Jaywalkers in Shanghai to be punished with shame

In an attempt to put a halt to wandering pedestrians and cyclists, Shanghai police are going to post photos and videos of offenders all over the media–in newspapers, on TV–just to embarrass them. Some lawyers are protesting the system, saying that public humiliation is exaggerated punishment, and possibly defamatory, for such a minor infraction.

Crossing the street in Shanghai is like crossing the street in Manhattan–people wait for an opportunity and just do it, with little regard for what the traffic light says. Which makes me wonder how effective of a punishment this is. If they did it in NYC, people would probably either not give a crap or start posing for the camera. But being outed as a law-breaker is considered shameful–and maybe even a little scary–in China. I suppose police wouldn't be doing this if they didn't think it would work in the first place. Image by d'n'c' via Flickr

Police to shame jaywalkers on TV

( Lisa Katayama is a guest blogger.)


  1. Having lived in Shanghai (and visiting again last year) I really doubt the ability of Shanghai to actually implement this. The local government isn’t going to want (or be able) to pay for the costs of all of this. Meanwhile, Chinese people have a very, shall we say, practical viewpoint about the law and will continue to J walk until it’s obvious there are real consequences.

    My guess? The government knows all this and is bluffing, hoping the fear of such a system alone will reduce J walking.

    On the other hand, crazier things have happened, and maybe they will implement this and excoriate a few losers in the hopes it’ll scare others off the streets.

    But I bet it will have minimal impact.

    The sad thing is that, if they are successful,Shanghai will take a step closer in looking like Beijing, where the sun is always hidden behind thick smog.

  2. I recently moved from New York to Washington, DC, and it always amuses me how well people are trained to wait for the light to tell them to cross.

    Most DC lights have a countdown for pedestrians, and it’s kind of silly to see people sometimes stand there at the crosswalk for 60 seconds or more when there are no cars coming.

  3. I often wait for the light as a pedestrian because there’s traffic coming so the light is the only time that I can go. And that’s in small towns. I would presume in a place like Shanghai that it should be pretty much impossible to cross without playing Frogger with the traffic.

  4. In Britain, and I think generally in Europe ‘jaywalking’ is absolutely the norm. You cross when and where you can, and keep an eye on the traffic if you have any sense! It may have something to do with our irregular street layouts, so there aren’t regularly placed pedestrian crossings, and also our organically grown towns, which were around long before the advent of the car. You should have seen some of the dirty looks my family and I got as we relentlessly jaywalked in California earlier this year. I find it funny that America is the home of the rebels and yet authority and obedience is so utterly pervasive.

  5. I suppose police wouldn’t be doing this if they didn’t think it would work in the first place.

    What makes you think that?

  6. @Jardine:

    Small towns tend to have traffic lights only at the most heavily-used intersections. But New York, for instance, (and, perhaps, Shanghai) has traffic lights at every intersection, no matter how lightly travelled, and they don’t shift to flashing red or yellow during nighttime hours. This trains pedestrians to treat a “Don’t Walk” light as more of a suggestion than a hard and fast rule.

    And of course in some places they ignore lights altogether, which can bring traffic into the realm of art and beauty: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RjrEQaG5jPM

  7. A few places in Britain tried to ban jaywalking in the 1960s, though this was unpopular and was quickly shelved. Apparently jaywalking is a natural right enshrined in the Magna Carta or somesuch.

    Not so in the colonies; I once got fined for crossing a minor street against a red light in Melbourne, Australia.

  8. Where I live (US), people avoid jaywalking not because they’ve been unconsciously “trained” to do something ridiculous, but because police use jaywalking tickets as a revenue source (similar to the traffic camera situation). It’s a several hundred dollar fine. Kind of like a tax on being in a hurry.

  9. I spent a number of years in Hong Kong (also notorious for jaywalking and just can’t see this working. The sidewalks will back up and the overflow will push pedestrians into oncoming traffic…. Ticketing jaywalkers sounds like the way to go, moreso than trying to humiliate them.

  10. I would start dressing up in costumes and jaywalking.

    I don’t even cosplay, but to see Batman jaywalking plastered all over the news would be hilarious.

  11. Of course, jaywalking in the UK is not a major problem because UK pedestrians mostly understand the concept of “polite” and don’t go interrupting traffic flows at whim – they wait for a gap and then cross as a group. Pedestrian crossings aren’t seen as a restriction on where you can cross for the benefit of the cars, they’re seen as a way to create an artificial gap in traffic for the benefit of pedestrians.

    Americans never seem to manage “waiting”.

  12. It took me a couple of days after getting back to Beijing, after three years in Japan where babies won’t come out till they see a green light, to get back into the swing of the anarchic “strength in numbers” crossing technique. The key is to remember that it’s illegal or at least frowned upon for drivers to plough through more than a dozen people at once, and to trust the supernatural powers of Beijing taxi drivers, who could ride a camel through the eye of a needle with their eyes closed.

    Other important points; roads, bike lanes and sidewalks are only for cars, bikes and pedestrians respectively ON AVERAGE. Green does mean “go”, that’s the same; but red means “kill”.

    Given the sheer number of people who jaywalk here, and assuming that it’s even vaguely similar in Shanghai, the odds of actually being singled out for this “public humiliation” are probably little higher than the odds of getting run over, so I don’t know that the risk will be any more effective a deterrent.

  13. in Tokyo, the public humiliation comes when you realize you’re the only person from a crowd of 80 crossing against the light, welcomed by another crowd of 80 on the other side.

  14. Yeah, it took years for me to figure out what jaywalking is, and a few years more to realise that one can actually get fined for it. In the UK, one can cross the road anywhere you want to. The caveat is that you’re open to being fined (or, I suppose, horribly mangled and possibly killed) if you cross at a time and place that’s dangerous for other road users.

    Most of Europe seems the same, although I did once get shouted at by a traffic policewoman in Turin for crossing a completely empty road against the signal. I also assume that the Swiss have a law against it, but I’ve never been there to check.

  15. An Australian friend of mine once lived in Berlin and had a German girlfriend. Towards the end of their relationship, they were going somewhere, and he crossed at a red light. Her reply was “you just don’t respect our culture at all, do you?” I believe they broke up soon afterward.

  16. Hi Lisa,
    your comparison between NYC and Shanghai is compeling.

    Living in France and grown up in an Asian Family, i’ve struggled wit hsuch comparason.

    It wouldn’t be to inacurate to say that asian society behaviour is linked with public/private shame whereas Eastern’s is more about cultprit/guilty evidence related.

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