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Brawl Breaks Out At Chinese Auction, Over A License Plate Number

At first, it was just a bidding war. Then it was more like an actual war, with rival groups drawing blood after an auction of a coveted license plate number in China. The reasons behind the brawl are complex, from a preference for the number 9 to a broader power struggle.

The violence broke out in Huzhou, Zhejiang province, during a public auction of license plate number ED999 – an auspicious number for which one bidder was willing to pay "the jaw-dropping price" of 990,000 yuan (more than $150,000), according to The Shanghaiist, which published a video of the recent dispute.

As France 24 explains, license plate numbers are a source of status in China — especially this one:

"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."

The high cost of registering a car in China's urban areas is well-documented, driven by quotas that reflect concerns over both pollution and congestion.

The limits have also been blamed for cramping auto sales. In 2013, Bloomberg Newsreported that because of registration limits in Shanghai, the normal cost of a license plate at auction, more than $14,000, had surpassed the price of many entry-level cars.

Citing local police reports in Huzhou, France 24 says the authorities have been questioning "members of two rich families from the same village but divided by bitter rivalry."

The news agency adds that in the end, neither family got the license plate, which was taken off the auction block because of the brawl.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.