Jing Xinghua, a 33-year-old Xinjiang native, first saw a recreational vehicle in 2009 during a trip to Chengdu in southwest China.
As reported by CNN, he was immediately engrossed by a vehicle that not only had a steering wheel, but also a bed, a galley and most of the amenities of a mini-home.
“I asked the driver to give me a tour of the RV,” Jing recalls. “This was the lifestyle I wanted, the sense of freedom.”
Jing was hooked. But he didn’t end up purchasing one RV.
Instead, he bought 10. With purchase prices starting at $47,105 for a domestic brand, it was a substantial outlay. Today, Jing is the head of Shanghai’s Zhong Tian Xing RV Club. He wants to turn his dream into a career.
The organization is affiliated with Zhong Tian Xing in Beijing, one of the largest RV manufacturers and leasing companies in China. Its core business is leasing RVs and organizing RV road trips.
“There was no such organization in Shanghai, so I think there is an opportunity,” explains Jing, who started the club three months ago. The 10 RVs he bought form the basis of his fledgling company’s fleet.
Jing says the RV business first came to China around 2001, but development has been slow due to high costs, legal issues and insufficient infrastructure.
Zhong Tian Xing broke even for the first time in 2011, 10 years after it was established.
Many Chinese were introduced to RVs by “Be There or Be Square,” a hugely popular Chinese film that scored big at the box office in 1999.
The film’s hero, Liu Yuan played by Ge You, is a Beijinger who lives in an RV in Los Angeles and makes money from whatever menial jobs he can land.
“Living in an RV is a lifestyle, it’s hard to explain it to you,” Liu tells the film’s heroine, who is shocked, along with many in the audience, to discover that Liu lives in a car.
Some 13 years later, experienced and affluent Chinese road trippers long for their own RVs (literally “house cars” in Mandarin) in search of that “sense of freedom” when traveling.
Today, approximately 4,500 RVs are zipping along Chinese highways.
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Loading up the Winnebago and seeing the country via its highways, byways, campgrounds and tourists traps is a classic American summertime pursuit. And, as reported by USA Today, now it’s come to China.
“We’ve done all the usual kinds of travel,” says Beijing businesswoman Liu Xiaofan, who though only 40 has just retired. “Now we want to enjoy our lives, and our RV can help us live a happy and healthy life.”
On Thursday, they drove their Chinese-made Zhongtian recreational vehicle, bought recently for $93,000, to join hundreds of other RVing fans at a campsite rally in Fangshan, a southwestern district of China’s capital.
The Lius want to go well beyond a cross-China excursion: They hope one day to drive to Europe and eventually travel coast-to-coast across the USA.
After more than three decades of dramatic economic growth, China’s better-off citizens are busy testing new lifestyles and leisure pursuits, from horse riding and skiing to golf and overseas travel. RV camping is another recent trend here, promoted by entrepreneurs and a central government keen to boost domestic tourism and consumer spending.
In a nation of 1.3 billion people, where car ownership remains a dream for most Chinese, RV owners number 5,000, with just a few dozen RV camps, according to the China RV & Camping Association. Approximately 8.9 million households own an RV in the U.S., according to the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA), and there are thousands of RV camps in the country.
Change is coming fast in China, says Wang Jidong, the RV association’s secretary general, as local governments and businesses build hundreds of RV camps nationwide.
Americans still can’t grasp the fast pace of development in China, says Lu Jun, 41, general manager of the Beijing International Automotive Camping Park, which opens later this month in south Beijing.
“When I talk to U.S. RV suppliers, they ask if I want to buy three or four vehicles,” says Lu of imported RVs costing over $70,000 each.
His reply? “I want to buy 1,000” to fill the 100 camps his company will build within two years.
Traffic rules that require a heavy vehicle license for larger RVs, and discourage trailer-type RVs, put off potential buyers, complains Wang, whose association hopes to persuade Beijing to relax the laws within two years. Meanwhile, trailer parks will hook Chinese tourists, and future RV buyers, by offering rental RVs in fixed, user-friendly environments, Lu says.
Kong Fanning needs no convincing. A real estate businessman and RV fan, Kong, 51, drove his wife and daughter 17 hours from their home in Changsha city to attend Thursday’s rally. He has racked up 31,000 miles in two years in his 15-foot RV, small enough to be driven on an ordinary license.
“I hate flying; it makes me feel like a hostage or convict to be so restricted, but with an RV I can go, and stop, wherever I like,” he says. “I can cook what I like and enjoy so much freedom.”
Luxurious RVs from the USA, such as Jayco’s Presidential 390, a coachlike model costing $650,000 in China, drew many admirers, including Hang Yong, an auto executive from the wealthy eastern city Wenzhou.
“In China, there is official support for the RV industry, and people’s desire to own one will definitely grow,” says Hang, whose company plans to manufacture cheaper “Chinese-style RVs,” with features such as fan extractors to cope with stir-fried Chinese food.
The prospect of RV competition from China, infamous for cheap knockoffs, worries some Americans. In June, U.S. RV blogger Bob Zagami warned that putting a Chinese-made RV on to a U.S. dealership “is about as un-American as you can get.”
Even so, cheaper prices are vital to growing the RV culture among ordinary Chinese, says university teacher Huang Jie, 45. She plans to buy a low-end local model for a trip to Tibet.