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  Beijing Scene

The People's Bicycle
Flying Pigeon

Although shiny mountain bikes are gaining popularity, Flying Pigeons still dominate china's bike lanes with an endearing disregard for rules of the road.

Hey Ayi,
In brave new 21st century China, why does everyone continue to ride rusty old Flying Pigeon bicycles? What makes these vehicles so
special, and why are they named after a dirty gray bird?

Dear Pusher,
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 pedalling.

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