Asia Briefing: Number plate scam catches up with Auntie Wang

Restrictions on car use in smog-filled cities leads to illegal use of number plates

Number plates are like gold dust in Beijing these days. Restrictions on the number of licence plates was introduced because Chinese cities are among the most polluted in the world, choking in smog for many days of the year. As the capital has some of the world's worst traffic, the government has tried to cut down on the number of cars on the road.

So you could probably say that the retiree known as Auntie Wang Xiuxia was sprinkled with gold dust as she snapped up nearly 1,000 number plates before the rules were changed in 2005.

She then rented the plates illegally to desperate motorists. This nice little earner netted her more than €1 million by some estimates.

Auntie Wang’s actions were exposed after a driver she had rented a plate to was involved in a hit-and-run accident.


The plate was registered in her name so the police contacted her about the case, the People's Daily reported.

Officials from the vehicle management department in Beijing’s traffic bureau say all plates in her name have now been revoked and the drivers have to return them. They did not say how many plates were involved.

“I rented the number plate from Wang Xiuxia for lifetime usage at 10,000 yuan (€1,230) and signed a deal to use it for life,” one unnamed driver told local media.

There were more than 13 million cars sold in China last year and four cities, including Beijing and Shanghai, already have restrictions on the purchase of cars, using lotteries and auctions of a limited number of number plates.

In Beijing alone, the number of vehicles has risen to 5.18 million from 3.13 million in early 2008.

But to register your car you need a number plate and to get that you need to enter a draw. Each month 20,000 winners are picked.

Air pollution is chiefly attributed to the use of coal-fired power stations to generate energy, but a huge rise in the number of cars on the streets has also contributed to the particulate pollution in the cities.

Tian Jun, a Beijing lawyer, said that constantly changing vehicle licensing laws in Beijing may have made it possible for people to buy up number plates and rent them out.

Before March 2005, only people who had a precious Beijing hukou or residence permit were allowed to buy licence plates in the capital.

Many people from outside the city, who wanted to drive in the capital, asked residents if they would register cars in their names.

After March 2005, this restriction was abolished and you could buy a number plate with an ID card and a temporary residence card.

However, this period lasted only until August 2006 when the government began to worry that the skies might be smoggy for the Olympics two years later and announced the “strengthening on the management of motor vehicles registration”.

This rule required all cars to be registered under the owner’s real name and, if they didn’t have their real name, they should transfer them within three months.

Auntie Wang, a native of Tianjin, saw her chance, and bought a lot of licence plates cheaply.

Then in 2010, the lottery was begun, and business began to boom for Auntie Wang, until her scam was exposed by the hit-and-run accident.

The owner said lots of people were keen to talk to Auntie Wang: “I heard that hundreds of people were trying to find her, but she has turned off her mobile phone.”