Is the Chinese Way of crossing the road about to change?

The Chinese way of crossing the road, as shown in this cartoon, is to simply "gather in a group and cross. It has nothing to do with the traffic lights" . The characters in the picture reads: go with the stream. Photo: henan.163.com

This is a foreigner’s advice to fellow Laowais on how to cross the road in China: “follow the locals as they cross. They know what to do. ” And what is it that the Chinese do? The answer was bravely revealed in a Weibo post earlier this month that defined the “Chinese Way of Crossing the Road” as simply “gather in a group and cross. It has nothing to do with the traffic lights.”

The post quickly went viral. In response to it, on Oct. 23 traffic officials in Shijiazhuang, the capital of Hebei province announced their new rules of imposing fines as high as 50 yuan on jaywalkers, which are to be on trial for two months. The rules especially targeted the flocks of pedestrians running the light as a group. For the big crowd at big crossings, the first three will be punished. At smaller crossings, all jaywalkers will be punished.

The news instantly aroused much debate. Many applauded the trial rules and followed the lead. One day later in Shenzhen, revisions of the Shenzhen Road Traffic Safety Violation Punishment Ordinance were submitted for deliberation at the 18th meeting of the Shenzhen People’s Congress Standing Committee, in which the punishment for the rule-violating pedestrians was set at 100 yuan. Two days after that, news broke out that experts are calling for similar rules to be implemented in Jinan, capital of Shandong province.

A volunteer at a crossing near Beijng Worker Stadium in 2011 wearing a T-shirt that reads: Did you wait (for the light) today? I did! A jaywalker was seen in the background regardless of his effort. Photo: news.china.com

In the meantime, many voiced their concerns over the defects of Shijiazhuang’s new rules. For one, it is against the basic law principle which demanded all violations to be dealt with. They argued that the reason people flock together is because they think they can avoid being punished. By imposing fines on the first three violators only, the new rules simply confirmed their ‘philosophy’, thus encouraging people to continue their old ways.

Some pointed out that the blame should not be put on the pedestrians only. Also to blame are the motorists for not giving precedence to the pedestrians as they should, and interestingly, the inconvenient traffic light setting which kept the pedestrians waiting for too long. Xinhua news agency reported on Oct. 25 a research finding of Tongji University's School of Transportation Engineering, which praised the Chinese for being patient enough to be willing to wait for as long as 90 seconds for the light to change as opposed to the German’s 60 seconds and British people’s 45. The research said the design of traffic lights in China is better suited to regulating automobile traffic, thus tempting pedestrian to break the rules.

CCTV, China Central Television sent out reporters to follow up on the controversial rules. In a video clip broadcasted on its news channel, over 600 people were seen running the red light. When caught by the police, very few are willing to accept the fine. Zhou Wenhua, vice political commissar of the Shijiazhuang traffic management bureau told the reporter that they did not actually carry out the rule as they discussed. As shown on the clip, the police mostly just reprimanded the offenders, asking them to abide by the rules next time. According to another report, about 300 people got fined in the first three days since the trial.

Before the attention was turned on the pedestrians, motorists used to be the main target of the traffic police and fodder for media criticism when it comes to running lights. Severe punishment (3 points off one’s driver’s license and a 200 yuan fine as per the latest rules) was put upon the drivers in an attempt to correct the situation, which seems to be working. Now that the motorists are more or less rule-obeying, the audacity of the pedestrians naturally was placed under the spotlight. Whether or not the latest attempts to address the “Chinese way of crossing the road” will work remains to be seen.

China is not the first country to impose such punishments on jaywalkers. In Singapore, the punishment is even more severe. First time offenders have to pay a 200-Singapore-dollar fine (about 160.5 US dollars). The second time and third time offenders, however, will face half a year to one year prison time. In Germany, once you have a record as a jaywalker, you can no longer ask for long-term loans or payment installments from the bank.


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