In Maoist China, the famed Flying Pigeon bicycle was a symbol of the egalitarian nation's "iron rice bowl," the social system that promised little comfort but a reliable ride through life.
But today the once-thriving bicycle company is struggling to survive.
"People used to have to save up for a least a year to be able to buy a bicycle," said Zhao Xuejie, vice director of the company's import and export department.
But things have changed. "Although profits are low and the costs of salaries and materials are rising, we cannot raise the price of our bikes," said Zhao.
At its peak in 1986, Flying Pigeon sold 3 million bikes. Now the company sells about half that number annually.
The factory employed as many as 10,000 employees at the end of the 1980s, but that number has now been reduced to 700, most of whom earn about 1,500 yuan (NT$6,428) a month.
The cheapest models, most often bought by students, cost between 200 and 300 yuan (NT$857 and NT$1,285), while the most expensive bike costs 2,000 yuan (NT$8570).
"We must keep an open attitude," said Zhao, as he unveiled the "pet bike" that can carry a dog or a cat.
As well as stiff competition, bicycles are losing ground to public transport and cars. But Zhao remains optimistic because the government has placed a priority on fighting pollution.
"Bikes can help protect the environment .... If there are too many cars, then this will lead to serious problems for the people," he said.
"Young people also need to exercise. So in a number of ways, the bicycle is still irreplaceable."
1. egalitarian adj.
平等主義的 (ping2 deng3 zhu3 yi4 de5)
例: We want an egalitarian society where everyone is treated equally.
2. salary n.
薪水 (xin1 shui3)
例: Some workers are paid by the hour, while others have a set salary.
3. factory n.
工廠 (gong1 chang3)
例: Nearby factories create pollution along with their goods.
4. priority n.
優先 (you1 xian1)
例: We'd like you to make this project a top priority and finish it quickly.
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