Education And Debate

Letter from Chengdu: China takes to the roads

BMJ 1995; 310 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.310.6990.1311 (Published 20 May 1995) Cite this as: BMJ 1995;310:1311
  1. Ian Roberts, overseas fellow, Health Research Council of New Zealanda
  1. a Department of Community Paediatric Research, Montreal Children's Hospital, 2300 Tupper St, Montreal, Quebec H3H 1P3, Canada

    China is undergoing rapid motorisation—motor vehicle registrations are growing at a rate of 10%-20% a year. Road trauma is already a major public health problem, and road deaths, officially estimated to be around 50000 a year, will almost certainly rise with increasing motorisation. China, with its millions of bicycles, currently has one of the most environmentally friendly transportation systems on the planet. However, as the trend towards car travel continues, the problems of congestion and environmental pollution so evident in the West will also become critical public health issues in China.

    The gargantuan Chinese state was set moving in a new ideological direction by Deng Xiaoping at the Third Plenum of the Eleventh Party Congress in 1978. The economic reforms instituted to encourage private enterprise and promote sustained economic growth were a great success. Since the early 1980s, the Chinese economy has continued to gather momentum. Between 1980 and 1991, the gross national product per capita increased at a rate of 7.8% a year. Industry, fuelled by an exports boom, provided the thrust for economic growth. The immense internal market also contributed, with consumer products such as refrigerators, washing machines, and televisions becoming more widely available to the Chinese public.

    The past decade has also witnessed a dramatic increase in motorisation (fig 1). Although by Western standards the levels of car ownership remain low, there can be no mistaking the trends. And the increase is likely to continue. A recent World Bank report on transport development in the Guangdon province of southern China, a province that contains three of China's four special economic zones, warned that shortages of transport threaten to stifle the region's burgeoning economy.2 The report called for increased investment in road transport, observing that the fastest growing segments of the economy, light manufacturing and agricultural produce, …

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