Owning a scooter or a car in China gives you an amazing sense of freedom. While public transportation in big cities like Beijing and Shanghai is world-class, it can be soul and (literally) body crushing during rush hour. But the traffic rules and rhythms in China are vastly different from those in Western countries. China’s freeways are inhabited by a myriad of more or less malevolent road hogs. Here we introduce you to some of the most common.
Photo by Niklas Westerlund
The Dàmā (大妈)
They look docile, slowly cruising in the bike lane with their pink e-bike and funny looking screen hat - it’s called a “zhēyáng mào” (遮阳帽) in Chinese and they’re all the rage for fashionable ladies above the age of 50. But make no mistake, they’ve seen some serious stuff in their lifetime, and they’re not going to let anyone, anyone, mess with them on the road. Damas are the closest thing to bike gangs you’re ever likely to encounter in China. Always yield to these ladies, or you’ll be sorry.
Where to find them: they’re usually found around kindergartens in the morning and afternoon dropping off and picking up their grand kids. Apart from that, you’re most likely to find them on their way to and from mahjong games with other damas.
The Sitting Bulls
The scooter manufacturer NIU (小牛 - “Little Bull”) makes some pretty high-tech runarounds. They’re aimed at the young, educated, not-yet-rich-enough-for-Audi types, who are usually attracted to anything techy. Given their consumer lifestyle, they might find themselves on the slightly heavier side of the scale, meaning that while NIUs are powered by a beast of a 1500W Bosch motor, your second hand, banged-up e-bike can beat them at the lights. Being young and educated, however, NIU drivers are generally pretty decent on the road. Some may even use the turn signal occasionally.
Where to find them: anywhere with universities, tech companies and Western fast food chains.
These individuals learned how to cycle when they were young and then they never touched a bike again. That is until Ofo, Mobike, Bluegogo and whoever the hell else there is now, changed their life for the better (and everyone else’s for the worst). They have no idea what they’re doing, slowly drifting from one side of the road on to another, checking WeChat Moments, biking three in a row, leisurely smoking cigarettes and man-spreading while pedaling in a way that should be physically impossible. Chances are that they’ll bump (or crash) into you every now and then. After regaining their balance, they’ll simply continue as if nothing happened.
Where to find them: THEY’RE EVERYWHERE.
Food Delivery Daredevils
Not all heroes wear a cape. Some wear neon-colored T-shirts and smoke non-stop while dodging death to deliver your food in any weather, at any time of the day. Their scooting skills are unmatched, and while their driving may be aggressive, they usually know what they’re doing. Be calm and let them do their thing - they’re on a mission to save someone’s day. If you can match the speed and agility of a food delivery daredevil, congrats, you’ve reached the pinnacle of scooter driving in China.
Where to find them: around office complexes at 12 pm, and in residential areas after 5 pm.
The Endearing Time Travelers
These old men and women still live in an era when everyone was cycling. They are the remnants of a bygone and more modest time when success was owning a sewing machine, a watch, a radio and a bicycle. And while China is changing rapidly, these old folks keep cycling with pride. Let it be noted, however, that they tend to cycle slower than most people walk. Let them stay in their happy time machine, and pass them when it’s safe.
Where to find them: around residential areas mainly. They also have a nasty habit of always being in front of you.
Particular Permit Proprietors
Similar to damas and the endearing time travelers, PPP’s are old. But they are neither as dangerous nor as endearing. Instead, they place themselves firmly somewhere in the middle. Dangerous, because they tend to drive a three-wheeled gas-powered monstrosity in the bike lane (courtesy of their disability permit). Endearing, because they’re usually out for a joyride with their equally old significant other, or taking their grand kids to school. Avoid them, and their exhaust fumes.
Where to find them: around 养老院 (yǎnglǎoyuàn), which means nursing homes.
That’s what they call buses in Alaska. But bus drivers in China are anything but. Do not, under any circumstances, try and race or squeeze yourself between a bus and a hard place when driving. It’s not that they want to crush you (probably), but a bus driver has a very limited field of vision and won’t be looking out for your tiny, insignificant skull. Give these guys a seriously wide birth.
Where to find them: on all bigger roads and, perhaps unsurprisingly, around bus stops.
The 4-Wheel Wide Boys
This list wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the car drivers. Much has been said, and much can be said, about the millions of car drivers in China. And while we’re regularly fed horrifying footage by the media, the drivers, in Beijing at least, are typically not as horrible as you might expect. They tend to both accelerate gently and drive quite slowly, with plenty of patience for cyclists and pedestrians. Maybe they’re not the most considerate of drivers when it comes to other cars, but they won’t try to run you over (most of the time). Be careful though, as using the turn signal is definitely seen as optional, and it’s not rare to see Hummer-like atrocities attempting a three-point turn in a busy hutong. They also tend to park in bike lanes, forcing those who should be using the lane (i.e. actual bikes) out onto the main roads.
Where to find them: parked in bike lanes, honking at the elderly and stealing candy from kids. No, seriously.
Do you know another kind of China road hog? Introduce us in the comments below!
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I think one can determine the civility of a country and its people by the standard of its driving. Based on this China stopped developing around 200 years ago. Chinese people simply cannot drive. One, most of them lack the ability to operate a modern machine such as a car, two, they have zero patience or courtesy for anyone else on the road. Or anywhere else for that matter. Until I came to China I had never seen a dead body or anyone die. In the first year that I was here I saw quite a few. Taxi drivers slamming into cyclists, trucks smearing cyclists across the street like jam, accidents on highways, drivers reversing over people. I have seen all of this in China. Admittedly things have improved but I think is by virtue of the fact that the roads are now so congested that drivers simply lack the room with which to kill each other. I still see far too many accidents on a regular basis that I never would see in my own country. Chinese drivers seem to lack any ability of observing where they are going and so it's quite common to see accidents at junctions where you have one driver not looking where he is going and the other driving at such speed that he is unable to stop in time. I heard that a few years ago Canada was having so many problems with Chinese drivers that they were considering having a large C on the back of recently arrived Chinese immigrants cars to denote 'Chinese'. I can think of a far more appropriate word that it implies. Unfortunately, Canada could not put this law into practice as the PC Brigade said it was racist. I say that it is just plain common sense. On the bright side, I take pleasure in the simple fact that retarded Chinese drivers may possibly have a short life and as such it is a kind of culling.
Sep 30, 2017 17:26 Report Abuse
Nonsense. Cars have been in China in large scale use for some 30 years In the 1990's was when they took off rapidly...by 2000 they were producing over 2 million cars a year. And they became the world largest automobile producer in 2008 producing nearly 14 million passenger cars in that year alone. How much MORE time are we supposed to give them?
Oct 04, 2017 21:19 Report Abuse