Chapter 5

Building a Harmonious Society

Traffic congestion is a big concern for people living in modern Chinese cities—Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, and a hundred or more others. Road users here commonly choose not to obey traffic laws and traffic-controlling devices, unless under the direct observation of a policeman. By ignoring traffic lights, driving on the wrong side of the road, making unsafe crossings, and so forth, a “butterfly” effect causes not merely traffic congestion but road chaos at peak hours. By breaking traffic laws or ignoring traffic-control devices, some drivers are simply seeking to fulfill their personal desires and needs without regard for society as a whole (that is, just being selfish), while others are keen to show off their “special privilege” to other road users. Whatever their reason, the price is the sacrifice of public safety on the road. The chaotic traffic conditions suggest that China is anything but the harmonious society that red banners everywhere proclaim it to be. Not yet anyway.

Historically, China has never been a society with a strong legal system or highly developed institutional frameworks. Obeying laws and following rules are still alien behavior to many Chinese. Some argue that the Chinese love of shortcuts and gray areas is rooted in traditional Chinese cultural values that have shaped people's cognitive and behavioral patterns. However, selfish behavior on the roads is more likely to be the result of an aggregated pattern of social ...

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