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Open Access Publications from the University of California

踏车而飞:自行车与中国骑车人(1868-1949 年)[A History of the Bicycle and Chinese Cyclists, 1868-1949]


Of the many “exotic” commodities from the West that have changed the lifestyle of the Chinese people over the course of the past two centuries, the bicycle stands out as a prominent example. It has so thoroughly transformed the Chinese mode of transportation that China in the late twentieth century was known as “the kingdom of bicycles.” This essay examines the history of that transformation. The first recorded importation of bicycles to Shanghai took place in 1868. Initially rejected by prospective customers for their incompatibility with Chinese cultural and social conventions, bicycles eventually gained visibility on the streets of many cities and suburbs. The bicycle meant many different things to different sectors of the population, and the social meaning of the bike also changed over time. The first section of this article offers an overview of modern Chinese cyclists. The author argues that early adopters were Manchu aristocrats and wealthy individuals who sported their bicycles on bumpy roads for the sheer enjoyment of the bike’s exotic quality. The second section of the article examines the story of Pu Yi, the last Qing ruler, and bikers in the Forbidden City. The third section examines women bike riders in China. The author presents evidence to show that cycling carried no liberating connotations for modern Chinese women. By the 1930s, bicycles had lost their exotic quality. They also came to be associated with the comings and goings of urban working people, when cars became the vehicles of the social and economic elite. The outbreak of the Sino-Japanese War (1937-45) created a petroleum shortage that grounded all private cars. Bicycles then emerged as the common mode of transportation for the rich as well as the poor, men as well as women. It was the war that laid the foundation for China’s modern transformation into a nation of bicycles. Note: Article is in Chinese.

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