The Power of e-bikes and Public Debate in China

If you have been led to believe that the Chinese people do not have a voice in China, think again. It may not be a voice expressing political opinions, but it is a voice.

One example of the power of those voices happened December 2009 and had to do with electric bikes. When new regulations threatened to restrict the use of e-bikes and ban them from public roads, opposition from the e-bike industry and bike riders stopped the regulations in their tracks.

Tim Snaith said, “I’m not surprised that Chinese riders are up in arms. A huge amount of the population rely on electric bikes on a daily basis in a way that UK riders don’t.”  Source: Bike

Adrienne Mong of NBC News said, “The news triggered a heated debate that was played out all over the Chinese-language media and on the Internet. Eventually, the government backed down, and it’s been left up to industry groups to figure out new guidelines.” Source: Gr-r-r-r! Why I hate China’s e-bikes

When we visit China, we mostly walk (long distances), take taxis or use the subways, but I have admired the electric bikes that crowd China’s streets.

However, don’t count on us changing how we get around when in China, since many of the drivers in China drive crazy. The crowded urban streets behave more like an NFL game in the Super Bowl. I’ve often observed that red lights at intersection are ignored and crossing any street and sometimes even using sidewalks is risky and the only thing lower in the food chain than an electric bike are pedestrians risking lives as they cross streets even legally in a crosswalk.

That e-bike debate sounds similar to America where public debates often have an impact on government policy since the majority rules. Well, in theory the majority rules, since in America the majority is often ignored while we constantly hear from loud minorities such as the Tea Party or Occupy Movement, PETA, or the Million Woman March, which has only a few thousand members.

It also doesn’t help that about half of eligible voters in the U.S. seldom or never vote and the U.S. president is not elected by the popular vote but by a few hundred loyal party members (Republican and/or Democratic) in the Electoral College.

However, back in China, more than two years after the e-bike protest, Tea Leaf Nation reported on February 23, 2012 about a weibo Blog that was deleted by Sina Weibo, a popular Chinese microblogging platform, but what was deleted was soon restored thanks to widespread outrage and threats that the majority of Chinese would switch to Twitter and Facebook.

In addition, the Reuters Institute ran a piece about the power of the Chinese netizen and how microblogging is changing Chinese journalism. Zhou Kangliang, a Chinese journalist, concludes that “as Chinese online microblogging services grow and traditional journalism grows with them, it is learning from lessons and experience…”

In fact, The Washington Post reported, “In a country where most media are controlled by the state, information is heavily censored and free-flowing opinions are sharply constricted, Chinese have turned to a new platform to openly exchange unfettered news and views: microblogs, similar to Twitter.”

Xie Gengyun, a professor at Shanghai Jiaotong University, recently completed a report on microblogging and said weibo is the most popular choice for trustworthy information, ahead of newspapers, online forums and blogs.


Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of The Concubine Saga. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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Note: This edited and revised post first appeared on April 29, 2010

6 Responses to The Power of e-bikes and Public Debate in China

  1. merlin says:

    The e-bike I believe is one of the greatest inventions of our time. In the city, it’s an average bike connected with a small electric engine.

    I rode my former boss’s bike when helping her move (for the 3rd time). I discovered riding after 11pm is the greatest experience anyone could have. The cool night air, the streets devoid of the daily chaos, and a handy ipod packed with Ozzy Osbourne as the little electric engine is pushed to it’s limits carrying myself and a few plastic bags of kitchenware. The battery lasted from Shanghai South Train station to Xujiahui, where it eventually slowed and died at the Xujiahui park. What used to take me about 4+ hours to walk, only took about an hour on an e-bike. When I had to switch over to manually pedal, I changed the tune on the ipod over to Linkin Park. Riding past the changing of the guard at the US embassy, just a dark figure carrying plastic bags on a bike. It wouldn’t appear unusual if in Afghanistan.

    The mopeds, which are solely battery operated, I think they reach higher speeds and longer distances on one charge than the converted bicycle.

    It’s too bad that e-bikes are few and far between in the US. Those that are for sale can run at high prices for a quality product. Otherwise, if a person is skillful in bike maintenance, conversion kits are out there which run for $300. An e-bike in China could go for around 600rmb. An electric moped usually ran over 1300rmb (nearly $200 US). It’s funny that the Wal-Mart over there sells those, but our Wal-Mart sell a kid’s manual pedal bike for nearly the same price. I was just reading a blog about finding business opportunities. One option I find repeated globally is the theory of “buy low, sell high”. Apparently, retail outlets in the US not only know this theory, but are extremely skilled in fishing since they pull in a lot of profit. The advent of the e-business is only increasing their wallets. It saves the customer a few cents in gas, but conforms them to a home computer which is no different from the 8 hours in an office cubicle. The retailer saves money in rent, building maintenance, utilities, and employees.

    The Chinese have a voice, although small it is growing and capable of having a reaction from the government. Our voices in the US, I feel are little more than illusions. We have the right to run to the highest building and spew the loudest curses aimed at our politicians, but our voices have little effect. People live in their own little lives, that they are drowned out to the existence around them.

    • In the US, there are so many voices complaining and disagreeing with just about every topic that this babble of criticism blends in with the thousands of advertisements we are bombarded with daily.

      Most US citizens are jaded or pay no attention. For sure, our leaders only pay attention during elections and are told what to say to each group they speak to, which is why anyone that follows a politician around hears them say one thing at one presentation and the opposite at another.

      Romney is a perfect example of that. Now that he is (almost) the presidential candidate of the GOP, many of his former beliefs and policies he had as a governor have turned 180 degrees to attract the votes of all the diverse factions that make up the Republican Party. For example, as a governor he was pro abortion but as a presidential candidate he has backed off of that soapbox and as a governor he supported and passed health legislation for his state very similar to the national health plan that Obama is currently fighting in the Supreme Court to save.

      There is just too much competing for the attention of our senses so we become deaf to everything we don’t want to hear and only hear that which fits our own opinions. Successful politicians hire experts to guide them through this swamp of opinions so they tell people what they want to hear and once in office, the politicians seldom fulfills any of the promises (verbal bribes unfulfilled) he or she handed doubt so easily from stump speak to stump speech.

      • merlin says:

        I agree we are a complaining society. We complain for many things, some things are not even worth the mess. Abortion is the choice of the independent, not the public. Public christmas displays try to cheer people up in a cold season. Those that argue on religious grounds I believe they overreact. If there is a championship game on tv, one house chooses to celebrate with a beer around the tv. The neighbor chooses to grill burgers. Is it right for the beer drinker to fight his neighbor because he’s a vegetarian? Is it right for the burger man to fight his neighbor because he’s a non-alcoholic that wants the best for his kids?

        If a foreigner ever visited the US and questioned the definition of a President, I would tell them the President is like a city mayor except on a larger scale. Once elected, they can do little to hold their promises. Similar to city officials, the house of congress makes the decisions of the nation. The president is nothing more than a representative of the nation that smacks a mallet on the table to keep the process moving.

        Obama’s health plan I believe is a failure. There is little research into it. The plan offers the government to cover health care costs, which are sometimes scams. We want our government to pay for the expensive cost of our meds when we are willing to drive across the border for cheaper meds. It doesnt focus on health, but instead on paying massive bills to powerful pharmaceutical companies.

      • “paying massive bills to powerful pharmaceutical companies.”

        Yes and they do this by taxing us to death!

      • merlin says:

        People ask me why I want to go back to China. I dont have the heart to tell them that people in the US dont use common sense.

        Our doctors prescribe medicine which they are taught will cure a problem. They are not taught to think outside the box. Our modern medicine is made to kill the pain, but not root out the underlying cause of our ills. As such, this produces 2 things. 1) We find many drug abusers with the age old belief if you take more your pain will go away. 2) Our pharmacy companies and doctors become the same as our insurance agent. They only need to actually sell once, and after that they can kick back as the money rolls in for the rest of their clients lifetime.

        Ancient methods such as Tai Chi and Yoga are not well advertised, nor is a healthy diet. Just like voting for a President, people only believe what they see in front of their eyes, not what’s under their nose. As such, the main things advertised are drugs and vitamins. Advertisers even go so far as to make it into an eye catching comedy such as the Enzyte commercials with Bob. The tax dollars spent on the new health plan are paying Bob to get his stick up.

        I believe the tax dollars should be used to change our lifestyles rather than line the pockets of pharmacy companies. E-bikes offered cheap in order to replace cars driving in the local community. Better fuel efficiency for vehicles to drive outside the community. Also better advertising for seats of congress as they are the ones making a difference.

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