|Illustration: Lu Ting/GT|
Road crossing once again made the headlines of Chinese-language media after Shanghai traffic police were photographed controlling traffic with a controversial new method during the recent Golden Week holiday.
At a busy crossroad on Nanjing Road East, about 20 traffic cops formed a human wall to prevent pedestrians from jaywalking, and when the green man appeared, they changed formation into two rows guarding people crossing the street. When interviewed, a policeman said that they invented this formation and named it a human "switch" because the formation works like a switch to control the pedestrians and cars.
Many netizens, upon seeing the news, reacted furiously, calling the method the most primitive and inefficient means of controlling traffic and lamenting that it demonstrated how poor Chinese tourists' behavior is. Some even compared the pedestrians to sheep and the policemen to shepherds.
I don't think the tourists deserve such harsh criticism, however. We should bear in mind the staggering number of out-of-towners that visit Shanghai during the national holidays. Statistics show that during the first four days of the Golden Week, over 4 million visitors streamed into Shanghai. Anyone who walked along Nanjing Road East on one of those days will not be able to forget the enormity of the crowd. The pedestrian shopping street was so inundated with people that they could only move forward inch by inch, and any red light stopping the flow would result in thousands of people bumping, squeezing and even possibly hurting each other.
It is therefore a bit too harsh to demand that Chinese people, or any one for that matter, strictly adhere to traffic rules given the circumstances, where the crowds were comparable to a carnival or a large protest. The local police demonstrated its proactiveness in deploying enough personnel and using new methods to ensure safety.
According to a rough estimate, the Shanghai Armed Police Force dispatched over 3,000 cops every day of the national holidays to control the traffic on Nanjing Road, Huaihai Road and the Bund. In Huangpu district alone, the local police deployed over 4,000 personnel to manage the holiday influx.
Of course, this doesn't mean that Chinese people should be given a free pass to break traffic rules. But I have always believed that whether or not people are willing to follow rules is a reflection of a system. Under a good system, people will willingly abide by the rules. Under a bad system, they feel compelled to violate the rules. The design of China's national holidays, which sees the world's biggest population take a vacation at the same time, belongs to the latter.