are usually only chided with a sharp whistle, and the last wave of cars barrelling through a red light rarely receives more than a stern glance. Guangzhou, like many Chinese cities, is schizophrenic in its views on the proper place of bicycles on 21st century urban roads. Bikes are banned on many downtown streets as a hindrance to the darling of modern transport, the private car; at the same time, there is much official puffing about the value of bicycle travel as a potential antidote to crushing urban gridlock. The traffic cops have honed a balanced and thoughtful response to this apparent contradiction: as long as the illegal bicyclist wheels a tactful 2-3 meters beyond the borders of the policeman’s crosswalk kingdom, s/he can mount up and cycle away unmolested.
More inscrutable and ubiquitous are the new arbiters of the Chinese street, the increasingly numerous traffic cameras, of which 2.75 million have been installed in recent years, one million in Guangdong province alone. I pass them on nearly every corner. As in the United States, they survey the street for infractions both traffic-related and otherwise. In China, though, they are joined by cameras in hotels, guesthouses, hospitals, buses, libraries, museum, schools, internet cafes, galleries and newsstands. As the technology for monitoring public places grows increasingly seamless and the islands of unsupervised space melt away, one wonders about the impact on history’s most closely-watched generation. Products of the one-child policy, China’s only children are observed anxiously at home, proctored closely in schools and kept secure by a technology which insures they are playing safely, whether on the internet, bus or playground.
China And The Car
To the urban bicyclist, one aspect of the modern Chinese traffic landscape predominates: cars. Sitting at the crosswalk waiting for my turn, I carry out an informal survey of the endless flow of automotive traffic: about one car in three is an enormous American-style SUV. I don’t see