"Ma Mu",A Word in History

If you refer to a dictionary, ma mu(麻木) means numbness, torpor, stupor, and something like that. But strangely enough, Wuhaness use this word to call “tricycles for hire”. Tens of thousands of ma mu used to be a distinctive feature of the city. But in the year of 2003, all these ma mu disappeared.

There are some tales about how the name “ma mu” came out. A relative credible one is that early rickshaw drivers (more than half a century ago) loved to drink, and often got “ma mu”, so both the vehicles and the drivers were called “ma mu”. This word once disappeared with the extinction of rickshaws, but revived about 20 years ago as tricycles emerged in the city in the late 1980s. And because of cheap fare and the very convenience, the number of ma mu increased swiftly in the 1990s.

There were two types of ma mu in Wuhan: the engine-powered auto rickshaw (dian ma mu 电麻木) and the man-powered pedicab (tu ma mu 土麻木).

Usually, ma mu drivers were either laid-off workers or city immigrants from rural places. The job could never be easy. Wuhan climate often go extremes: the temperature can be higher than 40C in summer and lower than 0C in winter. The drivers had to work in streets all day long, only to earn a basic living.

Most ma mu drivers were not well-educated and do not quite follow traffic rules, (in fact, large numbers of Wuhaness do not quite follow traffic rules), and many of them couldn’t afford, or for some, were not willing, to pay for a license, and had to play the game of hide and seek with traffic cops.

The government always wanted those numerous ma mu to be regulated. Though new documents for regulating ma mu came out almost every year, the effect was little. In 2003, the government finally resolved to completely ban ma mu. All ma mu must be handed in by a deadline, with some compensation in return. Only those with disabilities could own tricycles, and business not permitted. The flag-fall price of taxis was lowered to 3 yuan, so that taking a taxi in a short distance became much cheaper.

Just in a few weeks, not a single ma mu could be found in streets. “Ma mu” once again became a word in history.


Anonymous said...

Hi, I'm a french teacher (french guy) now in Huda Wuchang. I like your blog. I used to teach in Xiaogan 2 years ago and no more mamu there now. I loved them, that's a pitty. I also have a blog (doesn't work now, maybe in 2 weeks time) www.arnauld.net

Yu Jianfei said...

Soyez le bienvenu!

I guess "Huda" stands for "Hubei University".
I miss the days of siting in a mamu bumping along the road...

will visit your blog after it works.

Skywalker said...

“Ma mu” has been a word in the passed history of Wuhan. There is still ma mu in Yi Chang as far as I know. And in many other cities, towns and countries, we can see tricycles on the streets. But I don't know whether the locals call them ma mu too or not.
At least ma mu have not disappeared in the world.

Yu Jianfei said...

Pedicabs are popular in many parts of Asia,Vietnam,for instance. But only in Hubei Province,it is called "ma mu".Some of my classmates from neighboring towns told me "ma mu" are still bustling on roads there.

Check"cycle rickshaw"in wikipedia,there's something interesting.

Shawn said...

Hi there... I spent three years in Wuhan as an English teacher in Hankou. I remember taking the mamu to work when I was running late, or taking them to some places too far to walk but too close to take a taxi, and I was a little sad to see them go (in 2003?). I was trying to look up some info about mamu, and happened upon your blog. Thanks for the post! Brings back memories...