Friday, April 27, 2012

Mortal Coils: The Risks of China's Collapsing Sidewalks

Previously I shared a video of girl in Xi'an, Shaanxi province who fell into a hole created by a collapsed sidewalk. I explained why I thought this and other individual incidents were useful in considering why people do or do not help accident victims in China. However, I did not make any broad claims based solely on these incidents.

Anthony Tao on Beijing Cream also referenced the sidewalk accident in Xi'an. After mentioning a more tragic case of a sidewalk collapsing in Beijing, Tao expressed his interpretation of the events:
Now we have confirmation that sidewalks are unsafe. What next, falling anvils? How next will death conspire to end our mortal coils by the most indecorous devices?
If Tao had claimed "sidewalks can be unsafe" I would not argue, although I would question its value. Just about anything can be unsafe. However, Tao makes a stronger claim of which I see two possible interpretations.

One, Tao may be claiming that two people experiencing a collapsed sidewalk out of more than 1.3 billion indicates a great risk. If those are the odds of being a victim of such an accident I will take them. They are far better than what I accept when riding in cars or engaging in a variety of other activities that are no less important than walking on sidewalks.

Two, Tao may be claiming there is a more widespread problem. Of course, this could be true, and it may be worthwhile for people to explore the issue. But at the moment, where is the evidence to say "we have confirmation that sidewalks are unsafe"? On their own these two experiences are woefully little evidence to make such a claim.

In a country the size of China a variety of eye-catching incidents are sure to occur--something to keep in mind when reading "amazing" stories from this region. Such stories can sometimes be relevant to larger scale issues and serve as meaningful examples. But like informally collected online comments, care needs to be taken in applying them to broader issues.

So, I am far from convinced that the label "unsafe" is deserved for sidewalks in China--at least in this regard. At the moment I am not particularly worried people will one day ponder how I could "have shuffled off this mortal coil" due to a collapsed sidewalk. Falling anvils are another story for me, though. Someday I will share an experience I had in Hong Kong with a heavy object which fell from above me. Indeed, it could have been a most indecorous manner to cease "to be".


  1. it's so cool and nice to see that you show all these "real china" experiences. I am a chinese living in Canada, and just hope that more people can see as much as you do. Thanks for sharing, and it has been quite enjoyable reading your blog!

    1. Miki, always interesting to hear from Chinese who are now abroad and looking back. Thanks!

  2. I think there's a third interpretation you may have missed: that I was trying to turn a quip out of two surreal, tragicomic yet all too real events. If I wanted to paint with broad strokes, I probably wouldn't have referenced Acme anvils.

    Nice blog, btw. Glad I found this.

    1. Thanks for the compliment and especially for your reply! There is indeed a third interpretation. See my fuller comments here: The Anvils are from Acme.