Realising the Dream of Private Car Travel

Zhou Shaolin, a 38-year-old editor of a Jinan newspaper, took his family in his own car to the beach some 400 kilometers from home for a ten-day vacation in early August.

He bought his secondhand Ford by borrowing 100,000 yuan (12,091U.S. dollars) from the bank last year. Usually he drives it to work.

For an ordinary Chinese family traveling in their own car used to be a distant dream but this summer things are changing.

Another family drove all the way from Tianjin Municipality in north China to Weihai, a coastal city in east China's Shandong Province, where they are enjoying a four-day holiday with blue skies, turquoise sea and silver sands.

"It takes less time for us to travel by our own car and we enjoy the beautiful scenery on the way," said Li Hongwei, father of the Tianjin family.

China's gross domestic product (GDP) has maintained at least a 7 percent growth in the last couple of years and led to a considerable increase in urban people's incomes. A family like Zhou's earns about 7,000 yuan (846 U.S. dollars) monthly, easily enough to afford a car loan and spend holidays away from the city.

"Obviously the income of urban residents is rising," said Wang Rongguo, a tourism administration official in Shandong Province, "The number of individual tourists is increasing and it's no longersurprising to find private cars from around the country in local hotels' parking lots." The country produced 440,000 cars in the first half of this year, up 35.3 percent over the same period last year and 470,000 were sold, a year-on-year rise of 36.2 percent.

Cars that cost about 100,000 yuan each are popular among Chinese. Their sales volume doubled in the first half of this year.

In a three-day international automobile exhibition held here inMay, 80 percent of about 870 cars sold were bought by individuals.And at another similar expo in Beijing in July, individuals made 85 percent of the week's 3,000 deals.

Li Fangmin, a Beijinger who purchased a car outright at the July expo, said he bought it mainly for long-distance travel.

The rise in expressways in China has made traveling by private car much easier than before. China has built about 30,000 kilometers of expressway so far. In Shandong Province, 2,300 kilometers of expressway links all the cities and makes many sitesof interest accessible for tourists traveling by car.

Chinese have more spare time than before. They used to work sixdays a week but now its five days and many employees have paid holidays every year.

During their two-day weekends, many of those with their own cars also drive out of the city to enjoy fresh air in the suburbs as they no longer need to worry about how to get there and whetherthey might miss the bus.

( Xinhua News Agency August 26, 2002)