I’m Walkin’ Here: Consulate warns Americans to watch their step on Shanghai streets

The March edition of the Shanghai Consulate News for Americans kindly reminds its citizens not to hit cars that come to close to you, as it may lead to a “physical confrontation.”

The American Citizen Services Unit has received several reports of American citizens being injured following physical altercations with drivers of automobiles within our consular district.

Such physical altercations have sprung from the citizen tapping or otherwise making physical contact with an automobile driving across a pedestrian crosswalk very close to the US citizen. The ACS Unit urges American citizens to be cautious when walking as a pedestrian in China, as drivers in China may not follow the same driving customs as in the United States and may not yield to pedestrians. If a car does come too close as you are crossing the street, we urge you not to hit the car as this may lead to a physical confrontation.

I’m pretty certain Chinese law is just as clear as most any country’s law on this (and certainly correct me if I’m wrong) — pedestrians have the right of way — if not in the middle of a busy roadway, than certainly on cross-walks, sidewalks and the various other “no-cars-please” locations, where I’m sure these confrontations took place. I know Americans (perhaps wrongly) have a bit of an impetuous stereotype to live down, and they’re not extremely well-known for their cultural sensitivity (even the consulate says as much). Maybe the consulate realizes this, and is tired of defending themselves at State dinners. But on this one, I’ve got to say — good on the angry Americans.

In my mind cultural differences don’t really play a part. It’s not a cultural difference when some asshole nearly kneecaps you with his fender. The cultural difference isn’t that Chinese drivers don’t respect pedestrians, it’s that most pedestrians put up with it.

My advice, hit the car. Jump on the fucking hood. If you’re in the right, and you know you’re in the right, put a nice dent in that black sedan and then stare down the driver with all the hurt and accusation you can muster. Pedestrians have the right of way for a reason, meat and bone are harder to fix than paint and steel — sometimes drivers need to be reminded of this.

Oh, but only heed my advice if you’re tough, fast or both. I don’t need your black eye or broken lip on my conscience. I will happily buy you a beer and give you a pat on the back though.

1000 internets for the first comment that reminds me I’m an effing guest in this country.

Talk on I’m Walkin’ Here: Consulate warns Americans to watch their step on Shanghai streets


29 Comments
    • Try what I do in DC and LA, walk with a hard bag or briefcase and swing it with vigor – if the car gets close enough to me to get hit by my Samsonite – well hey, it’s not my fault.

      • Agreed – if a car is within arms or leg length they are too close and deserve to be hit with my briefcase or kicked with my boot.

        Two years ago I got hit by one of these idiot drivers who was in a brand new $200K USD Mercedes. Many of these drivers just have no respect for human life, and cultural or not, it is not acceptable.

        This lady that hit me was parked on pedestrian walkway that a car shouldn’t have even been driving on. Its a pure pedestrian walkway. However, finding cars in places they shouldn’t be is common in China.

        I was walking behind the parked car along with dozens of other people that around it and just as soon as I was behind the car the woman put it in reverse and took off in reverse like she was in a drag race or something. The car jumped and in one second was running over me!

        My leg rolled up under the car and then it knocked me down. For a few seconds I thought I was going to die but my girlfriend screamed and thank god the woman stopped. Result was it took six months to heal a grade 3 torn MCL & other knee damage and now my knee is never going to be right again.

        The woman really couldn’t have cared less. Sad part is that car even had a video camera in the dashboard so she could see we were behind her car! How the hell could she run over people with a video camera in the dashboard showing who was behind her? I found out the woman had been in three accidents already in the past year. Ridiculous.

        Final result was I missed a bunch of work because I couldn’t walk. My business suffered for a while. After six months, the Insurance company paid me 50K RMB (big effin deal, right?).

        I’m not the litigious type but after dragging my leg behind me for a few months I really considered learning Chinese law and suing the hell out of this driver & insurance. But after consulting with China lawyers the evidence was it wasn’t worth my time, I may have ended up with same 50K RMB I got from the insurance company.

        Bottom line is you don’t want to get hit by a car and injured in China. You must be defensive because it seems even nice and educated Chinese can turn into insane people behind the wheel of a car here in China.
        However, I’m definitely one to hit the damn car if it comes within swinging distance of my arms or legs.

        Jay Caseysays:
        March 29, 2012 at 9:15 pm
        Try what I do in DC and LA, walk with a hard bag or briefcase and swing it with vigor – if the car gets close enough to me to get hit by my Samsonite – well hey, it’s not my fault.

  1. I did that with a bus on Hui Hai Lu near the ACS offices last summer. It was great. I know the guy saw me — the bus is nothing but glass in the front — but he was going through the crosswalk come hell or high water. “Hey! I’m walkin’ here!” makes a good bit of noise in the cavernous downtown. He stopped the bus and looked at me like it was a minor inconvenience I was almost a pancake. (Sigh).

    Oh, yeah. You’re a guest here.

  2. I did this to a guy in Beijing. When I saw how scrawny he was, I told him to roll down his window and then proceeded to say to him “我要是再看你这样开车,我就把你打碎了“. Part of me feels bad about that, but not really. If you’re going to punch the car, be sure to follow up with a real good threat in Chinese.

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  4. I feel so much better now that I now I am not the only one doing this ! I agree it is not a specifically American thing.

    If you do not feel tough enough to go for the black sedans, start by not giving way to the bicycle on the sidewalk and build from here.

  5. I, a Canuck, too am guilty of this, much to the beration of my Chinese wife.

    Sometimes I maintain my actions as called for, as, as you say, we pedestrians have the right of way (legally?). But other times I wonder if, as a foreigner here, I should just accept the different driving/pedestrian culture as “not wrong, just different” from what I’m accustomed to, swallow my sense of right and wrong, and cross the street with my tail between my legs.

    Interesting to note, while in Beijing over the weekend I immediately noticed a generally safer driver/pedestrian culture there. On multiple occasions I experienced vehicles (BMWs, SUV’s, taxis etc.) slowing/stopping to let pedestrians cross (even against the pedestrian signal), far less use of car horns, and drivers generally sticking to their lanes rather than swinging back and forth between lanes or riding the middle of two lanes. What makes Shanghai drivers so much more arrogant?

    • Two things; 1) no enforcement of the law and 2) despite its cosmopolitan image Shanghai is less cultured than Beijing.

    • I can accept the driving culture being different, but what I can’t accept is the fact that everyone is constantly flouting traffic laws. Then why make and promulgate them in the first place? I understand it takes time to change behaviours, but honestly, the authorities aren’t even trying to educate and enforce.

      As for Beijing and Shanghai, I’ve lived in both and have always found traffic in Shanghai more pleasant to deal with. I can’t say I’ve noticed people in Beijing being better drivers or respecting the law more. Personally I found Beijing more difficult to navigate owing to the wide streets over there.

  6. I can sympathize, since I have been to Chongqing and the drivers here will flatten you if you do not watch it. Plus hit and runs seem to be a national past time. There is not one night on the local news that goes with mentioning someone getting hit by a car. I respect a country’s cultural differences as long as I am not in harm’s way or my wife also. Though I try not to push it. My mandarin is not very good and last I want to start an argument where it leads to fisticuffs. Overall I give as much leeway to the drivers since I rather just avoid confrontations than propagate them.

    • Chongqing has the world’s most dishonest and rude taxi drivers – I’m not surprised they are also dangerous. I’ve never had so much trouble getting taxi drivers to take me where I want to go. On a recent trip more than half of the ones I stopped and told them where I wanted to go (in Mandarin) told me to get out of the cab – they didn’t want to go wherever I was going. Once, I arrived at the airport and got in a taxi and started to look at a flyer on taxi fares that a security guy had handed me as I got into the cab and the driver ripped it out of my hand and threw it out the window. Then I looked for the meter and saw that it was covered by a black flap. But we were already on the highway and I was trapped. He gouged me good and then kept his trunk up as he peeled away so I couldn’t get his license plate number. If I ever return to Chongqing it will be a failure on my part.

  7. I know what they are talking about but too bad they have to be so diplomatic about it. I have to laugh at “drivers in China may not follow the same driving customs as in the United States and may not yield to pedestrians”. Chinese drivers virtually NEVER yield to pedestrians, obey the law, or follow generally recognized customs of civilized driving. After being nearly hit by a taxi driver in Shanghai for the millionth time a few years ago I slammed the side window with my fist and to my surprise it shattered into a thousand pieces. I had been crossing on a green light in a pedestrian walkway and the asshole driver had nearly hit my son so I was enraged. A fight ensued with my son and I surrounded by about 50 Chinese pedestrians who immediately took the side of the driver who moments before had been threatening their lives as well. We spent 7 hours in a police station but I refused to pay for the driver’s window since I thought it was about time someone made him pay for driving through a crowd of legal pedestrians as if they were birds.

  8. “Right of way,” is no realistic argument on a Chinese street. Does anyone else have the dreaded fear of laying on the road dying with a mass of people hovering over you, pointing, and gossiping? All the while no one calls an ambulance while you lay in agonizing pain bleeding internally.

    I know a few people too who get away with kicking buses, hitting cars, etc. I can’t imagine to doing any good.

  9. Bullshit Shit: “I’m pretty certain Chinese law is just as clear as most any country’s law on this — pedestrians have the right of way”.

    “Utter nonsense” to quote Zhou Enlai you been read too far China Law Blog “We can do China law from the US” assumptionings. Pedestrians in China DO NOT have the right of way. Which if you’d humework you realizings dating to Imperial era. No-one got in the way of the fucking Emperor. The sames true today. Enough US-Canuck theory, you in China, and you must know better than inflictings North American laws or reasonings here. You better walking carefully asshole.

  10. Old Australian guy I know does this. Only problem is he’s old and I very much doubt he can hold his own in a fight. Doesn’t matter if the expat is right or not. You have to ask yourself, is your pride worth getting beaten into the ground over? The next car you punch might be loaded with young PLA veterans.

  11. @ Jay Casey, I think its not just you as a lao wai that gets the rude treatment from the taxicabs in Chongqing. My wife says it happens to wai di ren (rough translation: an outsider in reference to chinese from outside the area in subject). She says that the outsider chinese from other parts that come to Chongqing get gouged. The cabbies usually drive the longest and I do mean longest route to a given destination.

    I also have met a few bastards on a hot humid days of summer and you hail oneof them, they see laowai and they just drive by. Somehow they feel that being lao wai means they can be rude to you to justify a wrong commited in the past by the foreign powers.

    However, I have also encountered a few cabbies that are nice and amicable though not very much to get rid of the notion that best take the local buses and not hail a cab if you do not really need to.

  12. 90% of the time I have no problems with this. I’ve seen others have problems. I am very careful when I cross the street and I don’t expect anyone to stop for me. Even in America I never have. When I’m in the middle of a crosswalk and a car approaches as he turns, he slows down, stops, and doesn’t run into me. The driving customs are very different here compared to USA, but is it really that infuriating? I didn’t realize, I guess.

  13. The old American way: pull out a gun and point it at the car, and let’s see if the driver will get a bit more sensible.

  14. “I’m pretty certain Chinese law is just as clear as most any country’s law on this (and certainly correct me if I’m wrong) — pedestrians have the right of way —”

    Yeah, but the dumbasses driving didn’t actually learn that. To get a lisence in China is about a 15 mins process. Having the green light to walk means you have the right of way.

    Remember, there are no rules in China. You’re on your own. Have a middle finger ready next time you cross the street. The Chinese guy driving will have no idea what it means, but at least you get some satisfaction (no amount of speaking fluent Chinese will give you any).

    • Profile photo of

      It may have been so once, but getting a license is no simple task now. Even in the rather bumpkin-esque 2nd tier backwater where I live, it requires 4 tests (1 written and 3 driving) and prices recently went up to something like 3,200RMB (includes “driver training”). Granted, the whole process is slick with guanxi; the written test can be done by a pro who comes by part-way through writing and “checks your work”, and while no one can take the driving portion for you, it’s pretty common to pay your instructor a bit extra to be your pit boss and tell you what to do at each moment.

      So, not without massive failings, but also not a rubber stamp. My wife’s in the thick of it all, and she’s met more than one taxi driver who was on his 3rd or 4th go of it.

      All of that is to say it’s not the rubber stamp and red envelope it used to be. It’s still terrible at instilling any sense of actual know-how in new drivers, and I agree that the rule of size wins out on the roads (bike beats pedestrian, car beats bike, truck beats car, bus beats car, red and white-plated black sedan trumps all).

      • I believe what you said Ryan because when me and my wife visited her parents in Leshan, there were daily driving instructors using the abandoned Sinopec parking lot nearby as a drivers course. My wife told me that everybody had to have certain hours(the number escapes me now) before they can even think of applying for their license from an accredited driving school or instructor. What I have seen driving at Leshan but even worse in Chongqing is how a driver of a quarter ton commercial bus can squeeze into a space 10 feet wide with two other buses side by side without anyone getting hit. I think David Copperfield needs to come to Chongqing and learn that trick. Everyday riding the buses or occasional taxis is like that seen of Indiana Jones and Temple of Doom, of Indiana Jones, the love interest and little boy riding those mining carts through all kinds of twists and turns and near misses.

        I tell my wife that the USA is not getting any better but we have a share of bad drivers, usually punk kids who’s parents bought them the latest sports car as a high school graduation gift and need to test it out on the streets instead of a racetrack. I saw it right before coming to Chongqing, around 1:00 am, some punk kid thought he can drive a Porsche Panamera through a winding street like he was playing Grand Turino on his Xbox. He lost control and hit an island, went over the island onto the other lane and finally came to a stop after hitting a light pole that came crashing down on the car. Luckily the pole struck right on the middle of the car so he was saved from a trip to the hospital and the fact he also was wear his seatbelt helped too.

        Anyway bad drivers exist everywhere,I have heard that in Germany, there are actual driving instructions and to get a license is very costly and lengthy but I can be wrong.

  15. I know we all get fed up with those cars that look like they’ll plow you down. But I don’t think violent actions are the way to solve this problem. It isn’t a problem that we as foreigners are privileged to solve. It needs to be cracked down on the Chinese side. Put up fines for breaking these rules, etc… then I’m sure people will change when it comes to dealing with money. With time it’ll be better, we just need to have patience, write a few more articles, make it be verbally known, etc. After all, China is trying to build soft power, and this only affects their image perceived externally.

  16. True as hell. Spent just a few days in China and got hit by a car crossing the street on the crosswalk, with pedestrian green light on. It’s a paradox, really. On the one hand, China is clearly a police state. On the other – 99% of drivers, including the aforementioned police, don’t care about the most basic driving regulations. I can only wonder how many people got squashed by a car in China while I was writing this comment. Sad.

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