I came across a Quora discussion that talks about why Chinese people always cut in lines. In the top answer, the author believes that there are basically three reasons: the Great Leap Forward, the Cultural Revolution, and the reform for capitalism. The consequences of these three historical events, as he believes, are
So one generation had some people who had to go against the law to survive, then the generation after then had some people who could abuse the law to destroy traditional authority figures, then the generation after them had some people who were now told that their previous way of life was a failure and go do everything they can to become ultra wealthy (or die trying)
Sounds pretty reasonable right? Well, I used to have the exact same thought. But the more I read, the more I realize that it's not like that. In fact, even before the new China (PRC), Chinese people didn't line up.
Mr. Liang Shi Qiu, a famous Chinese writer in 20th century, once wrote about how Chinese didn't line up in his 雅舍小集 (Ya She Essays). The book was actually translated into English and is being sold on Amazon. I have loosely translated some passages, from which we can clearly see that what China looked like around 100 years ago:
Even if you are the first customer in the post office, you are not able to fulfil your task because 1) the staff will just ignore you , does her morning preparation; 2) when she is preparing for today, new customers come and stand on either side of you and behind you. Most (if not all) people will extend their arms trying to buy stamps or get whatever they want from the staff. Thus only those who are strong enough are able to stand firm in the crowd and complete their task, and get out afterwards. It's like an American football game.
When I was young I lived in Beijing. My father used to take me to an antique market. The market was very popular and therefore crowded. It had only one gate for both entrance and exit. And nobody ever followed any rules when going through the gate. It was never long before the gate became jammed. One time, I only managed to leave the place because a strong policeman hold me in his arms.
Children thought pushing and shoving was what they needed to do to survive, as it was what their parents did. They couldn't learn to line up at school because many of the teachers didn't do that. Police couldn't stop people cutting lines since it's not law. As a result, everyone did whatever he wanted and people just lived with it.
China is a place that values protocols. Gentlemen show courtesy in many ways. For instance, friends let others go through a door first. What I don't understand is, why strangers don't show courtesy and cut in lines?
After World War II, I came back to Beijing, and heard of many bad things from my families about Japanese people. One thing is Japanese police often showed up in Beijing Railway Station with a whip, which they used to beat a line cutter in the back. Then the line cutter would just go to the end of the line, without saying a word. Gradually, the order improved considerably.