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Gendering Mobilities and (In)equalities in Post-socialist China


The aim of this chapter is to scrutinize mobility and gender in post-socialist China. More specifically the focus is on mundane discourses of cars and bikes and how they have come to be intertwined with new ideas of class and gender. The chapter starts with a critical elaboration of dominant methodologies in transport research in the West, which also opens new perspectives in transport analysis in China. While much transport research has been preoccupied with ideas of transport as an engine of economic growth and human behaviour as rational choice, this chapter addresses transport and mobility from cultural analytical perspectives and demonstrates how cultural assumptions about gender, class and mobility privilege and constrain certain groups. By using key notions such as global assemblages and gendered interpellations, it is demonstrated how new discourses of mobility in multiple ways are intertwined with the emerging Chinese middle class and new ideas of masculinity and femininity. Based on materials in Chinese newspapers and fieldwork in Beijing and Shanghai, it is demonstrated that new forms of transport and mobilities have produced hierarchical dynamics of gender and class which might impede both more just and more sustainable modes of transportation and planning.


  • Femininity
  • Masculinity
  • Class
  • Public transport
  • Car culture
  • Post-socialist China

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  1. 1.

    The bike was one of the so-called Big Four commodities, on a par with the sewing machine, the television and the washing machine, which signalled that a Chinese family was ‘modern’.

  2. 2.

    The sporty and mobile women were depicted in propaganda posters and postcards. While there was just over one bike per urban household in 1978, the rate was more than two by 1984 (Rhoads 2012). Since most households tend to first provide bikes and transport tools for men, I assume that women were catching up as bike owners and cyclists at the beginning of the transition period in the 1980s.

  3. 3.

    Green Transportation model split, Beijing, 2015.

  4. 4.

    In the powerful European transport research there also seems to be a growing recognition that existing transport models are preventing more innovative and inclusive processes (Horizon 2020/AG coping paper 2014, Smart mobilities, Bruxelles 2016).

  5. 5.

    Since 2008, the system has been changed so that drivers may use their car every business day except one, as two licence-plate final digits are restricted per day. At weekends, no restrictions apply (Schwankert 2014; Road space rationing in Beijing n.d.).

  6. 6.

    Huybers-Withers, ‘Mountain Biking is for Men’, 1208.

  7. 7.

    A sensitive but gender-blind claim is pursued by Tim Dant (2004), who posits the assemblage ‘driver-car’ both as a (genderless) product of human design, manufacture and choice and as an enabler of social action that has become routine and habitual and which affects many aspects of life in late modern society.

  8. 8.

    Interpellation is a contested but often-used concept in gender studies, notably in the post-structuralist versions. Performativity is a related concept suggesting that processes of interpellation are enacted according to gendered scripts and gendered economies of pleasure expressed in the concept of a heteronormative gender matrix, cf. Butler (1999).

  9. 9.

    The data material has been provided by thematic screenings of online newspaper archives: China Daily 1995 ff., and Shanghai Daily 2005 ff., plus paper editions of China Daily 1985 ff. and Renmin Daily’s online archive in Chinese from 2009–2016.

  10. 10.

    In China Daily, up until 2013 the number of articles dealing with bikes came to just over 300, while car-related articles came to nearly 20,000. In Shanghai Daily , bike-related articles totalled a mere 128 as against thousands of articles on cars, often marketing specialized car brands. Renmin Daily in Chinese represents the same overall pattern, with a total of 565 articles on bikes, while articles on cars numbered nearly 9000.

  11. 11.

    Core articles consist of a variety of lengthy feature articles, reports on leisure and club life, news articles on the consequences of change in transport policy and occasionally the opinions of journalists and commentators. Many articles in the English-language press contain a broad range of facts supplemented by interviews with experts and residents, while Renmin Daily in the Chinese language is dominated by politicians and experts.

  12. 12.

    The fieldwork consisted of interviews with bike dealers and customers and was conducted in May–June 2014. I visited ten bike stores, five in Beijing and five in Shanghai. All the stores were located in what have become specific bike store areas, such as in and around Jiao Daskou East Street, Beijing, and bike shops close to Tsinghua University. The Shanghai bike shops were located in and around Jian Guo Road in the French Concession area.

  13. 13.

    This survey was conducted to fill the gap of gender-sensitive statistical data in present-day China. Detailed consecutive surveys such as Chinese Women’s Social Status (1990–2000, 2010) do not include transport. Similarly, general analyses, such as household analyses, do not specify transport and daily mobility in the household or related to gender.

  14. 14.

    Most of Louie’s points here are referred from Hird (2011).

  15. 15.

    19 June 2013 in China Daily, Li Fangfan is here quoted from People’s Daily online 10 June 2013.

  16. 16.

    China Daily 19 June 2013.

  17. 17.

    Shanghai and Beijing came out at the bottom among 35 surveyed cities regarding middle-class happiness. Study: middle-class families in Beijing and Shanghai are in pseudo-happiness. In Renmin Daily online, 17 March 2010. The survey, which covered more than 70,000 residents between the ages of 20 and 40 in ten cities nationwide, implied that people aged between 30 and 35 located in smaller cities were the happiest. Note that daily commuting in heavy traffic was mentioned as one major reason for the discontent, along with competition at work, and the high cost of children’s education.

  18. 18.

    For example, Line 4 in 2013 was reported to carry one million passengers per day, and the transfer stations of lines 1 and 2—the oldest in the network—were reported as being under ‘unbearable stress’ and as a ‘latent danger’ (China Daily, 16 September 2013 & 16 June 2009).

  19. 19.

    The rising prices of the Beijing Subway were commented upon online in a survey issued by The Beijing Commission of Development and Reform and Renmin Daily, which spurred 40,222 comments made by 24,079 persons. Many of these addressed far more than just the increase in ticket prices!

  20. 20.

    List from Hanson (2010).


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Christensen, H.R. (2019). Gendering Mobilities and (In)equalities in Post-socialist China. In: Scholten, C., Joelsson, T. (eds) Integrating Gender into Transport Planning. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.

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