I recently moved to Kunming after living in two of the largest cities in China — Beijing and Shanghai, with populations of 20 and 23 million each. Although Kunming is comparably smaller, it encompasses a growing metropolitan area of over 6 million residents, is the capital of Yunnan Province, and serves as China’s gateway to Southeast Asia. Yet it remains one of the largest cities in China without a subway system.
Many residents rely on the extensive bike routes that transect the city. In these narrow lanes, anything from xiaochi (little snacks) to heavy machinery is transported across Kunming. As a newcomer in town, commuting by bicycle has been a unique way to get to know Kunming’s developing cityscape and varied demography. Every morning, I ride alongside hundreds of cyclists headed to the center of town.
As an emerging metropolis, Kunming is in a perpetual state of development, which in China often includes a cyclical process of demolition and reconstruction. Moreover, the long‐anticipated construction of the new subway line began just a couple months ago. As a result, Kunming’s main transit arteries are often impeded by construction, putting stress on mass transit, especially bipedal transit. Old neighborhoods are bulldozed overnight, leaving behind countless paths traversable only by bicycle.
How will the dramatic changes in Kunming’s transit system shape the daily lives of its residents?
In this series, I will collaborate with local residents to document and explore the human experience of rapid urban development from the perspective of these disappearing bike lanes.
Post and photos by Sewon Chung. Sewon received her B.A. in Sociology and Literary & Cultural Studies from the College of William and Mary in 2009. During her studies, she produced a documentary film about the U.S.‐Mexico border to facilitate discussion concerning race, identity, and community in Williamsburg, Virginia. Sewon currently lives in Kunming, China where she rides her bicycle everyday.