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Right of way
Right of way
Zhang Hong

-Editorial-

BEIJING - The ambulance was stuck behind a sea of cars. Even though its blue lights were flashing and its siren was blaring, no cars gave way. Instead they squeezed by skillfully, one after the other.

The video, which captures perfectly how difficult it is for an ambulance to drive through the streets of a Chinese city, has been forwarded millions of times in the last few days. It went viral at the same time that a news item was making the front pages: an ambulance transporting a patient had taken 40 minutes to drive three kilometers to a Beijing hospital, and the patient had died along the way.

Ambulances trapped in traffic jams on the way to the hospital are a common occurrence in China, whether it is in Beijing or a remote town.

Every time such an incident makes the news, people think about what would happen if they or a family member were trapped in traffic while fighting for their life.

Such incidents can actually lead some rich people to think about emigrating overseas. Those who can’t afford to leave, can only whine on the Internet.

An ambulance has priority, and legal right of way. This is of course expressly written in the law. The problem is just that such laws are not seriously enforced.

At the same time, the fundamental reason why people often do not give way to ambulances is because much too often ambulance drivers abuse their right of way. Whether or not they are really on emergency duty or just going home, they turn on the flashing lights and siren.

And then, there are also the local officials or military vehicles that avoid traffic jams by driving on the special lanes that are reserved for emergencies.

The sad truth is that blocked ambulances are one out of many similar embarrassments that are common in China. On public transport the special seats reserved for the elderly and are always occupied by others. Jumping the queue to board a plane or in a hospital is a normal thing. Even at red lights, people cross the road “Chinese-style” – that is to say whenever they want, however they want. As long as enough pedestrians are gathered together, they force their way through the flow of cars regardless of whether it’s a green or red light. The list goes on, and we are all so accustomed to this phenomenon in our daily lives.

Rules are made to be broken

Whereas ambulances and fire engines can decide life or death situations, other behaviors are at most regarded as rude and ignored.

The regulations and laws are trampled; and those who abide by the rules are ridiculed by others. The logic is that since everybody breaks the law, the one who follows the rules is a fool. And since almost no one follows the rules, and they are hardly ever implemented, who can enforce them? In the end, if nobody abides by the law, then how can one expect to be protected by it?

Since China’s reform and opening-up, the country’s development history over the past three decades can be more or less regarded as a process in which the old rules are systematically broken in order to establish new rules. This mode of development has made people accustomed to worshipping those who have the courage to challenge the old order. As the saying goes: “Rules are made to be broken.” If you want success, you have to disregard the rules.

Whereas the privileged and powerful are not bound by rules, the rich also try to bypass the law.

All in all, the problem is not that China doesn’t have enough laws and regulations but that the existing ones are not enforced. The only way to make people abide by the rules is to have the most powerful leading by example. If the people at the top started following the rules and stopped abusing their powers, people would be truly equal before the law.

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