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America or China: Which Country Is the True "Bike Kingdom"?

September 11, 2013

In the movie Beijing Bicycle (十七岁的单车) viewers will learn, among other things, the importance of having a bike in Chinese cities. But in a country changing so quickly, is this still the case? And what about in the US?

Typical bicycle parking lot in China. (image source:

Anyone who has traveled to China can talk to you about that country’s bike culture.  Some have even deemed China “The Bike Kingdom.”  Almost everyone has a bike, and they use them to get everywhere. While you might see one or two bike racks near a park in a given American city, many parks and schools in China are adorned with rows upon rows of bikes hooked to racks. Foreign students studying abroad will almost always find an informational page in their student handbook on where they themselves can purchase a used bike for their stay. Yet, now that the economy has been successful, more and more citizens can afford to buy cars. Streets that used to be lined with bicycles now need to make room for shiny new cars. Places that people seldom traveled through are now plagued with traffic problems.  Of course, bicycles (and plenty of mopeds too) are still seen on every corner, but it’s interesting, still, to note the increase in cars across China.

In the US, however, a different trend is starting. Most American children learn how to ride a bicycle. However, they mostly learn how to ride as a recreational activity, not as a mode of transportation. Children ride bikes in their driveways or in residential neighborhoods but typically not as a means to get to the store, to school or to a friend's house. If you want to get somewhere, you get in the family car or hop on public transportation. However, across cities in the US, transportation is changing. Cities are trying to get their population to be more fit, to make their environment better, and to create more fun by adding bike rental spots in popular locations. One may even speculate that the rising cost of gasoline in some cities is causing commuters to consider cheaper forms of transportation, like biking.  Because of all this, you’ll notice that three lane streets have turned into four – three for cars and a new lane for bikers. This is not to say that cars are a thing of the past, but many are noticing that riding a bike is a healthy, frugal, and environmentally friendly alternative.

Bike rentals in Boston, MA (image source:

Whichever mode of transportation you prefer, it will be helpful to hone some bargaining skills to purchase that bike or car.  Learn pertinent vocabulary like讲价 (jiǎngjià – to bargain) and 品质 (pǐnzhì – quality) in Chapter 2 of Taiwan Today. After doing so, you’ll certainly be prepared to shop for whatever you decide to buy while studying or traveling in Asia!

Taiwan Today goes beyond just the study of a language toward an understanding of a language and its people.