Posted by Joel Martinsen on Thursday, March 1, 2007 at 2:44 PM
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.
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