“Going once, going twice, going three times… sold!” In the Chinese city of Huzhou, the auctioneer had only just sold the coveted item when a massive brawl abruptly broke out amongst those bidding for it. But why would anyone fight over something as trivial as a car registration plate?

This recent car license plate auction in Huzhou saw fierce bidding between two rival groups (gangs?) for the Zhejiang vehicle plate "ED999" before the hammer came down at the jaw-dropping price of RMB990,000.And then all hell broke loose.

Posté par Shanghaiist sur dimanche 1 novembre 2015

As surprising as it may sound, the primary reason is that the numbers on the plate up for auction – ED9999 - are highly symbolic. In Chinese culture, the number 9 symbolizes eternity. On top of that, due to limits on the number of cars that can be registered in parts of China, numbers plates sometimes cost more than the cars themselves. Those who do own number plates are often viewed as wielding both money and power.

According to the report published by police in the province of Zhejiang, eight people were arrested and put in custody after the incident on October 30. Among those brought in for questioning were the members of two rich families from the same village but divided by bitter rivalry. The ‘Jin’ family has lived in De Qinq for ten years. Their sworn foes, the Dongs, have recently settled in the same village, having originally come from the neighbouring province of Anhui.

The fight reportedly broke out when the Jin family refused to accept a higher bid placed by the Dongs, who they see as outsiders trying to challenge the Jins’ local financial supremacy. However, neither one got their hands on the coveted item: the plate was removed from the auction after the fight, despite the Jin family’s winning bid of 990,000 yuans [Editor’s note: 142,000 euros].


Post written with Weiyu Tsien (@WeiyuQ) and Alexandre Capron (@alexcapron).