Morning Subway Runners


Photo: The Shanghai Eye

On my daily rush hour commute to ChinesePod, I’ve noticed something about the subway commuters on Line 1 and Line 2 in Shanghai. Everyone is in a hurry to get to their destinations, but some so much so that they are actually running. Of these morning subway runners, the vast majority are female. I don’t have any statistics, but I’ve been noticing this for weeks, and I figure the females outnumber the males by something like a 5:1 ratio.

OK, so why? Why do the women run in much larger numbers than the men? Are there reasons for this? I’m not sure, but I have a few crackpot theories:

1. Running is not manly. (Chinese men are late with dignity.)
2. The men are not the ones always running late.
3. The men are more secure in their jobs (i.e. the women feel they face a greater risk of being fired or getting in trouble if they’re late).
4. The women actually take their jobs seriously.
5. The women actually have jobs.
6. The “rush rush rush” Shanghai atmosphere affects the female psyche more potently.

Is this a universal phenomenon or a Shanghai phenomenon? I don’t even know; I’ve never really lived in a big city until Shanghai.


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. There was a famous study once conducted by some guy and it showed that, if given a choice between running to a given location or just standing around and watching well-dressed women run to the same location, 90% of all males would choose to stand and watch. Perhaps that study is applicable to this situation.

  2. … I bet the other 10% would choose to sit and watch.

  3. Maybe it’s because the men don’t have to put on any makeup.

  4. I think maybe it’s because the women spend too much time getting ready in the morning and are thereby consistently running late.

  5. Mike in Jubei Says: January 11, 2007 at 8:22 am


    Its the same in Tokyo. Also you didn’t mention this but the Tokyo women have their own running style. The feet hardly leave the ground. They do the same in the office when one of the bosses (men) yells at them to come to their desk.

    Mike in Jubei

  6. maybe women have less time: maybe they have to drop off and pick up their children or are responsible for their children.

  7. I was wondering about this phenomenon in my Chinese settled Sydney suburb just last week, when I saw a young Chinese woman running to the local station. It was a kind of “gesture” run because she wasn’t actually going any faster than a brisk walk. I pondered whether this was some kind of face saving activity, just to show she was making an effort.

  8. Chongqing has yet to catch on to the “rush rush rush” mentality I hear the East Coast is affected with. People still walk around aimlessly all hours of the day, hang out, chat, play Mah Jongg and Dou Dizhu (斗地主), eat hotpot no matter the time of day or weather outside, and generally act like they have nothing to do.

    EXCEPT for getting on a bus or the light-rail. That’s the only time you see people running, pushing, and generally acting in a ridiculous fashion similar to the process of getting on a bus/train/etc. all over China.

    I suppose it’s only a matter of time before the RUSH mentality gets here though.


    PS – I also agree with Michael and Mike in Jubei. The women don’t run or remotely go quick at all. When they run, it kind of looks like a fish flopping around on dry land. Wrists limp, elbows cocked, arms out to the side, knees bowed, feet splaying out diagonally, chin pointed up, and a wimper on their face. Oh, and the purse flying every which way. It’s hilarious to watch.

  9. The rush rush rush mentality is a female thing and a big city thing.

    I should narrow this “female thing” to “Chinese female thing” because, as you and some have maybe implied, it reflects to a degree that Chinese women take their job more seriously than Chinese men. In contrast, American women don’t seem to beat American men in this regard, with the exception that African American sisters tend to rush more and have much better work ethics than brothers.

    Also, I shall define the “big city thing” as a phenomenon in a prosperous big city. I would say I have seen subway running or corridor running (walking fast at work places) in big US cities on both coasts more than in, say, midwest cities. I oberved planty of subway running in Boston when I worked there, and saw both women and men running, close to a 1:1 ratio. Some run to get to work in time others run to be home early. I was among the running male population but I did it mostly for an entirely different reason: exercise.

  10. There is no difference. It is an observation error on your part: your eyes are just drawn to the women who are running. Your brain is filtering out the running men at a ratio of 5:1.

    It’s happened to me before, and on the subway, in fact —

    Me: Have you noticed the high proportion of large-breasted women on this train?
    Wife: No, as a matter of fact I haven’t.
    Me: I meant from a purely statistical, scientific viewpoint, of course.
    Wife: (dead silence)

  11. Wow, I wish. I think Shanghai is a city of people who never do anything more than mozy. It bugs the jeebies out of me, I’m on a narrow stairway at the station, the subway’s coming, and nobody’s even hurrying up! Maybe 5 times more women run than women, although that isn’t my impression.

    Either way the proportion is much smaller than it would be in a Western city. Seeing someone in Shanghai walk up the escalator is rare. Seeing people who aren’t in a hurry allow space on the sidewalk for other people is also rare.

  12. Women are more afraid of being victims of terrorist attacks then men. Fact. Shanghai subway stations are high profile targets for terrorist attacks. Fact. Women run after exiting the train in hopes of getting out of the station asap. Fact. Terror terror terror. Be very afraid. Fact.

  13. Agree with 88, if you look to find dirt, you will find dirt. If you look to find good, you will find good..

  14. All these comments are reflective of your own internal biases. Comments like “Either way the proportion is much smaller than it would be in a Western city” regarding hurrying is PURE BS. I live in Washington, DC and I can make a 500 hour documentary on the fattest, laziest people on earth.

  15. I’ve noticed the same thing here in NYC. I take the subway every day and I tend to notice how many men are sitting down on the train, refusing to acknowledge the rushing women who are left standing. (I suppose they feel obligated to give up their seat if they look up and make eye contact?)

  16. Fred: I guess it’s not a scientific study, but when I lived in Western Cities (I’m thinking of SF and NYC), people often hurried up when a train was coming, not wanting to wait 5 minutes for the next one. In Shanghai, people hurrying are few and far between. I don’t being to understand it. The train will be right in front of them and they aren’t even picking up pace, maybe one or two people are but the vast majority aren’t, and of course they form a group it’s impossible to get past…

    Every day I get frustrated in Shanghai, how slowly people walk down the street and how there’s no way to get around them. I almost never encountered that situation in the US. Some of it is the narrow roads and some of it is that groups of people will block off the sidewalk without giving it a second thought, but mostly it’s just that people walk at a snail’s pace.

Leave a Reply