China's Drive into Global Consumer Culture: Balancing the Boom and Burden of New Cars

By Beau James.

Published by The International Journal of Civic, Political, and Community Studies

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Article: Electronic $US5.00

This presentation reflects research in Sichuan and Chongqing, China: two years from 2005 to 2007 with return trips in 2009 and 2011. During this period, the volume of cars and drivers grew significantly. While provincial and municipal governments are ever-diligent in constructing newer and wider roadways, many locations are reaching a choking point. Previously, over-congested roadways in megalopolises such as Chengdu and Chongqing were alleviated by a socially acceptable disregard for traffic laws. Smaller cities and villages also deferred to driver sovereignty because infrastructure failed to reach every corner of the state. Unfortunately, a culture of driving with reckless abandon now challenges civic safety and damages China's image as a modern, cosmopolitan society. Environmental concerns persist over increased carbon emissions and dirty and inefficient Dong Feng trucks, the workhorses of China's economic miracle. Combined with anomalies like the two-week traffic jam in August, 2010, how much longer can China's move towards a “car-centric” culture go unchecked?

Regulators continually push for safer traffic laws and better law enforcement. Additional highway patrols attempt to regulate egregious offenders, such as speeders and sidewalk drivers. High-profile regulations, such as bans on drinking and driving, dominated Chinese media in 2011. Nevertheless, these checks on Chinese drivers do not curb the array of violations in daily commuting. Furthermore, traffic law enforcement could further restrict congested roadways. For example, presently unregulated four-lane roads presently hold six or more lanes of traffic. What happens when drivers are expected to use a four-lane road as directed? China's infrastructure, civil engineers, and leadership are in dead heat races with Chinese consumers and drivers to accommodate commuter needs. Middle class demands for more and higher quality roadways will continue to pressure the Chinese state. Will the state be up to the challenge, and will failure lead to social discontent?

Keywords: China, Development, Regulation, Law Enforcement, Consumer Demand, Wealth, Civil Engineering, Traffic, Cars, Pollution, Consumption, Middle Class Society, Media, Construction

The International Journal of Civic, Political, and Community Studies, Volume 10, Issue 2, 2012, pp.41-50. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 344.798KB).

Beau James

PhD Candidate, Department of East Asian Studies, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ, USA

Beau James is a PhD candidate in East Asian Studies at the University of Arizona. He also earned his MA in the Department of Near Eastern Studies at the University of Arizona. The primary focus of his MA thesis was China's use of soft power in the Middle East. For his PhD research, he has focused on the Abrahamic religions in China, as well as the impact of religious institutions on Chinese Communist Party authority. As a secondary area of interest, Beau researches China's international relations policies, exploring the challenges China faces in establishing itself as a regional and global power. Beyond his academic experiences, Beau lived in China as a Peace Corps Volunteer, teaching at Leshan Teachers College in Sichuan province. He continues volunteering while at the University of Arizona as part of the Coverdell Peace Corps Fellows program.