The Illustrated Rules of the Road When Driving in China

This incredibly entertaining and accurate write-up was passed along to me by a friend also living in China. Unfortunately, we haven’t yet identified the original author, but I’ll be sure to provide an update when we do. In the meantime, please enjoy this walkthrough of a typical crossing at an intersection in China. And if you have any of your own experiences where you can relate to this, please share in the comments below!

UPDATE: Original author found. Took less than 12 hours to find the original, five year old post that this originated from. Incredible what the internet can uncover. I think the best part is is that despite how quickly China has been developing, this pre-olympic illustration still rings true for a lot of us. Enjoy the post, originally from So I’m Going to China by Henry B.

The Basics of Driving in China: A Walkthrough

The following is a walkthrough of a seemingly simple concept: the left turn.

For the ones who live in China: an overview of what we live everyday.
For the ones who are out of China: happy memories of the traffic here!


Chinese intersection diagram

Just your average, every day traffic crossing.

We see here a typical intersection. The light has just turned green for the east-west streets, and car [A], an enormous black Audi with pitch black windows, wants to make a left turn into the southbound lanes. Pedestrians wait on each corner. (For purposes of this demonstration, we’ll assume no one is running the north-south red light, and no one is jaywalking – a rather broad assumption.)

Step 2:

Diagram of a left turn in China

Making a move to make that left turn

To make a left turn, it is VITAL that [A] cut off all eastbound traffic as soon as possible. The first few brave or foolish legitimate pedestrians step off the curb; this is of no concern. [A] makes his move.


Getting caught making the left turn

Ladies and gentlemen, we have a stand off!

NO! Too slow! [A] has managed to partially block [B], a brand new purple and yellow Hyundai taxi, but [A] has only achieved what Beijing drivers would consider a ‘weak’ blocking position.


You're going to need a better position than that!

You're going to need a better position than that!

In this detail, we can see why: [A] has only inserted his left bumper and cannot move forward without contact. [B], on the other hand, is in the dominant position – by putting his wheel hard to the right and flooring it, he can fully block [A].


Low density "dead space" leaves room for the tricycle dump truck

Low density "dead space" leaves room for the tricycle dump truck

[B] proceeds to swerve right, cutting off [C], a tiny red Peugeot with a gold plastic dragon hood ornament, spoiler and assorted knobs glued on. Since [B] is just accelerating, and [C] is now decelerating, this has created a low-density ‘dead space’ in the intersection. [D], a strange blue tricycle dump truck carrying what appears to be 40 of the world’s oldest propane tanks, sees this and makes a move.


Tricycle dump truck denied!

Tricycle dump truck DENIED!

DENIED! [E], an old red taxi with its name sloppily stenciled in white on its doors, has boldly cut across two lanes of traffic, behind [D], and then swerved right, driving [D] into an extremely weak position behind [A]. Meanwhile, [B] and [C] are still fighting for position, with [C] muscling his way into the crosswalk. The only thing between [E] and a successful left turn is a few lawful pedestrians. [E] steps on the gas…


The slow biking elderly man making his move

The slow biking elderly man making his move

…and is cut off by [F], an elderly man pedaling his tricycle verrrryyy slooooowwwly with a 15-foot-diameter sphere of empty plastic cooking oil bottles bungee-corded haphazardly to the cargo area. He was part of the lawful pedestrians, but seeing the stalled traffic, decided to cut diagonally across the intersection. Not only has [F] blocked [E], he is headed straight at [B], giving [C] the edge he needs.


Bikes, trikes, and pedestrians, sensing weakness make a break for it against the light

Bikes, trikes, and pedestrians, sensing weakness make a break for it against the light

[B] concedes to [C], who drives in the crosswalk behind [F] and blocks [E]. Meanwhile, [G], a herd of about 20 bicycles, mopeds, pedestrians and wheelbarrows, sensing weakness in the eastbound lane and seeing that much of the westbound traffic is blocked behind [D], breaks north against the light. [F] pedals doggedly onward at about 2 miles per hour, his face like chiseled marble.


There could be some space breaking free

(A) could have his chance!

Now things get interesting. [C] has broken free and, as the first vehicle to get where he was going, wins. [E] makes a move to block [B] but, like [A] at the start of the left turn, only gains a ‘weak’ block. [A] has cleverly let [F] pass and guns into a crowd of [G], which both moves [A] forward and drives some [G] stragglers into the path of [D], clearing [A]’s flanks. Little now stands between [A] and a strong second-place finish.

STEP 10:

And then comes along the double length bus with accordion connector

And then the double length bus with accordion connector comes along...

Except for public bus [H], one of those double buses with the accordion-thing connector. [H] has been screaming unnoticed along the eastbound sidewalk and now careens dangerously into a U-turn. This doesn’t appear to concern the 112 people packed inside and pressed against the windows (although that could be due to a lack of oxygen.) [H] completely blocks both [A] and [D]. On the other side of the intersection, [B] has swerved into the lawful pedestrians (who aren’t important enough to warrant a letter) and has gained position on [E]. [E] has forgotten the face of his father: He was so focused on his battle with [B] that he lost sight of the ultimate goal and is now hopelessly out of position. This clears the path for dark horse [I], a blue Buick Lacrosse, to cut all the way across behind [H] and become the second vehicle to get where he was going (and the first to complete a left turn), since [F] has changed his mind again and is now gradually drifting north into the southbound lanes. But everyone better hurry, because the light is about to change…



STEP 12:

Let the cycle begin again

Let the cycle begin again

And we’re ready to start over…

Liked this post? Sign up below to receive more motorcycle and other updates from the road and around the world!

Related Articles