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The good old days on China's Er Ba Che bike [Copy link] 中文

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Post time 2013-4-22 17:02:49 |Display all floors
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To the foreigners, the old style 28-inch Chinese bicycles, known as Er Ba Che looks really cool. For the Chinese in the 1960s and 1970s the bike meant much more than a means of transport; it was a symbol of better life and a reminder of their greatest moment in the life of many people.

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Post time 2013-4-22 17:04:06 |Display all floors
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“Er Ba Che” is the pinyin for “二八车”, a type of bicycle created in China and the country's first popular industrial product. The name was used by the ordinary Chinese in which “Er Ba” (二八) means 28, the diameter of the wheel by inches, and “Che” (pinyin for车) means vehicle. By the end of the 1980s, the bicycle ownership in China reached 500 million. And the bicycle, for the first time in history, sped up the life of the Chinese people.
Yongjiu (永久, meaning forever) and Phoenix (凤凰) bicycles, both made in Shanghai were the most popular bikes in South China’s Jiangsu, Zhejiang and Shanghai, while Flying Pigeon (飞鸽) made in Tianjin was naturally more popular in the north China.

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Post time 2013-4-22 17:06:21 |Display all floors
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Logos of the Flying Pigeon bicycle at different times.  Photo: Baidu.com

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Post time 2013-4-22 17:07:25 |Display all floors
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In the 1960s and 1970s, Er Ba Che bike was the hottest industrial product among the Chinese people. It was the dominant element of the “three major items”(三大件) , things that must be prepared by bridegrooms’ family - with the other two items being a watch and a sewing machine, and later a watch and a radio - for their marriage.
Relatives of the young couple would have strong views about the brand of the bike to be bought for the marriage. The brand of “Flying Pigeon” made in North China’s Tianjin literally implies a broken relationship like pigeons flying away and being apart, which would not be tolerable to the superstitious Chinese of the time. The brand that they preferred in marriage was “Phoenix”, a beautiful and divine bird which is considered auspicious in Chinese culture. However, people in those days actually didn’t care about the three items as much as the Chinese nowadays do about the house and car.
People in the city mainly used the bike as a means for transport while for the farmers in the countryside it also served the purpose of transporting goods like sacks of flour and fertilizer. At the beginning of China’s reform and opening up which started in 1978,  farmers in Weixian county (魏县)of Handan city (邯郸) in North China’s Hebei province organized an Er Ba Che transport group of over a dozen people as they heard that Linyi city of Shandong province had a short supply of mung and the prices were higher there. It took the group a whole night and half a day to cover the distance of 150 km by bicycle. One person in the group recalled that he carried 333 jin (166.5 kg) on his Er Ba Che bike while the highest weight carried by a cyclist reached 370jin (185 kg).
And a trader surnamed Zhao, now 69, recalled that he used to ride for a whole day from Shijiazhuang carrying about 200 jin (100kg) of Guazi (瓜子,sunflower seed) on his Yongjiu to sell in Renqiu (任丘), both places are now cities in North China’s Hebei province.

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Post time 2013-4-22 17:08:26 |Display all floors
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A heavy Er Ba Che bike. What makes it different from others is that it has two supporting arms on either side of the rear carrier. Photo:  Baidu.com

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Post time 2013-4-22 17:08:54 |Display all floors
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Screenshot of the movie Almost a Love Story (甜蜜蜜) starring Maggie Cheung (张曼玉) and Leon Lai Ming (黎明)

which tells a love story of two Chinese mainland young immigrants in Hongkong in the 1980s.


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Post time 2013-4-22 17:09:55 |Display all floors

Er Ba Che bike: always in short supply

From the 1960s to the middle of 1980s, the price of an Er Ba Che bike remained at 160 yuan to 170 yuan. Of course, the trading price of the bicycle in the black market was much higher. A senior resident living in Hebei province said, he had bought a second-hand heavy Yongjiu bike for 180 yuan in the black market.

But what we must remember is that in the 1970s, people could buy one jin (roughly 1.1 pound) of pork for only 80 cents, one jin of rice for 8 cents and one jin of flour for 12 cents. That is to say for the price of one Er Ba Che one could buy 230 pounds of pork, or 1,500 pounds of flour or 2,300 pounds of rice, and that almost equaled to a whole year's income of an average Chinese household then.

Prior to the late 1980s, in addition to paying in cash, you must also have a special purchase ticket in order to buy a bike. For rather a long time after 1949 when the Communist Party took power, daily necessities were always in short supply and were distributed through special tickets for specific commodities. The bicycle ticket was a certificate meaning one had the right to buy an Er Ba Che.

How to get the precious ticket? Generally, the government administrative departments would give out a proportion of bicycle purchasing quota to different enterprises which were mostly run by the state. These enterprises would then distribute the quota in the form of bicycle ticket to the workers who had no bicycles yet. However, there were so many people who did not have a bicycle, so the Chinese people found a way to make it fair in the distribution, they drew the lots.

The staffs of city department stores had more access to the bicycle tickets, and people who worked in the transportation sector and people with higher social status or guanxi, or connections than the average people are also relatively easier could also obtain the tickets more easily. Also people working for the government department had more opportunities to get a ticket than those in the enterprises and institutions.

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