Drive on the Right in China

After visiting Australia and drove on the left for one day, the question attracted my attention that why in Australia, Japan, and England people drive on the left while many countries drive on the right.

China Used Drive on the Left

The first record of traffic rules was found in China in the book “The Book of Rites” 礼记, that requires “”The right side of the road is for men, the left side for women and the center for carriages.” That was in 1100 B.C. [1]

Before 1946, most places in China drive on the left, for example, Shanghai. In certain provinces in north China, people drive on the right. (Maybe at that time, “Drive” may mean drive horse-cart, instead of automobiles)

I checked old pictures of Shanghai, and confirmed that in 1930’s, people really drive on the LEFT!

shanghai-traffic-1930.jpeg

Image in courtesy of anactofbalance

China Changed to Right-Hand-Drive in 1946

In 1946, the Republic of China government announced that all cars in China must use the right lanes from Jan 1, 1946. This maybe the result of closer relationship with American and imported greater American cars than British cars.

So, people start to drive on the right.

There is not right or wrong – it is just part of the history.

In China, Trains Go on the Left

Believe it or not, in China, all trains still go on the left, as the early days when the railway were built in China. I guess the change to railways is much harder than change the car system. Till now, if you travel in China, you still see trains traveling on the left.

BTW, all closed system trains are right-handed, like in Shanghai Metro and Beijing Metro, the train is on the right.

There are a lot of interesting things for us to explore, isn’t it?

P.S. It is also the learning that we should NOT ask questions: “Why people in the other countries drive in the WRONG way?” In this world, there are just different ways, instead of “WRONG ways”.

18 Comments

  1. I am glad that China switched to ‘drive on the right’. do they manufacture any Chinese cars today with steering wheels on the right side of the car?

  2. Very good explore for China driving roles. Someday you or us could make another topic regarding Road History compare of China and World. From pictures you had such wonderful trip in Australia. Any idea for that land in terms of geographic issue?

  3. The reason Shanghai started out driving on the left is that British influence was dorminant. The old picture above was actually taken inside British colonial district (now Wai Tan). I am not sure if that driving habbit could represent China as a whole during that time.

  4. Quote: “Why people in the other countries drive in the WRONG way?”

    ———

    This comes from a joke! The British drive on the “wrong” side of the road because we drive on the “right” side of the road.

    Get it?

    Давид

  5. Shrek7, as far as I know, there is no factory in China manufacturing “right-side steering wheel cars”. I saw some cars running on the road of China with Right-Side Wheels years ago – it was a symbol of pirvated cars – the cars imported into China without paying tax. Of cause it was illegal. Recent years, I don’t see this kind of cars.

    Stephen, what does it mean “Any idea for that land in terms of geographic issue?”. I didn’t get it.

    jqian, exactly. In north China, people drive on the right at the same time. The old pictures tells a lot of stories. For example, the bus is exactly like the current bus in Melbourne.

    Dave G., maybe. I didn’t realize “Right Way” may also mean the “correct way” in jokes. :-)

  6. Jian Shou, “that land in terms of geographic issue” means geographic landmarks. Australia has a very dramatic landscape. Australia is famous for its “outback,” the remote lands of the interior. The desert outback covers most of the interior. It is too hot, dry and barren to support many people. Eastern Australia has large areas of grasslands, used primarily for sheep and cattle ranches. Australia also has some mountainous areas and plateaus scattered throughout the country. The Blue Mountains, on the south-eastern end of Australia, get their name from the blue haze caused by oil droplets given off from the eucalyptus trees.

  7. There may be cars with steering wheels on the right in China (These are known as Right-Hand-Drive or RHD vehicles, as opposed to LHD). All Hong Kong vehicles coming in to Shenzhen would be RHD. Vice versa, mainland vehicles going into Hong Kong would be LHD vehicles driving on the left side.

  8. Michael Kimball

    October 10, 2006 at 6:41 am

    If I’m not mistaken it is the British influence taken from their days as being the dominate force on the high seas and in shipping. Ships pass to the starboard (to the right) and when they started using automobiles it seemed only logical to do as the ships did.

  9. Ida Relsted Kærup

    October 11, 2006 at 12:46 pm

    Hi Jian Shuo Wang,

    We would like to make an interview with you on you as a blogger who spends time helping people by giving information on life in Shanghai. There is supposed to be many bloggers in China these days, but your blog stands out.

    Kind regards,

    Ida at Shanghai Star and China Daily

  10. The 磁悬浮 travels on the left side. :P

    I think people call it the “wrong” side as opposed to the “right” side. English puns are funny.

  11. There is a logical reason for driving on the left side of the road and an illogical reason for driving on the right and this goes back to history. The rule for driving on the left side of the road goes back to the days of horse transport. A person riding a horse wanted to get off onto the pavement(sidewalk in North America). A horseman always gets on and off on the left side of a horse. In line with this coaches also drove on the left and the driver always sat on the right hand side of the coach even in countries that now drive on the right hand side. Laws were passed in Britain sying that cars (like boats and ships) must drive on the left. When later laws were to be passed in France apparently the feeling was that the French would do things their own way and not follow Britain. So if the British were going to drive on the left then the French were going to drive on the right! The rest of Europe and North America followed the French lead. Just as well ships and boat traffic follows the same rules all over the world. This is what I learned in school (in part of the British Empire!) so it may be just a piece of anti-French propoganda – or maybe it is true.

    Great Blog Jian Shuo.

    Regards,

    Masoud Mahmood

  12. You have solved a problem for me. My website has pictures of Shanghai in 1924 in which cars and trolleys and rickshaws are all on the left. I thought maybe the pictures had been reversed. I am delighted to find the people have reversed and my pictures are OK. I can’t imagine the confusion when they changed. Take a look at my website at http://www.bucklinchinaarchive.com. There are lots of good pictures.

  13. Actually, VW in China makes right hand drive Polos for export to Australia, although the number is very small, and could easily have been sourced from South Africa, which is RHD.

    The whole of Britain drives on the left, not just ‘England’.

  14. I thought you should know that the change from driving from the left to the right side of the road in China was done by my father Hsiao Ching-Yun who was the director general of the National Highway Bureau in China during the war and was responsible for civil transportation behind the war front. He is responsible for changing the roads so that we now drive on the right side of the roads in China. He told me that this was done to facilitate the war effort so that Americans would be comfortable in driving in China. He was awarded the Chinese Government and was given the Medal of Freedom by President Truman in 1946 for his contributions and efforts.

  15. Brian Maschhoff

    July 14, 2009 at 1:37 pm

    In his book “The Concrete Dragon”, Thomas Campanella explains the history of this.

    In 1944, US President Roosevelt appointed a new General, Albert Wedemeyer, as commander of the Chinese theater of operations. He was to advise Chiang-Kai-shek on driving the Japanese out of China.

    In brief, lots of men and machinery were being moved south from Sichuan to the Pearl River Delta, about 700 miles. As they brought American-made trucks etc., they were designed to be driven on the right. The soldiers were not used to it, and there were lots of accidents. The first tried to train the American soldiers how to drive on the left, but it didn’t work. So, Wedemeyer convinced Chiang-kai-Shek to change China.

    It was mostly successful, but articles started appearing in the Chinese press criticizing the move. It turned out that the stories were being planted by the British.

    When the Communists took over, driving on the right was still the way to go because that is what the Russians did.

    But after spending some time in Shanghai and other cities, I believe drivers mostly want to drive down the middle.

  16. Christopher Davison UK

    August 16, 2009 at 11:17 pm

    Hi, please look at the reasons for driving on the left and do not reject the idea simply because China has made a mistake in changing over to driving on the right

    Driving on the left is correct for right-handed people the great majority, here is why:

    When changing gear in a UK car with the steering wheel on the right , this is of course correct in the UK etc for driving on the left——–your left hand changes gear and your right hand stays on the steering wheel, (this is safer for right handed people.)

    The reverse is the case in countries where one must drive on the right.– in other words if you live in the USA you hold the steering wheel with your left hand and change gear with your right hand because of course the steering wheel is on the left in the USA——–this is dangerous if you are right handed.

    Bicycles: Bike riders are in real danger in countries where driving on the right is mandatory again assuming you are right handed—-Try mounting a bike in the USA and you will find yourself in the stream of traffic when getting on the bike—- try it yourself———: Mounting a bike in the UK is done from the sidewalk by right handed people who find it easier to put their right leg over the bike. , Much safer and this must have saved many lives.

    Reversing up a steep drive: My drive in the UK is very steep———-when I reverse out I hold the steering wheel with my right hand and look over my left shoulder to the rear window. In a USA car you must hold the steering wheel with your left hand and look over your right shoulder to look out of the rear window.. So you must reverse with your left hand on the steering wheel.. Or stick your head out of the window if you want to use your right hand on the steering wheel. —Dangerous for the 82% right handed majority.

    Right handed people who are also “right eyed” have the traffic coming toward them on their right in left hand driving areas , which is the way “right eyed” people are able to react better. When overtaking on a right hand driving USA road the right eyed/handed driver looks in the mirror with the left eye and also views the oncoming traffic with the left eye. A change of gear is sometimes needed to overtake so he/she is driving left handed while changing gear with the right hand and looking in the mirror and oncoming traffic with the left eye. Of course the gear change should in theory be completed before pulling out but this in practice is not always the case. The prevalence of automatic gear change in the USA may not be just luxury after all but necessity

    Perhaps a billion cyclists in right hand driving areas around the world are all risking their lives mounting their bike in traffic. Also In right hand driving areas a greater number of people reverse with their heads out of the window and hundreds of millions of right handed drivers hold the steering wheel at speed with their left hand. There are over 6 billion people in the world today and billions of people using road transport. Driving on the left is safer and provably safer for right handed drivers; however I concede that because over 60% of the world drives on the right there is no prospect of a global change to driving on the left.

    Mounting a horse, for further illustration of the problems caused by driving on the right just try mounting a horse from the right hand side (If you are right handed)

    There is significant evidence that in the days of the Roman Empire everyone drove on the left. (That’s one in the eye for Hollywood!). This was partly because one mounts a horse from its left (we all do) and it was sensible not to be doing this whilst out ‘in the traffic’.

    Also, carters needed their right arms free to wave swords at would-be attackers. Therefore they sat on the right hand end of the driver’s bench. When carts passed each other the drivers needed to be sure that they actually missed each other so they passed “driver to driver”. I.e. they drove on the left.

    Evidence from Roman gold mines indicates that they drove on the left. The ruts left by the loaded carts leaving the mine are on the left side of the road whilst lighter empty carts entered on their left side.

    Everyone in Europe changed to driving on the right when Napoleon started mucking around because he was LEFT handed and driving on the RIGHT is better for LEFT HANDED people .

    Incidentally, French main line trains pass on the left too. This is because their railways were mainly built by British engineers. I don’t think that they’ve ever forgiven us for this

    Regards Chris London UK

  17. Christopher Davison UK

    August 16, 2009 at 11:22 pm

    Hi again, For further studies on the merits of driving on the left see JJ Leeming’s work. JJ Leeming was a Uk traffic expert,

    Safety factors

    Research in 1969 by J. J. Leeming showed countries driving on the left have a lower collision rate than countries driving on the right. It has been suggested this is partly because humans are more commonly right-eye dominant than left-eye dominant.[18][19][20] In left-hand traffic, the predominantly better-performing right eye is used to monitor oncoming traffic and the driver’s wing mirror. In right-hand traffic, oncoming traffic and the driver’s wing mirror are handled by the predominantly weaker left eye.

    History

    In 1998, archaeologists found a well-preserved track leading to a Roman quarry near Swindon, England. The grooves in the road on the right side were observed to be much deeper than those on the left side, which would make sense given that carts would be driven without any load to the quarry, but would return laden with stone. These grooves suggest that the Romans drove on the left, at least in this particular location.[5]

    In fact, some, for example C. Northcote Parkinson, believed that ancient travellers on horseback generally rode on the left side of the road. As more people are right-handed, a horseman would thus be able to hold the reins with his left hand and keep his right hand free-to offer in friendship to passing riders or to defend himself with a sword, if necessary.[21] It is often suggested this practice was brought about by the use of postilions on coaches; in some countries they sat facing forward, in others back.

    The first legal reference in Britain to an order for traffic to remain on the left was in 1756 with regard to London Bridge. The Highway Act 1773 contained a recommendation that horse traffic should remain on the left and this is enshrined in the Highway Act 1835.[22]

    Regards to all who take a scientific view of this subject, not simply a political view.

    Chris UK

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Driving_on_the_left

  18. China should have stayed driving on the left, right hand driving makes more sense for the 90% of the population that are right handed. Left hand driving is just plain stupid & the banger who came up with the idea should be given a Royal thrashing!

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