Opinion | The U.S. Common Who Steered China Proper

Site visitors on the Second Ring Highway in Beijing, April 14, 2017.


greg baker/Agence France-Presse/Getty Pictures

Of my many worldwide college students at Cornell, these from China are among the many most desirous to take up driving in America. Partly that is because of the recognition of automobiles in China, essentially the most quickly motorizing nation on earth. However it’s additionally as a result of site visitors in China and the U.S. follows the identical rule of the street. Automobiles in each nations drive on the best. Be taught to drive right here and you’ll drive there.

China didn’t all the time drive proper; earlier than World Conflict II its site visitors ran on the left. That modified at midnight on Dec. 31, 1945. As the brand new 12 months dawned, site visitors all through the land shifted from one aspect to the opposite. It was the work of

Gen. Albert Wedemeyer

of the U.S. Military, whom President

Franklin D. Roosevelt

had tapped to exchange

Joseph Stilwell

as commander of American forces in China. Wedemeyer’s transfer was meant, at the least ostensibly, to scale back accidents on China’s roads, which have been clogged by American jeeps and vans. However he possible had an ulterior motive.

The Japanese occupation of China prompted Wedemeyer’s determination. By early 1945, imperial troops had been pressured out of Burma and the Pacific islands. However two million remained in mainland Asia, principally in southern China. To drive the Japanese out, Wedemeyer launched Operation Carbonado. It required the marshaling of two divisions of Chinese language troops by air from Burma, then transferring them 700 miles south from Chongqing to the coast in a convoy of American vans.

However as a result of the automobiles have been pushed on the “flawed” aspect of the street, site visitors accidents ensued. After driver schooling campaigns failed, Wedemeyer proposed to

Chiang Kai-shek

that China’s rule of the street be inverted. The generalissimo agreed. So did most Chinese language; the move-left custom had the mark of British imperialism.

Wedemeyer ordered a publicity marketing campaign in preparation. “Posters have been positioned on phone poles and store home windows,” he recalled in his memoir, “displaying diagrammatically how site visitors would transfer.”

However there was resistance. Editorials appeared within the native press “criticizing the concept of breaking an previous Chinese language custom and urging the Generalissimo to rethink.” Suspicious, Wedemeyer ordered an investigation. The supply turned out to be the British Embassy, whose officers have been satisfied that Wedemeyer was getting ready for an invasion of one other type—the sale of American cars.

They have been in all probability proper. The Japanese give up on Sept. 2, 1945, mooted Carbonado. With U.S. Military automobiles quickly to depart, there was no want to change site visitors throughout China. But the plan proceeded.

Why? Wedemeyer was a patriotic American, and he would possibly properly have had the U.S. car trade in thoughts. Altering China’s site visitors would pave the way in which for American automobiles in a market lengthy dominated by the British. Certainly, he recalled with pleasure the “thrilling expertise of standing on the balcony of my tower condo within the Cathay Resort in Shanghai to observe the site visitors at midnight change over to maneuver alongside the best aspect of the street.”

It wasn’t till the Eighties that Detroit moved into China, and it was solely doable as a result of Mao selected to maintain move-right site visitors movement after 1949—the identical sample utilized by the Soviet Union. As we speak, China’s roads are flooded with Buicks, Teslas and Fords. That these—and all different automobiles—transfer on the best like these in Parsippany, N.J., or Peoria, Unwell., is each day proof that America’s most common export to China shouldn’t be Hollywood or


however merely the way in which that we drive.

Mr. Campanella is an affiliate professor of metropolis planning and director of the city research program at Cornell College.

The very best of 2020 from Kim Strassel, Kyle Peterson, Mary O’Grady, Dan Henninger and Paul Gigot. Picture: Getty Pictures

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Appeared within the December 31, 2020, print version.

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