Me First: Shanghai's Deadly New Year's Eve Stampede

Shanghai deadly stampede

Some 13 hours before the ball dropped in Times Square to usher in 2015, Shanghai officials dropped the ball in the touristy Bund area of the city. They failed to prepare for an influx of 300,000 revelers, and this - in part - led to the deaths of 36 Chinese citizens in a stampede.

Sadly, it could've been prevented. Better planning, more police, quicker EMT response times... any of these may have mitigated the tragedy. However, none of them were the root cause.

The mind-boggling truth is that Chinese people fundamentally do not fucking understand the concept of queuing in lines.

Here's a scenario: say you, John Q. Cracker, enter an office building in an American or European city. You walk through the lobby towards the elevators, press the "Up" button, and then wait. Your eyes watch the LED indicator that tracks the current floor as it descends.

Now, when the elevator arrives and its doors open, what do you do?

Answer: in most civilized societies, you wait until occupants exit before you yourself enter. Not only because it's polite (although it is), or because society has conditioned you to do so (although it has), but mainly because it's rational and efficient. After all, the elevator isn't going anywhere until everyone is off and on. Same with the metro: it is not leaving until the civil servant with the flag gives his or her "all clear" wave.

So what do you gain by barreling over someone who's trying to exit?


Or more accurately, 3-seconds of time you're going to fritter away in the stale air of the elevator, metro, or bus: that's the maximum utility gained. And in China, where public burping and flatulence are a quaint, ever-present ingredient in the musky aromas of public transportation and elevators, "stale" air would be a godsend.

So same scenario, now in China: when the elevator doors open, what do you do? You surge through them like there's a prize for knocking down women and children, or as if there's a secret point system for bruising the elderly and pissing off your fellow man.

Ride the Shanghai metro for a week, and it will be abundantly clear: Chinese people do not "get" lines.
"Let's see... the grid says '60-69 year old elderly woman + left tit' is worth 125 points! Way to bruise it up, Wang!"

"Yeah, it was a good one. I was going for '1-12 month old infant + soft spot of the skull', but that wily bastard got off the train like a fucking gazelle!!"

Ride the Shanghai metro for a week, and it will be abundantly clear: Chinese people do not "get" lines. They do not understand queuing. They fail to grasp that common sense and courtesy make transferring people in and out of conveyances expedient and orderly.

It is notable, in light of these facts, that China is the oldest continuous civilization on the planet, with 5,000 years of well-earned accomplishments and innovations. They had civil servants and specialized economies when Europeans were shitting in caves. They invented writing, gunpowder, the compass, and the printing press when the pinnacle of Western high technology was the plow.

And yet for all this sophistication, this proud civilization cannot comprehend the logic and wisdom of pausing to allow another human being to pass before occupying the very space their movement frees up.

Perhaps the whole damn country needs to brush up on their "Timecop" physics. It's Van Damme 101: the deadly consequences of two beings occupying the same space simultaneously.

For 36 Chinese youths, whose only crime was attending a lame laser show and being born in a society that doesn't understand queuing and lines, this was a lesson learned only in death.

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