Planes, Trains and Automobiles

When we fly from southern China to northern China, you will receive an assignment in the airport (tentative).

You will team up in the airport and I will want you to politely approach someone flying on the same flight as us. I will want your team to find out what they do for a living, where they live, why they are flying to China, whether they speak English and if so how well, etc. Perhaps you can/will exchange business cards. I want you to think of yourself as an anthropologist doing field research. Get people to talk and interact with you — how do/will you do that, what types of questions can you ask to engage people from another country?

I will then have you repeat this assignment when we take the train from the Shanghai train station (chaos and massive numbers of people) to Beijing (same) (also tentative).

Why do this?

Among other things, it forces you to interact with the “locals” and start to build your Guanxi network in China.

More importantly, by the end of the trip you should have developed a “profile” of who you can approach that will help you in China, who will not, who speaks English, who does not, etc. By the end of the trip you should also better understand who flies in China, who takes the train, who takes the bus, why, etc. For example, what do business travelers in China look and dress like? Of those, which ones speak English? Which ones will help you? Which ones will brush you off, and why?

This profile will in turn serve you well the next time your firm sends you to Asia on business and once you arrive there, you find that need some information, you are all alone, and you have no choice but to find someone that can and will take the time to answer your questions. Your “China traveler profile” will and should look vastly different than any profile you develop for travel in London, Paris, Mexico City or Moscow.


When you fly inside China, get ready for delays. Lots of them. Why are flight delays such a problem in China?

Read this very, very good and informative Wall Street Journal article, “China’s Congested Skies: Between Military Maneuvers and Outdated Equipment, Travelers Face Agonizing Delays,” [if this link no longer works, click HERE to get to this Chinese website and then scroll down a bit to where you will find the English version of this article) to learn why delays are such a problem there.

I learned a LOT from reading this article that I had no clue took place or that airlines had to address as part of flying in the PRC. Now those delays make a lot more sense to me and I will stop complaining as much.

See also these related China Law Blog posts re: the frustration of flight delays in China, AND, how to better plan for them and deal with them! (Click HERE, HERE and HERE).

Professor Carr Addendum: Things are getting better in China!

See this WSJ article, How China Turned Around A Dismal Safety Record. The lessons of this aviation case are quite relevant to China’s latest safety crisis involving lead-painted toys, tainted seafood, drugs, pet food, and toothpaste.

See also this WSJ article, China Moves to Ease Flight Congestion.


Most people in China use trains when they travel medium to long distances. Train stations in China are pure and utter chaos, with massive numbers of people milling about. You need to see and experience this part of China. We will take a night train from Shanghai to Beijing (tentative). The train station in Shanghai will overwhelm you, yet (most of) you will love this night train ride. The quality of the train and sleeper cars is better than anything I have been on in Europe. This will also be a great chance for us to bond and deepen our friendship over late night conversation for those who chose not to sleep.

On this note, check out this Wall Street Journal article, “Firms Ride High on China’s Huge Rail Upgrade,” to learn more about the tremendous business opportunities that have, and will continue to appear in China as a result of this infrastructure development that you will witness with your own eyes.


I have nothing to say or add here about cars, other than what I have advised you in your FAQ document for the trip — more and more cars are appearing on the roads in China each day and as that country and its infrastructure grow; and if you step out in front of traffic in China, they will not stop and you will die. Plain and simple.

FINAL POINT: One of the lessons of this blog post should be that given the flight delay issue in China, you need to work this contingency (delay) into your travel plans as we all meet, on time, in southern China for the first on-the-road class meeting. This is particularly the case if you are flying into Shenzhen from say, Shanghai or Beijing.

Your thoughts and comments?

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One Response to Planes, Trains and Automobiles

  1. Jesse Dundon says:

    Great post, I wish I would have found it when I was writing my research paper on civil aviation infrastructure. Nevertheless, I ended up tracking own some of the same articles and finding some of the same themes. If anybody wants another in depth look at air transport in China and India, check out my report on my blog:!997493CA2D00C0E5!138.entry

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