Coping with the crowds in China - Here's how!

China's an overpopulated place - 1.4 billion people as of late 2010 - which leaves not a lot of elbow room.

Still the Chinese seem to have found a way, and you'll cop more than one or two elbows in any crowd trying to get somewhere.

Actually "queue" is not a word that many seem to have heard in China, it really is every man for himself, but amid the chaos there are a few rules for effective 'elbowing'.

Dealing with crowds in China

Elbowing: part of Chinese history

There‘s a historical bent to the tendency to elbow your way through a crowd, as one American living in Shanghai explains.

"Traveling here requires patience, because it is so overcrowded! Also, many people here are from another era, when they didn't have enough food and were suffering. They still carry that mentality. They feel like they must rush, push, eat fast, or they won't get where they need to go, or they won't get the food."

While the Chinese may find it culturally acceptable to push and shove, you might react a little harshly.

The shoving is usually not overly violent, just enough to move you out of the way. Places notorious for this behavior include train, bus and metro stations, at both the ticket counter and the stop.

Stay calm

Being in such an aggressive, tight crowd can produce quick panic and claustrophobia in certain individuals, so remove yourself from the chaos by leaning against a wall or ducking into an open alleyway.

Or, if you want to get "China fierce," act like a local and stand your ground by refusing to let anyone past you in the queue or shoving back those that shove you.

"Sometimes I get a little fierce with people, but mostly, I walk around with the attitude, ‘It‘s crowded and I need to be patient,‘" the American expat in Shanghai explains.

Forget about personal space

The cultural tendency also spreads to places like restaurants, where an empty seat at your table will attract a local, even if you make it clear you just want to sit with your group.

If there‘s an available nook or cranny, people in China will attempt to squeeze into it.

This diluted concept of personal space can also take on a tender aspect, as it‘s quite common to see people, even those of the same sex, holding hands or hooking arms while walking down the street.

It is also normal for the Chinese to just stare at you. It‘s not out of rudeness as much as curiosity, especially if you are very blonde, something they don‘t often see.

Tourist crowds in China

Time off work is scarce in China, so many people travel during the few holidays the calendar allots, such as Chinese New Year.

This means high-tourist areas get even more packed during holiday times. One expat living in Shanghai described an early October visit during National Holiday to Chengdu, which drew around 1.6 billion people.

It will be impossible to avoid the mad rush in many places, but at spots like the Great Wall, you can get away from the heaps of travelers by going further up the landmark, where there tends to be fewer people. One person who writes a guide to China argues that if you travel during off-peak times and go out when there‘s fewer people (late afternoon for lunch instead of 1 on the dot, when everyone and their mother will be trying to get a bite to eat), you‘ll be fine.

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  • Deb said

    That's probably why the perspectives on personal space are a bit different in China.

    I keep hearing about how China is going to move millions and millions of rural people into urban areas within a decade or so. It seems as though the Chinese are doing a lot of real estate development. I have also heard of Chinese “ghost cities” where all these developments go up but have remained largely vacant.

  • Bruce said

    The hardest part for me on my first trip to China in 1998 was the fact that I was almost never alone; perhaps it was curiosity, but the few times I'd find myself with a little space, that space rapidly disappeared as locals crowded around. My favorite Chinese queuing experience happened in India when I was boarding a flight to Bangkok which continued on to Beijing. The Chinese started shoving as they were about to allow us to board the plane and one woman actually tried to crawl through my legs to board quicker.

  • Sophia said

    My take on this overcrowded,, beware of fakes even the wall is why go?... actually I wouldn't visit China even if paid to (ok maybe a few million) Everyone I've spoken with who went there had horrible stories that I kept asking Why did you even want to go there if have to endure such crap? So, as said visiting China means having to watch out for scams ect. more than having a pleasant holiday_not for me !!!

  • rick baldwin said

    I was there last year & had a ball,only did Beijing & the Wall.
    But the people at the Happy Dragon were fun,our morning market just outside,
    the best place for breakfast in the country.Got some laughs at Mao's tomb & had
    Peking Duck every other day.The only conmen were the tuk tukers,but my few Chinese
    words kept them fairly honest with me & my friends.

  • Conrad said

    I personally know Chinese people and these facts are so true! If it weren’t for the one-child policy, Chinese people would already be overcrowded into oblivion by overbreeding. But long before that, they would have starved to death as it takes more land per capita to farm than to house. Even before that happens, they would suffocate as the country would mostly be deforested as farmers clear more land for farming. EVERYONE MUST remember that Earth’s resources are finite, not infinite.

    Not only are they blind to their own problems, but they do not accept it even when presented with strong evidence. So much for “traditional values”. Such IDIOTS! The same also applies to Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Indonesians, and Filipinos.

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