28 December 2014

Will The New Dissidents Be Cyclists?

I have not been to China.  It's one place on my "bucket list".

Not long ago, visitors to the Land of the Red Dragon marveled a the sheer number of people on bicycles.  One old acquaintance of mine showed me photos of a traffic jam in the center of Beijing.  There wasn't a car or truck in sights:  The streets were a serpentine wall of people on their bikes, most of which seemed to be imitations of English three-speeds or Dutch-style city bikes.  On some were attached, to the sides of the rear racks, baskets that seemed almost as large as the riders themselves.

From what I've read and heard, such sights were not unusual not very long ago.  I couldn't help but to wonder what the Long Island Expressway--often called "the world's longest parking lot"--would look like if rush-hour (Isn't that an odd name for a time when nobody's moving?) traffic consisted of Bianchis, Bromptons, Motobecanes and Treks rather than Buicks, BMWs, Mercedes and Toyotas.

While millions of Chinese people still ride bicycles to their jobs and schools, and to shop and run errands, four-wheeled vehicles with motors are replacing the two-wheeled variety that are propelled by their riders' feet.  (At least, that's what I've been told.)  To me, that begs the question of whether China will become a society dominated by the automobile, as the US has been for much of the past century, and what the country will be like if it ever come to that.

I recall a time when, at least in the US,  choosing to ride your bike when you could drive or be driven--or even if you were merely old enough to have a driver's license--was something of an act of rebellion.  I remember being seen as a cross between a geek and an outlaw because, during my senior year of high school, I rode my bike when just about everyone else drove to school.  I was also seen that way, I believe, by co-workers on the first couple of jobs I worked:  They did not pedal to the job, but I did.

Could the day come when riding a bicycle in China is similarly seen as an act of rebellion, or dissidence?  Of course, being someone who defies the established order has even greater consequences for someone who does it in China than for an American who protests anything.  

One such dissident is the artist Ai Weiwei, who created this installation:


No comments:

Post a Comment