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.