The CLUAS Archive: 1998 - 2011




I'm sick of having to walk out into the traffic on any traffic-clogged Beijing street. That's because the city's footpaths are now for cars. Yes, the country's middle class, rushing out to buy four wheels (bicycles are for losers) without thinking about where to park them. Hence walking home recently I had a couple park their new silver saloon right in front of me, on the footpath I was using. When I'm cycling they take the bike lane (not enough lanes in the typical four-lane Beijing artery). It's all down to marketing and a stupid middle class vulnerability to consumption/marketing, while those of us who don't drive choke in their smoke. Few people have put it better than those market analysts at Access Asia, who email out a pithy weekly review of what's topical and what's hot and what's not in China's consumer and media markets.

The Resistible Rise of the Deadly Steel Box
Yes, we mean cars. Those annoying things that pollute and destroy the earth, kill both their owners and innocent people in large numbers and have contributed more to the destruction of any sense of civilised public manners in Chinese cities than any other single factor (the principle of "I've got a steel box on wheels, so I always get right of way" is now universal it seems). The adverse effects on life that the car has brought are legion in cities where planners have rolled over and accepted the car as king. In Beijing, vastly wide Pyongyang-like boulevards are devoted to the car, while old ladies scramble to cross the road in time as the planners have elevated traffic flow (or lack of) above pedestrians. In Shanghai, the principle of parking anywhere and blocking the pavements is accepted as more old ladies are forced to flee before the green man turns red rather too quickly. Uncivilised, community-destroying, asthma-inducing and depressing.
So, good news then that car sales have tanked. Excellent! As we've argued countless times before, the answer to the problem of cars in China is to tax them off the streets, and to gnore any right wing bollix about the illusory personal freedom a car brings. We need higher gas charges, higher road taxes, congestion charging, raised parking fees and anything else that basically gets cars off the roads. Along with that, we need serious police prosecution of bad and arrogant driving, rather than the current kowtowing to drivers that goes on, especially if the badge is deemed "VIP" - whatever that means. That's our view - rant over. Nobody cares about our view, of course, and they all still want cars, so why have car sales tanked?
Listening to a few presentations recently from the pro-car and car manufacturers lobby, they're floundering a bit at present. They like to say it's the gas price hike in June (and it is, a wee bit), number plate prices (a wee bit too), but hate to talk about other factors. What are those other factors? Well, some are just obvious: lots of people who want cars simply haven't got anywhere to park them; others can't yet afford them. But the major reason right now is that clever Chinese consumers know that, with sales gone south and inventory building to past record levels, prices will have to be slashed.

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Nuggets from our archive

2000 - 'Rock Criticism: Getting it Right', written by Mark Godfrey. A thought provoking reflection on the art of rock criticism.