Car crazy

Prospect Magazine

Car crazy

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China adores cars. Can one man persuade a nation to rent, not buy?

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

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Megan Shank

Megan Shank
Megan Shank is managing editor of the Current Digest of the Chinese Press and Asia co-editor at the Los Angeles Review of Books 

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