Law Abiding Is Not Chinese

Here is my abridged translation of the blog post:-

"On this trip to Guangzhou, my son and I have found new installations that flank both sides of every busy road crossing – a ‘traffic coordinator’ clothed in a yellow vest beside the traffic light on each side, waving a small red-and-yellow-patterned flag, blowing the whistle in tandem with the alternating change in lights and directing the pedestrians and vehicles.

After having stopped and waited at such road crossings for several times, I noticed that my son was observing the ‘traffic coordinators’. I really wanted to find out what was going on in the little mind. Yesterday when we stopped at a crossing again, he finally posed a question: 'Pa, why are those traffic coordinators repeating what the traffic lights are signaling?' I said to him, 'So you’ve noticed too. Can you think of a reason why they are needed?'

Then I let him observe for a while how the changing lights were affecting the pedestrians and vehicles, and how the actions of the coordinators related to their movements. Then he said something that totally surprised me: 'Oh, he’s too cool. Those people would rather obey him than pay attention to the lights. He’s just so cool!'

Apparently my son was thinking along the lines that I was prompting him. The reason is that nowhere else in the world would there be traffic coordinators where there are already traffic lights installed – those traffic coordinators are using flags and whistles as substitutes for the more advanced green and red lights. And since they are just following the traffic light changes, their actions naturally lag by a few seconds. Yet the pedestrians and vehicles all follow their directions and don’t even bother to look at the lights.

I remember 20 years ago I was assigned to a post in Hainan province. At that time, Hainan island was perhaps China’s or the world’s largest span of land without a single red-and-green traffic light. While we were making ambitious plans to develop and promote Hainan province, one visiting American consultant casually remarked: 'Maybe you should first teach the Hainan citizens the basic concept of stopping at a red light and going at a green light.'

20 years have passed. Not only has China now become the world’s largest car consuming country, it may also be a country with the greatest number of traffic lights. Yet in Guangzhou, the country’s most prosperous city, we are seeing more and more traffic coordinators stationed at road crossings.

In the past 20 years, if our schools had taught the children more about the basic concept of obeying rules like ‘stopping at red lights and going at green lights’, and at the same time if we had spent more time telling our kids and ourselves that we must abide by laws and regulations, then perhaps China would have become more inhabitable a place today.

From my nine-year old son’s admiration for the traffic coordinators I can detect in his immature mind what can basically be attributed to human’s primitive nature. Why would he think that the traffic coordinator who replaces the traffic lights is cool? Because he was taught in school that, no matter who you are, you must obey the traffic light regulations, unless there is an emergency situation, but human nature tells him that it must be very cool if you can be above the law and not be bound by the rules and regulations.

Thank God my son is not living in China. Otherwise, he would get to know that there are many many more incidents and people that are 'too cool', and that many rules and regulations are just meaningless as though they don’t exist.

In fact, the root of the problem is the system. If the upper part of a column is crooked, the lower part cannot but be crooked (上樑不正下樑歪). The problem lies in those who devise the laws and regulations. They either want to elevate themselves above the law, or from the start they intend for the laws and regulations to protect themselves and to control others. After a while, not only do they have no trust in the laws and regulations that they devised, even ordinary citizens do not take those laws and regulations seriously. This is the root of the problem."