Last week a young woman brought Beijing’s busiest subway line to a halt at peak time, because nobody would give up their seat to her, although she said she was pregnant.
The woman sat blocking the doors, preventing the Line 10 train from leaving for several minutes, while staff and police tried to reason with her. She was eventually persuaded to move, and no action was taken against her.
Reports of the incident say that she “claimed” to be pregnant. It’s not clear whether the other passengers disbelieved her claim, or whether they simply buried their heads in their phones and ignored her. The video footage posted appears to show her with a visible bump, but as it’s shot from behind it’s inconclusive.
Perhaps the passengers were right to be wary. In 2013, a woman who had bought a fake silicone “baby bump” so she could get a seat on the subway lodged a complaint with a consumer bureau. She claimed that when she tried to use the bump it fell off, exposing her scam, and that the quality of the goods was unsatisfactory. Her complaint was rejected on the grounds that she had not “used the commodities as a consumer should for daily use,” and she was roundly mocked on social media.
The woman in this case did not get a much more sympathetic response on Weibo. “Being pregnant may not be easy, but it’s nobody’s duty to give up their seat!” was one typical comment. Except it is. The priority seats in every carriage are clearly marked as being for “children, the sick, the elderly and pregnant women.” As with so many rules of the Beijing transport system, this system is not enforced and so is generally ignored.
Nonetheless my personal experience when traveling with my kids is that there is usually somebody prepared to give up their seat for a child. This was a culture shock when we first arrived, as in the UK the traditional expectation is that children stand for an adult (although as with much old-school British courtesy, it’s a convention that’s dying out in an increasingly selfish society). My sons rapidly adapted: the younger will go and stand by the seats with his best cute puppy dog eyes until someone takes pity on him, whereas the older, too big for sympathy, charges onto the carriage like a true Beijinger and would dive into a seat under the descending backside of a slower competitor, until we had a frank discussion about dignity and manners. Both though will give up their seat for a younger child, without prompting.
I’ve noticed too that elderly people will rarely be left standing. Perhaps, in most cases, people don’t give up their seats to expectant mothers because they are scared of the sort of experience which left a friend of mine emotionally scarred for life. Seeing a lady with a prominent bump standing on the London tube, he offered his seat with a smile and a cheery “congratulations, when are you due?”
Her response was, to say the least, frosty.
“I’m not pregnant…”
Photo:Michael Coghlan via Flickr