Notes on China: Social Darwinism


I don’t care if they call it capitalist or Communist, China is building a Darwinist society. The attitude appears in all sorts of places.

Fleets of scooters all over the place — rural, urban, everywhere. There are plenty of cars and trucks, and still a non-insignificant number of bicycles, but the gasoline-powered scooter seems to be the most common mode of transportation.

And not a helmet in sight. You wreck your scooter, and you die. Survival of the fittest.

And the scooters are used for all sort of tasks. I saw one with a refrigerator strapped to the back (and the rear suspension almost scraping the ground). Another one so covered in flowers for delivery that you couldn’t see the driver. Another with a pipe rack holding 15-foot lengths of PVC pipe; I still can’t figure out how he turned.

Flower Delivery Scooter

They frequently have two or three people on board. I saw one where a young man was driving and an older woman sat in back suspending two five gallon bottles of water by the necks. I can’t believe the wrist strength she must have. Imagine going around a curve!

Interestingly, when it was a woman in back, a significant fraction rode sidesaddle. That’s just amazingly unsafe. Darwinism again, or modesty carried to dangerous levels?


China seems schizophrenic on handrails. We went to some very mountainous tourist areas, but I noticed the same effect in FengHuang and Chengsha (urban areas). Sometimes, a staircase or dropoff would have substantial handrails on one or both sides. But sometimes, nothing at all. NOTHING. There might be an eight-foot vertical drop, people jostling each other back and forth on the top, sedan chairs stampeding by, and no handrail. Not even a stripe of yellow paint.

The attitude seems to be “We built you a nice stone walkway. If you can’t keep your feet on it, it’s your own damned problem.”

Again, as mentioned earlier, a young society doesn’t have time for things like handrails. They’re an obsession only in the decadent and decaying West.

Same with the random steps mentioned earlier. I took a photograph of one that knocked me down…. walking on a straight, level, stone walkway, there was suddenly a single 8-inch step down. No handrail, no ramp, no stripe… just “Hey, let’s add a step here to keep people on their toes!”

Random Step

I wound up on my knees. Oops. My own fault for not paying attention.

Same for guardrails on the highway. Zooming along these little two-lane mountain roads, you see rain gutters that are really like miniature flumes. Concrete-lined, probably two feet across by 18 inches deep. And they are just carved into the side of the road… no guardrail, no “Botts dots,” not even a stripe for night driving. Just a sudden, vertical, 18 inch drop… ready to break an axle or pop your wheel right off your car.

Think of it as evolution in action.

Some of my readers will be old enough to remember when it was socially acceptable to drive your child around in the USA without a Federally-approved car seat. In China, you plop him in front of you on the motorscooter and take off. In this sense and many others, China reminds of the self-reliant America I grew up in. I miss it.

Disorderly Conduct

Driving 120 kph in the emergency lane while leaning on the horn… the high-speed weaving in and out of a moving tapestry of cars, trucks, scooters, bicycles, and pedestrians… the accelerating into the oncoming lane to pass a bus around a blind corner… those are just normal in China. But it’s a microcosm of the Chinese approach to interpersonal interaction.

On foot, there’s no concept of “keep right” (or left)… it’s “push ahead through the weakest point of opposition.” And, unless enforced by railings and an authority figure, queues devolve into rugby scrums (there’s that Darwinism again).

Enforced Queueing

And, of course, it’s a cliche to point out that the Chinese concept of personal space is pretty much that space occupied by their physical body. For standoffish Americans, this is deeply unnerving. I’d hold back to give someone a bit of room, and two more people would bull their way into the gap I created. Eventually, you have to give up an just stay in physical contact with the people in front of you, or you’ll never get anywhere.

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