Highways and roads
In 1986 China had approximately 962,800 kilometers of highways, 52,000 kilometers of which were completed between 1980 and 1985. During this period China also rebuilt 22,000 kilometers of highways in cities and rural areas. Nearly 110,000 kilometers of roads were designated parts of a network of national highways, including roads linking provincial-level capitals with Beijing and China's major ports.
Provincial-level and local governments were responsible for their own transportation and road construction, some with foreign expertise and financing to hasten the process. Most financing and maintenance funds came from the provincial level, supported in the case of rural roads by local labor. In line with the increased emphasis on developing industry and decentralizing agriculture, roads were built in large, medium-sized, and small towns and to railroad connections, making it possible for products to move rapidly between cities and across provincial-level boundaries. In 1986 approximately 780,000 kilometers of the roads, or 81 percent, were surfaced. The remaining 19 percent (fair-weather roads) were in poor condition, hardly passable on rainy days. Only 20 percent of the roads were paved with asphalt; about 80 percent had gravel surfaces. In addition, 60 percent of the major highways needed repair.
China's highways carried 660 million tons of freight and 410 million passengers in 1985. In 1984 the authorities began assigning medium-distance traffic (certain goods and sundries traveling less than 100 kilometers and passengers less than 200 kilometers) to highways to relieve the pressure on railroads. Almost 800 national highways were used for transporting cargo. Joint provincial-level transportation centers were designated to take care of cross-country cargo transportation between provinces, autonomous regions, and special municipalities. A total of about 15,000 scheduled rural buses carried 4.3 million passengers daily, the number of trucks and buses operated by individuals, collectives, and families reached 130,000 in 1984. In 1986 there were 290,000 private motor vehicles in China, 95 percent of which were trucks. Most trucks had a four- to five-ton capacity.
The automobile was becoming an increasingly important mode of transportation in China. The automotive industry gave priority to improving quality and developing new models rather than increasing production. Nevertheless, as a result of the introduction of modern technology through joint ventures with advanced industrialized countries, Chinese automobile production for 1985 surpassed 400,000 units.
Although cars and trucks were the primary means of highway transportation, in the mid-1980s carts pulled by horses, mules, donkeys, cows, oxen, and camels still were common in rural areas. Motor vehicles often were unable to reach efficient travel speeds near towns and cities in rural areas because of the large number of slow-moving tractors, bicycles, hand- and animal-drawn carts, and pedestrians. Strict adherence to relatively low speed limits in some areas also kept travel speeds at inefficient levels.