‘Auntie’ Wang Xiuxia makes a million from car number plates scam in congested Beijing

Retired woman stocked up before restrictions were introduced


As far as rackets are concerned, it was a master stroke – but now, finally, the law has caught up with Auntie Wang Xiuxia, who made nearly £1m by allowing her customers to circumvent Beijing’s stringent traffic laws.

For the past eight years, authorities in the Chinese capital have limited the number of car number plates, and therefore also cars, in an attempt to combat Beijing’s chronic smog problem.

But for the retired Auntie Wang, the opportunity was too good to pass up. In 2005, just before the restrictions were introduced, she bought as many as 1,000 plates and, when the ban was implemented, began leasing them to drivers. Though obviously illegal, the scam is believed to have netted her almost £1m over the past eight years.

Auntie Wang, a native of Tianjin, was only exposed after one of her customers was involved in a hit-and-run accident. The number plate was in her name, leading to uncomfortable questions from the police.

Officials from the vehicle management department in Beijing’s traffic bureau say all plates in her name have been now revoked, bringing to an end her enterprising project, according to The People’s Daily newspaper. 

“I rented the number plate from Wang Xiuxia… at 10,000 yuan (£1,050) 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. Four major cities, including Beijing and Shanghai, already have restrictions on the purchase of cars, using lotteries and auctions to allocate 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 the lucky draw. Each month 20,000 winners are picked.

While irritating for would-be drivers, it is easy to sympathise with the restrictions. Chinese cities are among the most polluted in the world, choking in smog for days on end throughout the year. Air pollution is chiefly a result of China’s heavy reliance on the use of coal-fired power stations, but the rise in the number of private cars has also contributed to the problem.

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 the 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 it became legal to buy a number plate with an ID card and a temporary residence card.However, this period only lasted 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 new rule required all cars had to be registered under the owner’s real name, and if it was found that skullduggery was involved and an alter ego had been used, they would be transferred within three months.

With constant and confusing changes, Auntie Wang spotted a gap in the market, and bought a glut of plates on the cheap. By 2010, when the lottery began, business was booming, until, that is, her scam was exposed.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Technical Support Analyst

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's leading indepen...

Recruitment Genius: Linux Systems Administrator

£26000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Systems Administrator is requ...

Recruitment Genius: ICT Infrastructure Manager

£27000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Edinburgh city centre Scho...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + competitive: SThree: SThree are a global FTSE 250...

Day In a Page

Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... for the fourth time

Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... again

I was once told that intelligence services declare their enemies dead to provoke them into popping up their heads and revealing their location, says Robert Fisk
Margaret Attwood on climate change: 'Time is running out for our fragile, Goldilocks planet'

Margaret Attwood on climate change

The author looks back on what she wrote about oil in 2009, and reflects on how the conversation has changed in a mere six years
New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered: What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week

New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered

What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week
Oculus Rift and the lonely cartoon hedgehog who could become the first ever virtual reality movie star

The cartoon hedgehog leading the way into a whole new reality

Virtual reality is the 'next chapter' of entertainment. Tim Walker gives it a try
Ants have unique ability to switch between individual and collective action, says study

Secrets of ants' teamwork revealed

The insects have an almost unique ability to switch between individual and collective action
Donovan interview: The singer is releasing a greatest hits album to mark his 50th year in folk

Donovan marks his 50th year in folk

The singer tells Nick Duerden about receiving death threats, why the world is 'mentally ill', and how he can write a song about anything, from ecology to crumpets
Let's Race simulator: Ultra-realistic technology recreates thrill of the Formula One circuit

Simulator recreates thrill of F1 circuit

Rory Buckeridge gets behind the wheel and explains how it works
Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation' over plans to overhaul reverse-chronological timeline

Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation'

Facebook exasperates its users by deciding which posts they can and can’t see. So why has Twitter announced plans to do the same?
Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag - but what else could the fashion house call it?

Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag

The star was shocked by a Peta investigation into the exotic skins trade
10 best waterproof mascaras

Whatever the weather: 10 best waterproof mascaras

We found lash-enhancing beauties that won’t budge no matter what you throw at them
Diego Costa biography: Chelsea striker's route to the top - from those who shared his journey

Diego Costa: I go to war. You come with me...

Chelsea's rampaging striker had to fight his way from a poor city in Brazil to life at the top of the Premier League. A new book speaks to those who shared his journey
Ashes 2015: England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

The biggest problem facing them in Birmingham was the recovery of the zeitgeist that drained so quickly under the weight of Australian runs at Lord's, says Kevin Garside
Women's Open 2015: Charley Hull - 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

Charley Hull: 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

British teen keeps her feet on ground ahead of Women's Open
Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkish President Erdogan could benefit politically from the targeting of the PKK, says Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: Our choice is years of Tory rule under Jeremy Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Our choice is years of Tory rule under Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Yvette Cooper urged Labour members to 'get serious' about the next general election rather than become 'a protest movement'