Bicycles have been the dominant form of transportation in China since the 1950s. When people think of China, one of the images to come to mind is of hundreds of bicyclists in the streets. After the 1949 Revolution, and in Mao’s heyday, owning a bicycle was seen as a status symbol, something to aspire towards having. Bicycling was promoted by the new Communist government, in part through subsidies for both producing and buying bikes. The term “Critical Mass,” now used by bicycle advocates in the West, originated in China as a way to describe the number of bicyclists needed to move across an intersection as a group.
Bicycles are an ideal form of transportation, providing a convenient, economical, and ecologically friendly way to get around. Bicycles are a key to the way out of the contemporary crises of climate change and, in the US, increasing obesity and other health problems.
Unfortunately, bicycles in China are being eclipsed by the car, an invention which is making a significant contribution to humanity’s demise as a viable species. US automakers, in a clear case of putting profit ahead of human health, are moving in on the China market. Millions of cars are being sold in China, with the total number sold increasing by one million per year. Cars are overflowing into the bicycle lanes here, and Chinese cities are now experiencing all the joys of rush hour traffic, pollution, and other benchmarks of the Western standard of living.
People in the US, particularly in places like Portland, Or, Chicago, and San Francisco, are increasingly riding bicycles, and devoting more money to developing an efficient bicycle infrastructure. Lately I’ve been photographing the bicycles of China, in part to inspire people to put bicycles to creative uses elsewhere. It’ll be interesting to see how this whole climate change scenario plays itself out over the coming years. I believe bicycles are part of the solution.
A new page has been added in the column on the right, called Bicycles of China. There I’ll be posting photos of various bikes, and trikes, from around the streets of Chengdu and other parts of China. When I have enough, I’ll be submitting a photo essay to a Portland bike blog called bikeportland.org. Tell me which ones you like best, and check back periodically as I update the page.