After a receptionist told Mr. Zeng and his parents that their reservation was in fact for the following night, and that the hostel was fully booked, Zeng asked if his parents could sleep on the lobby sofas. Staff explained that the hostel could not allow this, and called the police after the three refused to leave.
According to Zeng, the police dragged him and his aging and ill parents out of the hostel lobby, beat them, and dropped them off at the Skogskyrkogården cemetery in the outskirts of Stockholm, where they were frightened by the sounds of unknown animals. With the help of passersby, the Zengs found their way back to downtown, where they booked a hotel for several hours before leaving Stockholm by air.
During his altercation with the police, Zeng shot a video in which he complained about the officers’ behavior. In the video, Zeng yells in English “this is killing, this is killing!” while the officers carry his parents out of the lobby.
The event did not make the news until Sept. 14, when the Chinese Embassy in Sweden issued a public notice warning Chinese not to visit Sweden on account of poor safety and abuse by the local police.
“Recently, Chinese tourists in Sweden have become frequent victims of theft and robbery, bringing them loss of property and endangering their safety. Lately, Chinese tourists have also encountered rough handling by Swedish public officials,” reads part of the notice.
Following the embassy’s announcement, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and China’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism defended the Zengs and criticized the Swedish police, and the news was spread around the Chinese public.
Following the scandal, however, some Chinese internet users did more research on the story and found that Skogskyrkogården, which the Zengs claimed was a remote rural area, is actually a UNESCO World Heritage Site with its own metro station. It is a popular tourist location a few miles from the centrally located Stockholm Palace.
Additionally, footage taken by other passersby shows that the Swedish police treated the Zengs calmly and professionally, while the Zengs were loud and displayed exaggerated reactions. Zeng throws himself on the ground after berating a female police officer.
On Sept. 16, Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet ran a report that included interviews with the Stockholm police, witnesses at the scene, and the Chinese ambassador, which painted a completely different picture from Zeng’s claimed account of the events.
After staff refused to accommodate Zeng’s request to sleep on the sofas in the lobby, he and his parents prepared to sleep there anyway. Two hours later, a hostel worker said Zeng had made threats, and called the police for help.
The police said that they had dropped the Zengs off at the Skogskyrkogården site, away from residential areas so that the three wouldn’t disturb sleeping locals.
“The police did not look violent at all,” a passerby told Aftonbladet. “They tried to calm down the situation, but these Chinese just shouted and screamed.”
In the same time, another Swedish media, The Local, reported that prosecutors investigated the incident and found that “police did not commit any crime in their handling of the situation.”
Despite this, the Chinese diplomatic agencies have stood by their side of the event.
In a Sept. 17 briefing, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang criticized the Swedish authorities for failing to carry out a “thorough investigation.”
Gui Congyong, China’s ambassador to Sweden, angrily chastized reporters and expressed “confusion and shock” that such an incident could “happen in a country that constantly lectures about human rights and justices.”
Jojje Olsson, a Swedish reporter who has covered China news for 11 years, said in his report that the Chinese regime has fanned the diplomatic dispute because of “the poor bilateral relations in general” between Sweden and China.
The Dalai Lama, whom Beijing sees as a Tibetan separatist, gave a speech in Swedish city Malmö on Sept. 12, inviting a harsh rebuke by the Chinese regime.
Meanwhile, Chinese social media posts have derided the Zengs for their disgraceful behavior. One post on China’s Twitter-like Weibo shows several photos of the Zengs smiling in the Netherlands as they continued their trip through Europe.