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Oct 31, 2010

Why do the Chinese Blow Car Horns So Much an Explanation by an American Lawyer in China

China must have the loudest horns in the world.  Now, I don’t know much about noise levels and decibals and other technical things like that, but, I do know what I hear – when I can hear.  I’ve been thinking about a topic for my next blawg post for quite awhile and while I have had a couple of great ideas, I just couldn’t figure it out.  You know that me  like to write about the law in China and other interesting stuff like that, but, if you read my blawg you also know that I like to write about China and the customs and habits which can help us all understand or tolerate the way things work over here.

So, I was thinking about horns in China and for those of you who have been here, you know that horns are not used in the same way as they are in the West.  In fact, if someone beeped their horn in the same angry, prolonged, and aggressive way as they do here in China, in Los Angles, they may be shot.

They don’t just give you a friendly toot to remind you that the light is now green, they lay on the mother like their life depended upon it which then starts a chain reaction of angry beepers all laying on the loudest horns on the planet.

I’m sure that when they design and build cars in China for sale on the Domestic Chinese market, whether it’s Ford, or Mercedes, or BMW, or Geely, they have a meeting to discuss horns and there is a typical Chinese automotive engineer type with the short sleeve white shirt, black pants with white socks and overly shiny black shoes that says:  ”we gotta make these horns extra loud so that they Chinese will hear them.”

The response inevitably is “how much louder” and the engineer says “what about 100% louder, because we are China and the Middle Kingdom and the biggest and best country in the world and we should have the loudest horns.”  The decision makers obviously not wanting to lose their jobs by allowing wimpy horns or lose face to the rest of the automotive industry all agree and the horn blowing torture begins.

So I was thinking, as they create their own traffic jams by all trying to jump ahead of each other on the roads, why the Chinese don’t just wait for the light to change, or the person rudely stopped in the middle of the road talking on their cell phone to move on, or the taxi letting off it’s passengers to complete their transaction (which usually only takes about 10 seconds), or any of the million other reasons why they beep their horns, “why do they really lay on the horn”.

It doesn’t seem that it works or the person whom is the brunt of the horn blowing cares, it only annoys the hell out of me.  I am sitting in my office on the 12th floor of a premium office building in the Shenzhen CBD and I hear a cacophony of the loudest horns ever invented and the same goes for my apartment on the 32nd floor.

Mosquitoes don’t even make it up to the 32nd floor, how the hell can the horns sound so loud and reach my ears while I am trying to sleep.  I guess the simple answer is they just don’t give a hoot about anything else other than what is impacting their little world at that time and I wholeheartedly believe that this mentality is prevalent in everything the Chinese do.  Now I am not talking about everyone, of course there are considerate and inconsiderate people all over the world, it just seems like with one and a half billion people that there are plenty here that just don’t give a hoot.

So just remember, when you are dealing with a factory owner in China or looking to invest in or acquire an existing business or conducting any other transaction and you believe that the person(s) you are dealing with “likes you” and “I can trust them” (we heard it all) see the the way they lay on that horn.

Frank Caruso is the head of the China Law Practice at IPG.  He has lived and worked in China for over a decade.