Sweden was a very safe place where one did not even had to lock the door. Though after having lived here for a year, the ambassador had now revalued his assessment of Sweden as a safe country.

According to Gui Congyou, on average two Chinese tourists get robbed on their wallets or passports every day in Sweden. The ambassador had also noted how law and order and organised crime was a frequent topic of debate during the recent election campaign. In all, this have led to the embassy issuing no less than three warnings and alerts only during the last month, for Chinese tourists visiting Sweden.

When asked if “this kind of incidents” is not a common problem in a majority of the world’s big cities, the ambassador replies that this would never happen in China(!)

However, another potential explanation for the strong reaction from the Chinese authorities have been discussed in Swedish media. An anonymous source within the Swedish Government Offices, as well as a political scientist, have connected the reaction to the case of Gui Minhai.

In interviews with Aftonbladet, they both express their belief that this case would have passed by unnoticed hand it not been for the continuous demands from Swedish authorities and media to release Gui Minhai, the publisher who was been locked up in China without a trial for almost three months.

This is of course only subject of speculation, and the Chinese ambassador angrily denies any connection to Gui Minhai in his interview with Aftonbladet.

The Chinese embassy’s demand for an apology, compensation and punishment towards the police still stands.

Today, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs also chipped in by during a press briefing demanding Sweden “take China’s concerns seriously” and “take practical measures” to secure the safety of Chinese tourists.

It is however very likely that the Chinese authorities will disappointed in this regard.

Top prosecutor Mats Ericsson today told Aftonbladet that the investigation towards the involved police patrol was cancelled already September 7, since there was no indication that the police had been acting wrongfully.

“This is normal procedure when people are disturbing the social order”, Ericsson says to Aftonbladet, adding that the family had no right to be at the hotel and that the police were acting according to Swedish law.

Alas, most likely no apology will be issued, despite the fact that the Chinese ambassador multiple times has accused the police for breaking the law, and demanding that the Swedish authorities should handle the case “in accordance with the law”.

This statement is of course a bit ironic, as the Chinese authorities when talking about Gui Minhai never miss a chance to point out that every individual including foreigners are equal before the law in China. And the case with the Chinese family was clearly handled according to Swedish law.

At any rate, the family left Sweden already the following morning, but they seem to be neither in bad condition nor in bad spirits. On Chinese social media, photos have been circulating of the family continuing their Europe trip:

The reactions on Chinese social media have been strong but varied. While many netizens are showing sympathy for the family and calling for a boycott of Sweden, there are also those expressing their grief that the police just didn’t go ahead and bury the family at the graveyard while at it.

See a recollection of social media comments via What’s on Weibo.

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  1. The best that can happen to Sweden is a Chinese Tourist Boycott. Through tha Sweden will gain so many more well behaved tourists❣️?

  2. Bottom line is that they are the hotel’s guests and did the hotel do enoyght to help them? They arrived early because the man made a mistake when booking the hotel (think about using a foreign language to do all the planning); They are the guest of Sweden and did the country’s civil servants treat the country’s guest respectful? These are the bottom line!

    • Did the guests behave in a civilized manner? Is there any hotel in China that would allow this? Grow up!

    • I know Chinese, cus l am one of them. Many Chinese like to make small gains at others’ expense. Since the hotel didn’t allow the family to stay at the lobby, which was their right, and since there was a restaurant and a cafe by the lobby, why on earth didn’t the family go and order something and wait till their time of checking in? It was most probably that the family wanted to take advantage of the hotel and save one day of staying fee. As for the police, the Swedish law entitled them to take people away who disturbed social order. In China, we Chinese are noising people and we talk loudly. When abroad, we should do as the Romans do. Shouting and yelling is really embarrassing, not to say at midnight.

    • Glad you think so. This is a dramatic story about a perhaps rural family who are complete strangers to Sweden and who perhaps expected some hospitality. I’d often arrived hours before check in time and would sometimes just hang around in the hotel lobby. It’s a normal thing for travellers.

  3. What a load of rubbish. However “badly” behaved they where what laws did they break? What laws what broken that they where subjected to being dumped miles away. They merely came early to a booked hotel. If there are no rooms the staff can at least help to find one nearby its 3.00 am after all.

    • When people act like little children and refuse to leave a place, the police are authorized to remove them from the premises.

    • It could have also been a bit of a scam, they probably thought they could get away with simply not paying for another night. There’s no mention that they offered to pay for or sought a room anywhere else.
      The hostel/hotel can’t get by on giving free stay to people who didn’t pay, it will simply encourage further bad behavior.
      A mistake (or bad behavior) on behalf of the tourists is not the fault of the staff.

    • Trespassing a hotel lobby is private property, if you’re asked to leave and refuse to do so you are trespassing.

  4. While I think that the tourist should bear the responsibility of incorrect hotel booking, Sweden Police can handle this with empathy . I wonder if the so call nearby Metro station is still open after mid-night. If the intention of Police is to send the tourist to a station, they should let the family off at the central train station. A even better treatment is take the tourist back to the police station and let them stay there til morning; instead of leaving the two old parent in the freezing cold open area.

    • Yes, the station is open after midnight. It’s not freezing in Stockholm in Sept. If it was in US most police would have probably tried to help them find another hotel. Or the hotel would have done so.

    • The central train station is about five minutes walk from the hotel, so it’s too close to let them off there according to police procedure. Besides, the central train station is not really a good place to hang around at during nighttime.

    • To be fair, it’s quite scary to be in a foreign country and you don’t speak the language and you are with two old people dependent on you….it’s true that the hotel might not have the responsibility to take care of the guests’ mistake in booking, but shouldn’t there be a nicer/more helpful way?
      And oh in China most hotels would allow you to stay in the lobby for free especially guests with booking to check in later. Not to mention that Chinese are especially nice to foreigners.
      Wailing is embarassing to westerners but it’s actually quite common in China especially with older people, to vent their distress. Even for the critics for chinese people being “noisy”, we are in a crowded country with lots of people and noises….you tend to speak loud after living here long time….I was living in the UK for more than a year and found myself sometimes forgot where I was and spoke too loudly. It’s a habit we grow up with so it needs more time to change to adapt to new environment.

  5. Couldn’t the hostel try to help the family find another place to stay for the night? Did they offer? The family behaved ridiculously but in a manner common to China. Doesn’t work outside China. The Ambassador is acting like a jerk also.

    • That’s what the hotel manager did, they offered to help find another hotel to stay. The situation then escalated and they decided to contact the police

  6. Maybe you can buy drinks or give fee for staying at hotel lobby, but just know they could not help you guys and ask you to leave at midnight if they just don’t like to do you a favor . So just leave is the best action that you can do cause perhaps Asian are not welcome there

  7. One point: the screenshot from Weibo posted in the news is a rumor. It has been verified the pictures were taken in Netherlands on 19th August.

    • Interesting. Can you provide any proof of this, such as a dated photo? And what did the family do afterwards – did they go back to China, or just continued their trip without going to hospital?

  8. According to information on Chinese WeChat the Chinese Tourist (the son) admitted that he has been withholding information. Actually the staff at the hotel let the three tourists stay in the lobby initially. The som went out ot fiend a another hotel without success (there must have been plenty of accommodations this time of the year). He met a young Chinese girl though and took her to the Hotel. the staff did not agree to letting her stay there and asked the group to leave. They called the police when the Chinese tourist did not comply. Furthermore the son is apparently a CEO in a big Chinese company and thus could easily afford to stay in any hotel in the city.

  9. The picture you post is approved to be taken 10 days BEFORE they arrived the hotel. There is no evidence they were in good condition the second day. Also they made a mistake of the check-in date which should be one day earlier. The son is not a CEO, just a manager. There are a lot of rumors on the internet so watch out what you are posting.

    • Does it matter if it was taken 10 days before or not? Not for me. The pictures gives a totally different impression of the father and the rest of the family. They look healthy and funny. I guess the son spiced the story up with details of armed police, brutality, freezing temperature and a graveyard with howling animals and fooled the embassy and media.

    • Nothing wrong in spicing up an otherwise boring story that looks funny seeing a grown man rolling on the street like a 5 year old who didn’t get his Christmas toy

  10. Yeah Sweden a very safe country… remember how Olof Palme was shot… if the Prime Minister cannot be protected then who else can? Remember als how Anna Lindh was assassinated. The security feeling is obviously fake and the Chinese ambassador is to talk about that. Both cabinet members were pro European Union ones. Anna Lindh was campaiging before a decisive referendum. Isn’t there any other means than assassination to change the directon fo the coutnry?

  11. If you call Sweden a dangerous place then I guess there aren’t any safe countries. Yes as in any other countries there are poeple that can commit crimes but a dangerous country? That just make me smile. If the old man was so ill then the rest of the Group should never put them in such a bad situation. Why aren’t they to blame for the situation they put the poor old sick man in? Defending people that behave like this is to say let them do whatever they want to without any personal responsibility or consequnce. If you go to a country and dont listen to what the police are telling you then you are the one who are responsible for your situation. Bringing up Olof Palme as an example of a country that isn’t safe *rofl Look at US presidents and see how much security thay have and still they get shot. It takes one sick person to kill another person so get real about which country is safe and which not.

  12. Hi, Jojje Olsson,

    Are you sure you listed all the details we need, not the selective ones or should I say, the ones you like? I guess you know Chinese the language very well so how about just try NOT to block those information you don’t like and show it to your readers as well? For example, the interview towards Mr. Zeng, another important party besides the Generator and the Police, which you might have forgotten ( How about just compare the brief background you provided in your article and my version as below translated/adopted from the interview towards Mr. Zeng?

    Mr. Zeng, together with his elderly parents, arrived the Generator Stockholm at late Sept. 1, early Sept. 2 and only found out he booked the wrong date (It is nobody’s fault but his own for sure). He told a Generator staff what happened and they were allowed to stay in the lobby. Mr. Zeng settled his parents in the lobby and then went out of the hotel seeking for another hotel because the Generator was full already. Nothing awkward happened by then according to Mr. Zeng, “the staff was nice and even turned down the music.”

    The situation turned a bit embarrassing after Mr. Zeng’s searching for a hotel nearby the Generator – he met a Chinese student who was also looking for a hotel, and they went back together to the lobby to keep warm. The Generator staffs turned angry and told them the girl must leave immediately. So the girl left, the family stayed in the lobby, and Mr. Zeng kept searching for hotels online. It is embarrassing for all sides because the Generator is not a hospice, Mr. Zeng had no right to take a person to the lobby without permission and the Generator staffs have the absolute right to turn away any non-guests to stay in the lobby at midnight to keep warm.

    Then the awkward moment came. Couple minutes later, a female staff of the Generator came and told Mr. Zeng they must leave right away with all of their luggages. Mr. Zeng tried to communicate with the Generator staffs:
    1) He told them he was still searching for hotels and asked if they could stay in the lobby for a bit more time;
    2) He could pay for the lobby-staying with his payment of the rooms he booked for Sept 2;
    3) He would love to buy some food and drinks from the food bar to allow them to stay in the lobby.
    Mr. Zeng also explained to the staffs the health condition of his father. But still, he got refusal only, “the staff said it is none of their business and we must leave.” The staffs soon called the police.

    It is still alright because legally speaking the Generator staffs did nothing wrong – they still have the right to turn away Mr. Zeng and his family, their hours-later-guests who shouldn’t have shown up so early.   

    What went ugly and horrifying was when the policewomen came and dragged Mr. Zeng’s poor parents out of the hotel and threw them on the 10 degrees Celsius street. According to Mr. Zeng’s mother, while in the lobby, one policewoman dragged and dropped the father out of the sofa, pulled him upside down on the floor to the door, then two of the policewomen carried him with his arms and feet out of the hotel, and dumped him on the street. The Police ended the incident by driving the three members in 3 police cars separately and dumped them to the Skogskyrko garden like treating riotous drunken people. According to Zeng’s mother, she was demanded to put her arms behind her back and hold the posture but, since she was too weak to keep the posture, she was beaten by the police. In another car, Zeng’s father was beaten awake from unconsciousness after being carried into the car. If it is the truth, I would say they were treated worse than real criminals. As a country with good reputation of valuing human rights, I thought the police should be treating even real criminals in a humane way.

    We can see from those videos that the old women was crying without any good manner and trying to feed her poor husband some medicine. Mr. Zeng also lay down in a bit dramatic way hoping to catch attention and maybe some help from the passerby. That’s when our decent netizens accusing them being disgrace. I guess they were expecting decency when their loved ones, non-criminals, were also being violently and inhumanely treated by authorities, the Police. To be honest, if I were the son seeing my own parents this violently and inhumanely treated, I might have already attacked the policewomen and left ourselves in an even worse situation. I might have already been killed by gun leaving the desperate and helpless parents alone unable to vindicate themselves, instead of only filming the scene, and lying down on the street hoping to attract attention and help.

    I believe there must be some communication misunderstanding or irrational reactions among all the parties that drove the event to the worst and disastrous end. I believe there must be some culture clashes with all people involved in the event and during the fermentation of public opinion, but guiding the public to believe that Mr. Zeng and his families are barbarians is not right nor fare. It might not be one’s intention but it did lead more people defaming, accusing, cursing and hurting Zeng’s family only with one-sided and bias details. China might not be so well socially developed and some individuals and their behaviors might do irritate people, but believe me, most of us are reasonable people, normal people, with Mr. Zeng and his families included, despite the disgraceful scenes we’ve seen in the videos which have been globally exposed. I admire Mr. Zeng’s love to his parents and his courage to take his parents to travel around Europe which turned to be a lifetime nightmare though.

    Again, the above is information I get from the interview reports towards Mr. Zeng and my own opinions towards it. Mr. Zeng and his family’s story needs further verification, so does the Generator’s and the Police’s. More evidence including videos of closed circuit television from the lobby and the police cars should be provided and released, to further verify. 

  13. This incident is so wrong!!! These are paying tourist for gods sake!!! They bring in money to Sweden.. how horrible.. While Swedes allow ISIS and economic refugees to squat even give them emergency assistance for food, shelter, protection and welfare. Who’s taking advantage now? While Swede is championing human rights .. sad reality about the Swedish society such a disgrace to the world