The North Star Project, 2013 Summer Report Number Twenty, Tianjin, China — The Streets of Tianjin

The North Star Project, 2013 Summer Report Number Twenty, Tianjin, China — The Streets of Tianjin

By Erin Monroe, Update 7: The Streets of Tianjin

Walking down the street is the part of my day that lets me know loud and clear that I am in China. By watching the traffic, the cars and bicycles, the people on the sidewalk and the clothing styles, I feel like I get a glimpse into other people’s daily lives.

Oddly enough, Chinese traffic makes sense to me. The cars move fast and don’t strictly follow the rules of the road as they might in America; here the lines on the road are taken as mere suggestions. Drivers don’t think twice about moving into the lane of oncoming traffic to pass a car that’s going a little slower. The honking was definitely something to get used to when I first arrived in China. Sometimes drivers honk because they’re disgruntled or annoyed at other drivers, but sometimes they just honk to let someone know they’re there. While traffic seems hectic and chaotic at times, I have yet to see a car accident.


Cars, taxis, and buses aren’t the only vehicles sharing the street. Bikes are still a common sight in China, and even as more and more people buy cars, I don’t think bikes will fade out as a mode of transportation anytime soon. There are still significantly more bikes on the road in China than anywhere I’ve been in America. Scooters and motorized bikes share the bike lane as well, though I have yet to see a full size motorcycle such as a Harley. Motor bikes are also the main way fast food is delivered (in China, McDonald’s delivers!). People also share bikes here, with the passenger riding on a smaller seat on the back. I’ve seem a mom, dad, and toddler all on one bicycle. There are also other vehicles that I don’t exactly know how to describe— they seem like carts attached to a motor bike carrying a load. I believe these are driven mainly by vendors transporting their merchandise.

Speaking from the point of view of a pedestrian, people-watching is the best part for me. On the side walk, women have incredible style. There’s a huge range of fashion to be seen: while some young women wear professional attire, others wear clothes a little girl might wear. Some are clearly professionals – wearing gorgeous dresses, hats, glamorous nails, sun-blocking umbrellas, and of course, high heels. It’s even more incredible when you consider that many women dress like this every day. I notice a popular style for girls is to wear things that I can only describe as cute or adorable with animated animals and frills on the front. English phrases are a common sight on shirts for both boys and girls. Most of the English phrases make sense, but some are just a little off. For example, my favorite shirt that I’ve seen says “More Respect, Less Attack”. It’s not necessarily incorrect, but it sounds a little strange in English.


One stereotype I know exists in America about Chinese people is that they are very conservative with their affections in public, but I don’t find this to be the case. Sure, I don’t see kissing in public very often, but people hold hands, hug, wrap their arms around each other on the street, on the subway, and in other public places. It’s popular to show your affection for you boyfriend, girlfriend, or friend by wearing matching shirts or outfits. This is especially common among young people.

One thing I don’t quite understand yet is why cars drive on the sidewalk. They feel free to drive on the wide brick sidewalks and park if they need to, or simply to go opposite the main traffic. When cars, bikes, motorbikes, and pedestrians all share the sidewalk, I’m at a loss as to who has the right-of-way. . .

The North Star Project: Collaboration between The Middle Ground Journal Student Interns, The College of St. Scholastica, and North Star Academy 8th Grade Global Studies Classes, 2013-2014 School Year Summer Reports.

Under the leadership of our North Star host teachers and student interns, The North Star Project has flourished for two years. For a brief summary, please see a recent article in the American Historical Association’s Perspectives on History, at:

This summer we will re-tool and re-design the collaborative program, drawing on the experience of our veteran student interns, ideas from our host teachers, and new projects provided by our incoming student interns. This summer The Middle Ground Journal will share brief dispatches from our North Star Project student interns, particularly from those who are currently stationed, or will soon be stationed abroad. As of the time of this report we have confirmed student interns who will be reporting from Mongolia, Southern China, Shanghai, northeastern China, The Netherlands, Tanzania, Ireland, England, Finland, Russia, and Haiti. We also have students developing presentations on theatrical representations of historical trauma, historical memory, the price individuals pay during tragic global conflicts, and different perceptions of current events from around the world. We will post their brief dispatches here throughout the summer, and report on their interactions with the North Star students and teachers throughout the school year.

Hong-Ming Liang, Chief Editor, The Middle Ground Journal, The College of St. Scholastica, Duluth, MN, USA, June, 2013

(c) 2013 The Middle Ground Journal, Number 6, Spring, 2013. See Submission Guidelines page for the journal’s not-for-profit educational open-access policy.


Filed under North Star Student Editors, Professor Hong-Ming Liang

3 responses to “The North Star Project, 2013 Summer Report Number Twenty, Tianjin, China — The Streets of Tianjin

  1. Jonia G.

    Your experience sound exceptionally interesting and intimidating. Imagining the way traffic operates is anxiety inducing; though I am happy you have not witnessed any car accidents despite that. The fashion sounds fairly common from what I have heard through friends, blogs, and foreign televisions – especially ‘couple clothing’. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Natalie A Johnson

    China sounds like it was very interesting. I am hoping to get the chance to travel there someday! I also had heard that they do not show affection in public as often, so this is interesting that you had a different experience. In my history class, we are learning about ancient cultures and dynasties. One of the most interesting things I learned about ancient China was that they had a female emperor (Tignor 337). I wonder how many they have had since then.

  3. Anissa Jones

    Hi Erin!
    I have always wanted to visit China – it sounds like you had a great experience and learned a lot! One thing I have also noticed just from watching various videos of different areas of China is how hectic the streets are. There really is no ‘way of traffic’ as it appears cars go whichever direction they please on either side of the street – I don’t think I could handle driving like that! After reading chapter 9 of Tignors Worlds Together, Worlds Apart, I realized how different things must be today compared to back in 600-1000 CE. When talking about the Tang Empire, Tignor states, “Its more than 100 quarters were separated from each other by interior walls with gates that were closed at night, after which no one was permitted on the streets, which were patrolled by horsemen” (Tignor et al., 2018, p. 335). Definitely sounds much different than the experience you had!

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