Where else?

These photos cracked me up and brought back a stream of anecdotes from Peter Hessler’s new book re. the oddities of driving in China.

China has some of the world’s most gracious people, some of the most sublime scenery, much of the world’s greatest art, etc. It also seems to have some of the worst drivers, for whatever reasons. Maybe it’s just a matter of giving too many cars to too many people who aren’t quite ready to be put behind the wheel.

And if it’s any consolation, friends of mine who have lived in India tell me it’s even worse over there.

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Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.

The Discussion: 35 Comments

Yes, developing countries are like that. Check out “Russian drivers” on youtube, that is a horror movie waiting to be made.

It also seems to have some of the worst drivers, for whatever reasons. Maybe it’s just a matter of giving too many cars to too many people who aren’t quite ready to be put behind the wheel.

1 – Inexperience
2 – High population density
3 – Poor regulation

May 28, 2010 @ 8:29 am | Comment

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DR7PAjqOADY

exhibit A

May 28, 2010 @ 8:31 am | Comment

Also of interest:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_traffic-related_death_rate

India is just a little worse than China, Russia is much worse than both.

Richard, you’d be surprised at how many of these oddities are really the norm around the world, developed countries are the real odd ones.

May 28, 2010 @ 8:39 am | Comment

Merp, you’re not telling me anything I don’t know. However, anyone can tell you they see many, many more of these oddities on a daily basis in developing countries like China and India. And I know there are reasons for that, and to say so is not anti-India or anti-China, it’s just a fact. I saw things on a daily basis on Chinese roads that would be virtually inconceivable in a developed country, such as going the wrong way on a one-way expressway and driving on the sidewalk. If these were isolated cases, rarities, it would be no big deal. But fanning out across a two-way street so you’re driving on the wrong side of the road against oncoming traffic was literally the norm in Beijing when I first went there in 2001. The government finally ended it on most roads by putting in a huge network of steel fences, leading to a lot of misery for bikers and pedestrians, but at least stopping the insanity of drivers all wanting to get ahead.

Asshole drivers in the US are a dime a million. They don’t, however, drive on the wrong side of the road on a normal and consistent basis, so there’s no need for the steel fences because no matter how shitty these drivers may be, they know if they try to fan across the road and drive against traffic they’ll be arrested or killed.

May 28, 2010 @ 9:18 am | Comment

And since you’re sharing links, here’s a nice one: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9AbFebGh8Rg

May 28, 2010 @ 9:21 am | Comment

Mine had better music. Anyway, the fatality rates speak for themselves.

May 28, 2010 @ 11:10 am | Comment

Sigh…even when talking about bad drivers in China, people need to compare.

May 28, 2010 @ 2:32 pm | Comment

Well, the Russian video was pretty appalling but apparently it’s a tunnel in Siberia where the road routinely freezes and there’s black ice — thus the auto acrobatics.

With the mortality statistics, you also have to factor in the number of hours and miles driven, not just the per capita deaths. Other sources have China at the top of the heap, including this article from Xinhua.

As Richard said, there are many wonderful things about China — but the driving isn’t one of them. This is why I always go out of my way to take the subway rather than get into a cab, and why I feel like the most dangerous thing I do there is cross a busy street.

Car culture is just a bad thing overall, and I’ll make that a global statement. I would much rather live somewhere I can walk and use public transportation rather than have to get into a car every day and drive. Driving sucks. It’s bad for our health and it’s bad for the planet.

May 28, 2010 @ 2:33 pm | Comment

To Other Lisa:
rate per unit number of vehicles is also an important metric to consider. Merp’s link had neither that nor rate per unit distance driven as it pertains to China. Plus that data is from 10 years ago. Your link is much more contemporary, and thus more relevant to the situation today.

May 28, 2010 @ 2:50 pm | Comment

S.K., yes — I knew I was leaving something out but couldn’t quite grasp what!

May 28, 2010 @ 2:58 pm | Comment

Italy, especially Naples, is the exception to the rule that people drive more sensibly in developed countries!

May 28, 2010 @ 5:39 pm | Comment

I read recently that the single most accurate indicator of a person’s happiness is the time spent commuting. If that’s true, it won’t be too long until car-owning Beijingers are the unhappiest people on the planet.

May 29, 2010 @ 5:52 am | Comment

The most important statistic would be fatalities per mile driven

May 29, 2010 @ 9:34 am | Comment

False, Merp, as usual. This post is NOT about traffic fatalities. It’s about nutty driving. Go look at the photo I linked to, and to the wording of my post. This is about bad driving. You can have gazillions of examples of bad driving with zero fatalities, as in the photo I linked to.

May 29, 2010 @ 9:53 am | Comment

Truth be told, I sort of miss the “sanity be damned” approach to driving in China. As nuts as it was, it lacked the aggression and pig-headed senses of entitlement that ruin any road experience here in Canada (or more specifically, Montreal). There is something about North Americans being behind the wheel (or on two wheels as well) that suddenly makes us think we are God’s gift to the world. Traffic in Montreal is certainly more “structured”, but it is scarier in many ways than China- the speed and impatience on display here is at a whole other level. And it’s only getting worse now that the number of cyclists has really exploded over the past few years.

May 29, 2010 @ 11:57 pm | Comment

Wherever you go there will be bad driving. German drivers are famously aggressive, as are California drivers. Here in Phoenix it’s common practice to run red lights and not let people in ahead of you. New York drivers have their own serious issues. Still, none of this comes even close to approaching the driving I saw on an everyday basis in China, where it wasn’t a matter of just bad driving, but out and out insanity. And for the record, it’s gotten much, much better since my first stay in 2001, but you still see it every day.

May 30, 2010 @ 12:34 am | Comment

What’s led to the decline in driving skills in California has been the cell phone. I have no doubts about this. I’m hoping the hands-free regulations are helping.

China is, as Richard said, a whole different kind of thing. Drivers (and cyclists and pedestrians) simply disregard the rules, the signals, the lanes. I’m astounded when people actually STOP at red lights. At all! It’s just total chaos, and there are too many cars for that now. I think it’s what happens when you suddenly have a lot of people driving cars in a very short time. The carnage in big cities would be a lot worse if the traffic weren’t so bad — here’s a case where traffic jams save lives!

The countryside I gather has horrific accident stats because you can drive fast, and because of the mix of cars and slow-moving farm vehicles.

One of my favorite things about Yangshuo was how few cars there were. It was lovely.

May 30, 2010 @ 2:36 am | Comment

lol, even by china driving standard, that’s reckless.

May 30, 2010 @ 9:35 am | Comment

Drive in Subway station?

That could be a good idea.

May 31, 2010 @ 12:57 am | Comment

30 Million Died During so-called “Great Leap Forward”? Total Rubbish.

As I try to deduce why it’s impossible 30 million died during the so called “great leap forward”, note that all the following deduction methods are parallel. Which means if you successfully prove only one of them wrong, but cannot prove the rest, you still have not successfully proved me wrong.

Method 1: Abstract Statistics.

That means, if 30 million people died out of 600 million total population at the time, then it means 1/20 in China died of hunger. Now, we know that an average person’s social circle has

approximately 100 people (including relatives, friends, co-workers, other frequent acquaintances etc). Which means, to an average Chinese at the time, he would know about 5 people would

died of hunger. But can any of you find Chinese who lived at that time who could name 5 of his either friend/family/co-worker/acquantance who died? I have not yet met a single Chinese from

that era who can name 5 names in his social circle who died. Note, of course this does not count those who are paid to write “first hand accounts” and publish those books on the “horrors”

of that time, those are paid commentators, they have zero credibility.

Method 2: Witnesses

Some people say, the reason we cannot find those who can name 5 people is because most villages’ population have been completely wiped out, so no one stayed alive to report it. If that’s

true, then there must be some survivors, these survivors are witnesses, they will definitely publish articles and claim that “my whole village died of hunger, only I survived.”. He’ll use

the first-person narrative when writing these articles. For example, in the Japanese massacre of Nanjing, there are countless first-person narrative written by survivors. Even the so-called

Holocaust has some self-claimed survivors who try to prove it. But we have not yet seen any such survivor on this so-called famine. The problem with Chinese academics is that they write too

much like novelists, they only know how to use fancy and literary language to fan up the readers’ emotions, but do not know how to use dry and engineering style language to document

emotionless facts. We know that most villages at the time had some people who left the village to join the People’s Liberation Army. If that village’s population all died of hunger, that

those soldiers, upon returning the village, would observe this, and document as follows: “When I returned home, I find no one is there to greet me at the village, I went into my house, and

find some skeletons of my parents laying on the floor. I went to the neighbors’ house, and find rotten corpses everywhere. It’s like a ghost village.” And not just soldiers returning, but

women who married into another village, upon returning, would also observe the same thign, and write similar stories. But we still have not found such witnesses. Not leftists did not find

such witnesses, but even rightists and democracy-lovers could not find such witnesses.

Method 3: The Freedom of Press during the Cultural Revolution

It’s fortunately that China had a cultural revolution. If China never had the Cultural Revolution, but instead was like the USSR who had a “pro-Western revolution” at the very end, then all

the rightists and democracy-lovers can simply say ” The reason we had no witnesses is because China had no freedom of press, everything is erased by the goverment!”. This would be the

democracy-lovers’ favorite and most convenient weapon, everytime they cannot find some evidence, they can always lay back and yell “You erased evidence!”. This way they can never lose an

argument. But unfortunately for them, China had a cultural revolution. And during that time, all the regional party bosses and bureaucrats were persecuted and toppled by the grassroots red

guards. Sometimes the entire government body of a local city or province would be removed over night and taken over by local students. Everyone back then was free to walk into a government

office and curse at the official, walk into a teacher’s office and curse at the teacher, walk into your factory’s manager’s office and curse at the manager. I once walked into the office of

our local mayor, and said “you f**** idiot! you are an anti-revolutionary! you are a capitalist capitulator! You are a foreign comprador! You are a criminal of the people!” And the mayor

had to listen to my curse for one hour, and dared not do anyting to me. He knows if he did something to me, 1000 locals would storm into his office and beat him to death. So if any

government official or authority had any wrong doing or did anything that angered the population, he would be exposed immediately everywhere in the village – people would write down all the

bad things, the corruption, the wrong policies on big posters and post it on the streets, in the bathrooms, on his office door. There was total freedom of expression and press at the time.

That’s why many critics of the Cultural Revolution called it an “excessively free and democratic period”. So if in any province, if people were dying of hunger, whoever in the govenrment

was responsible would be immediately dragged onto the streets and spitted by the locals. But we never heard of such incidens during the cultural revolution, only when the cultural

revolution was suppressed did “30 million people died of hunger” story suddenly emerge.

Method 4: Finding Mass Graves.

We know that in history, whenever a sizeable massacre happens, there’ll be mass graves. The Japanese massacred many Chinese, and left many mass graves. The Allies also massacred many Soviets and Germans and also left many mass graves. And mass grave is usually considered very strong evidence of a massacre, and many people who try to frame another group of massacre would first create such an evidence to boost their case. The Polish did it to the Soviets. The Americans did it to Saddam Hussein. If 30 million people died in China, where are the mass graves? In the past decade or so, as a result of construction boom in China, many ancient relics, Japanese bombs and mines, were discovered by accident. If such mass graves exist, they definitely would also be discovered, and if any construction team hits upon a group of skeletons, they’d immediateley notify the local police, and the police would call in the forensics, and they would carbon-date them, and verify the source, whether it’s from an unsolved murder case or an historical event. And there’s no restriction on reporting such discovery in the media by the government. Yet to this day, we never heard any discovery of any mass grave or even small groups of skeletons attributed to that event.

So, the conclusion is, yes there was wide-spread food shortages mainly due to the Western food embargo, and some people did die as isolated incidents. But to say 30 million people died is completely rubbish. And on this issue, I must scold many western media like Radio-Free Asia, Voice of America, BBC, CNN, they simply were not diligently enough in their work to create realistic evidence of such mass deaths. After all these decades, they could not even create any credible evidence to prove their case, I think the CIA should cut their budget as result.

May 31, 2010 @ 3:00 am | Comment

Dumb post, Math.

Mass graves? Most people died at home of hunger, and were not massacred in killing fields.

The 30 million number may be too small or too large, but it’s largely based on Chinese records. Many, many witnesses have left accounts of the widespread deaths from starvation during the GLF and Chinese as well as Western scholars have put the number somewhere between 20-30 million. But let’s say they’re way off and it was just 10 million. It’s still one of the greatest tragedies in the history of civilization.

Your comparing the mood during the GLF with that of the Cultural Revolution is one of your stupidest claims yet.

May 31, 2010 @ 3:14 am | Comment

Chinese as well as Western scholars have put the number somewhere between 20-30 million. But let’s say they’re way off and it was just 10 million. It’s still one of the greatest tragedies in the history of civilization.

20-30 million includes natural disasters the CCP obviously did not cause, but failed to “address” too- then again if you were to put any democratic government in charge of rescuing densely populated and underdeveloped settlements on a low budget I wouldn’t expect much either.

If it was really 10 million, it’s really nothing new for China, where tens of millions of people regularly died when the population was much smaller, during foreign invasions.

May 31, 2010 @ 9:48 am | Comment

Collectivization and Mao’s deranged “strategy” for the GLF all helped to create or at least severely exacerbate the famine, and it was a source of perpetual shame and disgrace for Mao, and a key motivator for the Cultural Revolution – an opportunity for Mao to change the subject and win back hearts and minds, which he did, at least for a while.

Based on all I’ve read, 30 million seems like a reasonable number and one that several Chinese scholars agree is about as accurate as we can get. I reject the assertions that Mao slaughtered 70 million Chinese, popular with Glenn Beck, but I believe it’s safe to say that tens of millions might have lived had he not put the country firmly on the path to tragedy, both with the GLF and the CR.

Back to Chinese driving.

May 31, 2010 @ 10:57 am | Comment

@Math and Merp,

Really didn’t’ want to be troubled by you two, considering you as delusional losers with low self esteem compulsively like to deny, self-defend, and to troll, but your rhetoric regarding the mass had died during great leap forward, and your defending cultural revolution gave me chills to my back. You are so morally incompetent, that you make yourself a disgrace to China and Chinese ppl like me. You don’t love China, I have made yourselves enemies to average Chinese, and to humanity when you are making excuses for brutality, barbarism, and tyranny.

May 31, 2010 @ 1:09 pm | Comment

Note how quickly the defense mechanism kicks in to rationalize 30 million deaths. Oh, there were some natural disasters. And it’s really “nothing new.” And it happened during foreign invasions? That’s really quite a lot of deaths, and if I was so eager to “protect China,” irrationally rationalizing tens of millions of deaths with a casual shrug would not really be on the top of my list.
Interestingly, a similar argument is constructed about driving: overpopulation, underdevelopment, these things happen, or of course, look elsewhere!
It seems that people like merp only care about a life in China when it fits their political desires (“the Japanese did it!”). That’s why their comments are barely even worth commenting upon, besides as a joke. Just thought there was a nice parallel between GLF and driving rationales…

May 31, 2010 @ 1:30 pm | Comment

Thanks, Spotless. Well said. You too, Kevin.

May 31, 2010 @ 2:48 pm | Comment

Dear Math,
clearly, numbers are not your thing, and you should really think about changing your name. My suggestion would be “Goofy”.

Your “methods” of “deduction” are quite something, though they seem to be lacking in method, and in deduction.

Your “first method” assumes that any deaths during the GLF followed a standard distribution, such that all regions would’ve suffered deaths at exactly the same rate. That’s the only way to justify that every single person would’ve lost 5% of their “social circle”. What is the basis for such an assumption, dare I ask?

Your “second method” is quite spectacular indeed. Allow me to quote: ” because most villages’ population have been completely wiped out, so no one stayed alive to report it. If that’s true, then there must be some survivors, these survivors are witnesses”
—the sheer brilliance of the logic in those statements is blinding. So a village is “wiped out”, so no one is left alive, yet “there must be some survivors”? Huh? Your “second method” didn’t get off to a most-awesome start, so I think I’d just ignore the rest.

Your “third method” has already been debunked for mistaking the CR for the GLF.

And your “fourth method” confuses famine deaths for massacres.

Looks like you’re batting 0 for 4. You might want to take a moment to figure out your batting average…I’ll wait…

May 31, 2010 @ 3:32 pm | Comment

spotless
but your rhetoric regarding the mass had died during great leap forward, and your defending cultural revolution gave me chills to my back

priceless coming from a shill of the West who doesn’t even want to mention the millions killed directly as a result of America’s policies during the Cold War, and in more recent times the so-called “War on Terror/Drugs”.

You don’t love China, I have made yourselves enemies to average Chinese, and to humanity when you are making excuses for brutality, barbarism, and tyranny.

Sounds like good advice to you and your handlers. No one is making excuses- a lie is a lie. If someone exaggerates death tolls and misplaces blame of course I’m going to say something. Almost 1 million Americans die to CVD every year, I guess we can blame this on Obama?

@kevin
Note how quickly the defense mechanism kicks in to rationalize 30 million deaths.

Note how quickly the delusional bias kicks in to politicize “30 million” deaths.

Interestingly, a similar argument is constructed about driving: overpopulation, underdevelopment, these things happen, or of course, look elsewhere!

That’s funny because all of these are good reasons. I also said poor regulation, and that finishes the list. I guess you want to say “o-o-o-o, we Chinee no can drive!” like your wife would?

June 1, 2010 @ 6:53 am | Comment

“Almost 1 million Americans die to CVD every year, I guess we can blame this on Obama?”
—your “logic”, as usual, is impeccable. Are Obama’s policies or actions causally related to those deaths, in the way that Mao’s were?

Oh yes, accuse others of being here for some reason other than personal interest. That makes for a good argument.

Richard’s post was about bizarre Chinese drivers. It wasn’t about them being worse than somebody else as a group. And it wasn’t suggesting that there’s no good reason for their existence. He was just pointing out the phenomenon, until someone came along and had to scratch his “comparison” itch.

June 1, 2010 @ 9:21 am | Comment

The party itself admits there was a famine, no need to argue about something we already admitted. The important thing is to look forward. Does China still have food shortage problems today? No it does not. Does India has food shortage problem today? Yes it has. Has China admitted its wrong policies during the Great Leap Forward in causing the famine? Yes it has. Has America admitted its wrong policies during the Great Depression in causing its famine? No it has not.

June 1, 2010 @ 9:40 am | Comment

@merp
“o-o-o-o, we Chinee no can drive!”
Now that’s not true, Merp. We all know that your mom rides very well. That’s why you’re so angry all the time.

June 1, 2010 @ 9:51 am | Comment

Not as well as your mom rides. Did you ask her if it was good last night? Does she need to make another appointment with me?

June 1, 2010 @ 10:26 am | Comment

Wow, HongXing, you get an A for originality.

June 1, 2010 @ 10:30 am | Comment

Is that what she said about me? I’m very flattered. Did she wash the sheets after I left? It was completely soaked, and smelt salacious.

June 1, 2010 @ 11:16 am | Comment

Is Red Star actually an American kid pretending to be Chinese? I have to wonder….

June 1, 2010 @ 11:17 am | Comment

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