Rachel Lu

A Small Victory in Chinese Web’s Guerrilla War Against Army Privilege

(Via Weibo/Free Use)

Guerrilla warfare, Mao Zedong’s favorite modus operandi, is being used against the army he created. And the grassroots warriors have just scored a small victory.

China’s Internet users began a campaign earlier this year to post photos of luxury cars carrying special military plates on China’s social media, mainly the sites Sina Weibo and Tianya. Vehicles with easily recognizable plates issued by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) or Armed Police are a common sight on Chinese roads, where they often break traffic rules, bully fellow drivers, and get free passes from the police.

The campaign, initiated by Professor Yu Jianrong (@于建嵘), collected thousands of photos under the hashtag “#military vehicles snap-and-post” (#军车随手拍). The mainstay seem to be luxury cars including Mercedes, BMW, and Land Rover. Super-luxury brands, such as Maserati, Porsche and Bentley, also made occasional appearances.

The implication that the military is corrupt and soldiers use public funds to get sweet rides apparently hit a nerve with the Central Military Commission (CMC), the body headed by Xi Jinping, China’s new paramount leader. At the end of March, the CMC announced that the PLA and Armed Police will issue new license plates on May 1 to replace all current plates.

The CMC issued a flat-out ban against any cars that cost over 450,000 RMB (about US$73,000), as well as super-luxury vehicles such as Mercedes, BMW, Land Rover, and Bentley, from carrying military plates. Some incarnations of Audi, a long-time favorite of the Chinese officialdom, are allowed, but Audi’s Q7 luxury SUVs are included in the ban. More budget-friendly sedan models made by Volkswagon’s joint venture partner in China made the cut. 

It’s not clear whether the ban would bring changes to the PLA’s procurement policies, but it could mean that many businesspeople who used connections or money to finagle military license plates for their own use will now need to made do with regular plates on their luxury cars.

For some of China’s Internet users, the problem of enforcement remains. Many asked what will become the army’s existing fleet of luxury cars, and whether less ostentatious special license plates will be created for them. “A ban of military plates on luxury cars and a ban on the army’s use of luxury cars are two completely different concepts. Who will carry out the oversight on military vehicle with ordinary license plates?” asked one Sina Weibo user.

However, at least for now, some of China’s Internet users are happy to claim their small victory. @独立的芦苇 tweeted:

Great victory for military car snap-and-post! Privilege can only be effectively checked through popular supervision in everyday life. I hope people like Professor Yu can initiate more campaigns like this, and tackle privileges one by one.

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Rachel Lu

Rachel Lu is a co-founder of Tea Leaf Nation. Rachel traces her ancestry to Southern China. She spent much of her childhood memorizing Chinese poetry. After long stints in New York, New Haven and Cambridge, she has returned to China to bear witness to its great transformation. She is currently based in China.
  • Henning

    that’s the spirit. Because if you don’t act, nothing will change. It is that simple – and it is your business.

  • Chinese Netizen

    Says a lot on how dirty filthy Guangzhou military district is, no? So many plates with 广 prefix and the Wujing “WJ15″ is also for Guangzhou based 武警 cars…

  • Chinese Netizen

    Best fighting force in the world, right?

  • mikeygow

    A hollow victory. Police won’t pull over any luxury cars now, for fear of getting a Wujing or PLA officer or his wife.

    Abuses of the law occur because of a failure to enforce through robust institutions. The police are still weak and ineffectual in this regard and until they are guaranteed the backing of the state, legislature and judiciary, they cannot enforce the law as they are required to. There should be no vehicles allowed military plates which are not purchased for the armed forces and for military use (i.e. all civilian-style private vehicles should be banned from using military plates, not just luxury ones).

    In the UK, if you’re a military personnel, you buy your own car and it actually costs much more money to insure it.