China adores cars. Can one man persuade a nation to rent, not buy?by Megan Shank / October 17, 2012 / Leave a comment
Published in November 2012 issue of Prospect Magazine
Shanghai’s overhead highways illuminated by LED lights
At a bus stop near Beijing’s Dashanzi art district, shoppers swayed with bulging bags. Horns swelled. Trucks rumbled. Saturday. Six o’clock. Stuck.
Beside me, my friend, Wang Shuyue, murmured in the lyrical Mandarin of the capital city: “The traffic in Beijing is really over the top.” She kicked a pile of ashy fallen leaves. The days had grown short. We waited in the dark.
Beijing, once the kingdom of bicycles, is being colonised by the car: there are now more than five million in the city. Traffic has become such a problem that in January 2011 the government enforced new licence plate restrictions to ease congestion. Now over a million Beijingers compete in a monthly lottery for the right to buy a new car. About 20,000 car registrations are up for grabs each time and unfortunate would-be buyers can end up waiting for over a year without seeing their number come up.