You can marry for love, you can marry for money, or, in Beijing, you can marry for a license plate.
As authorities try to cap the number of vehicles in China’s car-choked capital, they’ve taken to doling out new license plates via a six-time-a-year lottery. The odds are daunting. This June alone, more than 2.8 million people entered the drawing, and officials handed plates out at the lowest rate ever: one per 843 entries.
Since any driver who has resided in Beijing for more than a year can register, the drawing is fair in principle. But the license-plate system has a big loophole. While private sales of license plates are banned, the rules allow transfers between spouses.
Thus one solution: sham marriages. In crowded forums and chat rooms, plate owners offer to tie the knot—for the right price.
“All we need is a marriage registration, and we can get you a license plate,” one middleman boasts in an online ad. “No need for the lottery—pay once and get the benefit for life!”
But that benefit doesn’t come cheap. At current rates, a fake-marriage license plate costs some 90,000 yuan, or about $13,350—more than many Chinese-made cars. So-called leopard numbers, which include the same digit at least three times, are most desirable, and licenses with 888 can run as high as 150,000 yuan. (The word for “eight” is considered lucky because it sounds like the word for “fortune.”)