Crossing the street in China

A post that Autumn wrote a few weeks ago gave me an idea for a couple of articles about traffic in China. This one is about being a pedestrian, and the next one will be about driving in China. I hope you find them entertaining and not too scary!

One of the things that westerners visiting China never fail to mention is how crazy the traffic is. When you are used to certain rules that more or less everybody follows, taking a taxi here seems like a risky business, and crossing the street is like playing Russian roulette. Will you get run over? Will you make it to the other side of the road alive? Luck is your best friend!

If the road is completely empty, then you can cross safely. Or not…


In China, the first unwritten law of the road dictates that your right of way depends on your size. This means that buses and trucks are the absolute kings, then cars, then electric bikes, then normal bikes, and there you are in the last position, puny pedestrian. How could you even think about choosing “walking” as your transportation mode? You don’t even have money to buy a shitty electric bike??

When I first arrived to Beijing, over 10 years ago, I wasn’t sure at all when it was supposed to be my turn to cross the road. When the light was red for pedestrians, cars were passing, and when the light was green for pedestrians, cars were passing too. At first I used to get very angry because I thought everybody was running the red light. And, for sure, running red lights seemed to be a national sport back then, but the sad truth is that… many cars were actually following the rules! Because the amazing and super logic Chinese traffic regulations state that a car turning to the right can do so at all times, except in the few cases when there is a specific traffic light regulating right turns. So, in most street crossings in China, cars turning to the right and pedestrians crossing the street can pass at the same time. So you ALWAYS have to look to the left before crossing, even when the pedestrian light is green, if you don’t want to be run over or at least get a close call.

My ex office was in the middle of Nanjing West Rd in Shanghai. I was almost-run-over many times…


This regulation, that in my opinion is completely bollocks, in fact has a second part. In theory, cars should stop and yield to pedestrians when coming across a pedestrian crossing with no traffic light or with the green light on. But here is where the second unwritten law of the road comes into play: in China, no one, ever, under any circumstances, yields to another vehicle or to a pedestrian. Chinese drivers are always competing with each other and yielding is seen as being weak and stupid. After I told C. that in Spain most drivers stop before pedestrian crossings, he started trying it in China. The result: pedestrians waiting to cross don’t move (they cannot even fathom a car would yield to them, so they must be thinking it’s a joke and we are going to suddenly accelerate and run them over) and cars behind us start honking like crazy. Their morse-code honking translates as: Are you dumb or what?? Why the heck are you yielding to pedestrians??

However, things are going to change from now on. Or so I hope! To actually enforce drivers yielding to pedestrians, lots of cameras have been installed in Suzhou to photograph and fine the cars that fail to do so. The fine is not a lot, just 50 RMB, but these days I have already seen a couple of cars voluntarily giving way to pedestrians. Unbelievable!! Perhaps I will be able to stop fearing for my life every time I have to cross the road! But if the decision was mine, I would make the fine directly proportional to the price of the guilty car. I’m sure those snobby Maserati, Ferrari and Porsche drivers wipe their asses with 100 RMB bills, so for them the fine should be of a few thousands…