The return of bike registration greeted with derision

At a conference yesterday, the Ministry of Public Security and five other government agencies announced plans to implement yet another "real name system," this time on bicycles.

Bicycle purchases will be tied to individual's ID cards in an effort to stem the 2 billion yuan in economic losses that result from the theft of 4 million bicycles every year. The system will be implemented nation-wide to attack the common practice of shipping stolen bicycles elsewhere to be re-sold. Though details of how serial numbers and ID registration will actually help prevent theft have yet to be worked out, the announcement yesterday included a reward system for cooperative citizens:

  • For cases in which more than 5 stolen bicycles are recovered, providers of useful information will receive between 100 and 500 yuan;
  • For cases in which more than 10 bicycles are seized and more than 5 thieves, dealers, or harborers of stolen bicycles are arrested, providers of useful information will receive between 500 and 1000 yuan;
  • For major busts of bicycle theft rings in which more than 15 criminals and 50 bicycles are seized, providers of useful information will receive between 2000 and 5000 yuan.

China Daily provides a few emotional stories of bike thefts:

Chen Liangwen, a PhD candidate at Peking University, told China Daily that since he was a freshman six years ago, he has had six bicycles stolen....Chen's experience is not unique. "Bicycle theft has been an acute threat to social security," said Ma Weiya, an official with the Ministry of Public Security, at yesterday's press conference. Ma reported that he also had one of his bicycles stolen.

In a letter to the minister of public security last year, a young handicapped man from Nanchang, a city in East China, complained that he lost a one-month-old electric bike just in front of his home, which cost him three years' savings. "I even thought of committing suicide several times," he wrote.

In its coverage of the story, The Beijing News reports that in recent years, Beijing police, at least, have been fairly successful in addressing the problem. Just 40 bicycles were stolen every day in Beijing last year (down from 140 two years ago).

Like previous ID registration systems (for blogs, online video, video games, and cars), this latest initiative has been greeted skeptically by most commentators. A number of papers ran multiple opinion pieces criticizing the system.

Here's a selection of headlines and excerpts:

  • Building an ID system for bicycle sales is ineffectively scratching an itch through boot-leather (China Economic Times): "More crucially, thieves most certainly will not wash their hands of the business because of this system. They will continue to find buyers for the bikes they steal, so the registration system for sales will have a hard time becoming an effective instrument for stemming bike theft."
  • Real-name registration for bicycles infringes upon personal property rights (China Economic Times): "Implementing real-name registration for bicycles because bicycles have been lost - if we lose televisions, then must we implement ID registration for television sales? If we lose money, must we then sign our names on every note we receive? No, from a legal perspective, only real property must be registered, while personal property rights are declared by possession and do not require registration. Particular examples of personal property such as airplanes, ships, and cars need only follow clause 25 of the Draft Law on Property Rights."
  • Don't let the bicycle "real-name system" become a "fee-collection system" (Nanjing Morning Post)
  • Will bicycle ID registration really stop theft? (Shanghai Youth Daily): "That administrative departments believe that establishing a serial number and ID verification system can prevent theft is an inflated estimation of their own power. In the imagination of some administrators, giving a unique serial number to every bike and issuing a license to each bike owner may allow a thief to steal a bike, but since they cannot steal the license or change the serial number, they won't dare ride it. Who'll steal bikes then? This thinking is no less than "perfect," only, it ignores the biggest fact: bikes are not like cars; their serial numbers and licenses are essentially superfluous to bike owners." (Note: a remarkably similar editorial ran in Modern Jinbao, credited to a different author.)
  • Some expectations for the bicycle ID system (Shanghai Youth Daily): "4. I hope that the ID system's use in theft prevention will not be overly emphasized. In recent years, "real-name system" has been a popular word - bank deposit real-name system, mobile phone real-name system, Internet real-name system, online gaming real-name system, and so forth. At first, people felt that the real-name system for banks was beneficial toward fighting corruption and would prevent corrupt officials from finding hiding places for their wealth. However, the effective results are not readily apparent. And the mobile phone real-name system has not prevented phone theft, and SMS scams are unending."

But wait - aren't there more than a few ancient bikes tooling around Beijing bearing serial numbers from an earlier, defunct registration system? A TBN op-ed by Yang Ji* looks back at why the previous system was dropped:

In establishing a serial number and ID system for bicycles, the public security departments are actually facing a new problem - how to allow the public to truly benefit from this system, rather than just increasing the public's responsibilities. The ultimate goal of the ID system should be to obtain timely evidence to attack illegal and criminal bike theft, and then use the information system to seek the license and let more and more "black bikes" return to their owners.

From a historical perspective, this sort of serial number and sales system for bikes has existed in the past. Those who are somewhat older will remember that twenty years ago, when bicycles were one of the "three big things" in the lives of common people [the others were a watch and a sewing machine], the paperwork for a purchase was much more complicated than it is today. At that time, new bicycles had to be registered with the transportation department, and after its parts were inspected, the police department would issue an ownership document to the owner and attach a licence plate to the back. This procedure was like car registration is today. However, because stolen bicycles rarely returned to their owners, the public had little interest in this registration system and it eventually petered out.

In addition, as the country's economy has developed and as the living standard of the populace has risen, common people possess many things that are much more valuable than bicycles, and which are much easier to steal - computers, mobile phones, portable multimedia devices, brand-name clothing, gems and jewelry, cosmetics. When citizens are illegally deprived of their property, how should this problem be addressed? Is there a need for a corresponding registration and ID system?

Disclosure: your correspondent was fined 25 yuan in 2000 for riding an unregistered bicycle in Jilin City. His current bike was bought second-hand with no questions asked.

Correction: The original version of this post misidentified the author of the TBN op-ed as Yang Xu.

Links and Sources
There are currently 9 Comments for The return of bike registration greeted with derision.

Comments on The return of bike registration greeted with derision

Good luck with this. Cars are registered to people by name and have highly visible license numbers and are tracked through sophisticated registration databases yet they are nicked in droves. Just ask my bro, who's Accord was lifted from a hospital parking lot in Seattle two months ago.

Net likely effect on legal owners of bicycles: much extra bureaucratic hassle. Net likely effect on thieves and purchasers of hot bicycles: zilch.

Frankly I am appalled by the lack of ambition shown by China's bicycle thieves. It is high-time they took a long hard look at themselves and their lack of ambition. With so many new cars on the streets every day shouldn't they be setting their sights on these more valuable prizes?

Rather than spending money on setting up a new registration system, a more practical and effective way to reduce bike theft in China might be for cities to provide racks for people to lock their bikes to. I don't understand how people can be surprised about bike theft rates when they're only locking their bikes to themselves.

The Mordern Jinbao edition ( a combination of the Shanghai Youth Daily ( and China Economic Times (

"effective way to reduce bike theft in China might be for cities to provide racks for people to lock their bikes to"

You realize how bike thieves in China laugh at most bike locks, regardless of whether the bike is locked to a fixed object or not?

Registration is not the answer. I gave up riding a bike in Shanghai after #5 was stolen. I now realize that public execution of bicycle thieves is going too far, and no longer advocate that as a solution. But this scourge upon Chinese society must be met head-on. I've had REGISTERED bikes stolen when they were double locked to iron railings and street-lamps on busy Shanghai streets in the middle of the day. Chinese friends tell me that I should ride crappier bikes that make a les attractive target, but that's just appeasing the criminal element. I'm told that my idea for remote-controlled exploding bicycle seats is unworkable, but it's only through direct application of bold new technologies that decent bikes will be safe in China. I'm open to suggestions.

"You realize how bike thieves in China laugh at most bike locks, regardless of whether the bike is locked to a fixed object or not?"

Have you seen the bike locks people use in China? A 10 kuai lock is not going to stop anyone.

A better solution: folding bikes.

The quality of bicycle locks in China is incredibly low, and given that Chinese is major industrial nation producing excellent quality bikes its surprising you can't get better locks here! (I brought a decent U lock from the UK). But good locks are only useful if you can lock the bike TO something, and there are remarkably few places in many Chinese streets to lock bikes up. If the government subsidised the cost of DECENT locks and encouraged towns to put up secure racks, they might have more impact on cycle crime than any registration scheme.

you are missing the point. You know that you idea would make too much sense and therefore can not be implemented.
If there were actually secure places for bike storage in the land of Chin then those people involved with bike parking would be out of jobs, the gov wouldn't be able to collect money, and unemployment numbers would spike. Its the same reason that grocery stores here have 50 people walking around doing nothing but getting in the way..its just to keep unemployment numbers low.

China Media Timeline
Major media events over the last three decades
Danwei Model Workers
The latest recommended blogs and new media
From 2008
Front Page of the Day
A different newspaper every weekday
From the Vault
Classic Danwei posts
+ Culture and corporate propaganda in Soho Xiaobao (2007.11): Mid-2007 issues of Soho Xiaobao (SOHO小报), illustrating the complicated identity of in-house magazines run by real estate companies.
+ Internet executives complain about excessive Net censorship (2010.03): Internet executives complain about excessive Net censorship at an officially sanctioned meeting in Shenzhen.
+ Crowd-sourced cheating on the 2010 gaokao (2010.06): A student in Sichuan seeks help with the ancient Chinese section of this year's college entrance exam -- while the test is going on!
Danwei Archives