It sounds like you've had a less than lofty experience
on one of the Middle Kingdom's most popular means of
transport - the Flying Pigeon bicycle (Fei Ge). A common
sight across China, these squeaky two-wheelers can be
seen moving in inexorable streams along city streets
and country backroads. Although shinier mountain bikes
(shandiche) are starting to gain popularity, most cyclists
still ride the black steel standbys with an age-old
haplessness and general disregard for regulations. You're
certainly not the first to wonder why such a large percentage
of the world's population would insist on risking life
and limb on a daily basis to travel in such a manner
through city traffic.
To understand this, you must realize
that Chinese traffic is a perfect illustration of the
proverb "the soft and gentle will defeat the hard and
obstinate," (yi rou ke gang). Bicycles have ruled the
road since Liberation in China and they are certainly
not about to give up without a fight. Indeed, one of
Deng Xiaoping's campaign promises when he rose to power
in the late 1970s was "A Flying Pigeon in every household."
At the forefront of the whole bicycle
phenomenon in the PRC is the trusty Flying Pigeon. Of
all the bicycle logos in China today, the silhouette
of a pigeon resting on the two letters FP is probably
the best-known. Other brands take a close second, such
as the Phoenix (Fenghuang), Forever (Yongjiu), and Giant.
Flying Pigeons are hatched at the Tianjin Bicycle Company,
which was originally an artillery factory created by
Japanese occupying forces in 1936. After the Communists
came to power in 1949, the bicycle industry was revived.
In the early 1950s, Chairman Mao's heir apparent Liu
Shaoqi paid a visit to the factory and commanded that
it become the first bicycle manufacturer in New China.
The Flying Pigeon was the brainchild
of a worker named Huo Baoji who presented his carefully
crafted bike on July 5, 1950. The name Feige (literally
'flying dove') was originally chosen as an expression
for peace amidst the raging war in Korea. However, the
Chinese word gezi can be translated as either dove or
pigeon. For some inexplicable reason the latter was
chosen. Why this scruffy, vermin-with-wings was chosen
to represent the nation's most prominent bicycle trademark
may forever remain a mystery. It could be that the pigeon
was regarded as a working-class fowl. A more likely
scenario, however, is that an error in translation occurred.
Thus Huo Baoji's vision of the Chinese nation gliding
around the country on gleaming 'Flying Dove' bicycles
never came to pass.
Despite its somewhat comical name,
the arrival of the Feige was the turning point for the
bicycle industry. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s the
logo became synonymous with almost all bicycles in the
country. Now, a half century later, there are around
200 different models, ranging from ladies' 'princess'
bikes to men's 'king' mountain bikes. They can be found
in every bicycle shop throughout Beijing. For foreigners,
in case you are saddened by the thought of having to
leave your Pigeon-flying days behind once you return
to your native land, your ever-loving Ayi is pleased
to inform you that Flying Pigeon bicycles are now available
abroad as well. The only difference, besides prices,
is that you'll be less likely to get run over by a smog-spewing,
articulated, packed-like-sardines public bus while out