The Basics Of Driving In China: A Diagram [UPDATE]

I first encountered the following diagram — origins unknown* — two or three years ago, but considering it was revived as recently as a month ago — I noticed a bunch of friends passing it around on Facebook — it’s possible it’s been around even longer. And why not? Everything depicted is true, more or less: there is nothing more crucial to master on the roads here than the left turn, especially if there’s a traffic jam. Keep turning left. Ignore that voice in your head telling you to commit ax murder on the driver leaning on his horn. Just keep turning toward the magic.

If you’re the person responsible for creating the below, please step forward to claim your prize.

*UPDATE, 5/22, 10:48 pm: Origins are now known! The diagram comes from Henry Breimhurst, first posted on his blog So I’m Going To China on June 6, 2007. Thanks to commenter Arnold for pointing me to it.

The basics of Driving in China…

Here is the explanation of a 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!


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 large assumption.)


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.


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


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].


[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 dumptruck carrying what appear to be 40 of the world’s oldest propane tanks, sees this and makes a move.


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…


…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.


[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.


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:

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:

And we’re ready to start over…

    24 Responses to “The Basics Of Driving In China: A Diagram [UPDATE]”

    1. Marc

      A friend linked me over to this about a year and a half ago and I think its origins lie in the Something Awful forums.

    2. Henry Breimhurst

      For the record, this intersection and the next one south are the ones that inspired the post. I lived in the Star City Apartments on the southeast corner of this intersection. And every vehicle and maneuver listed I actually saw (though maybe not all at once.),+beijing&hl=en&ved=0CA0Q-gswAA&sa=X&ei=BLy7T7mfB5G68gamrOHCBg

      Thanks for the repost and credit, Anthony! I miss Beijing!

    3. Ann

      We first saw this drawing in 2005 or 2006. It was forwarded to us by our friend Abraham, who is always ahead of the curve. I don’t know where he got it. The whole “plus ca change” about this, of course, is substituting BMWs, Ferraris, and Benz SUVs–all without number plates–for the little red taxis, pan-de-molde vans, three-wheeled pickups, and stylin’ black Hyundai 4-doors that used to inhabit this drawing.

    4. Arie Boeve

      It is still an actual drawing showing what we experience every day here in Beijing.
      The Chinese really follow the rule: Once you pass your driving license exam the first thing you have to do is forget everything you learned!


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