Explainer: How Chinese License Plates Work

By Ryan Kilpatrick, December 4, 2014

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The Explainer is where we explain an aspect of Chinese life. Simple. So now you know.

You see them every day of your life in China yet there's a good chance you have little to no idea what they really mean.

Chinese license plates all betray a wealth of information about the vehicle and its owner. And while having a firm foundation in Chinese and knowing your provincial abbreviations will definitely give you a head start, that's only the beginning of the story told in a series of cryptic letter and number combinations.

Luckily, though, you now have here the most comprehensive English-language guide to the license plates of China that you'll find online - all in a handy pocket-sized (if you've got a smart phone) format to help you decipher registration codes wherever you go in the country.

Format and coloring

For private vehicles, licence plates begin with a character denoting the province in which the vehicle is registered.

The full stories behind the provinces' names and how they acquired their single-character abbreviations can be found in our previous explainer 'How every Chinese province really got its name.'

After this, a letter denotes the city or even sub-division within the province that the vehicle belongs to. The letter I tends to be eschewed, however, owing to the resemblance it bears to the Chinese character 工 gong and the potential for confusion this could create.

Private vehicles are issued blue plates with white lettering; farm vehicles are green on white and larger vehicles such as trucks and buses, as well as motorcycles, receive yellow plates.

Police vehicles are black on white and suffixed with the character (police) in red. Airport license plates are also green with white and bear the designation 民航 (civil aviation). For automobile tests, license plates are yellow with black characters and are suffixed with 试, short for test.

Before 2007, all vehicles owned by foreigners were issued black plates. Although this was deemed discriminatory, foreign-owned vehicles are still more subtly distinguished by all falling within the 京A, 京LB and 京LC range. Black plates continue to be issued to diplomatic vehicles and dual-use vehicles such as those registered in both mainland China and Hong Kong or Macau.

In the summer of 2002, personalized registration plates were briefly instituted in several Chinese cities, including Beijing. After offensive/ludicrous plates such as USA-911, SEX-001, PRC-001 and IBM-001 were spotted, however, authorities decided people just couldn't be trusted to customize sensibly and the privilege was revoked.

That hasn't stopped the auctioning off of license plates that happen to get all the lucky numbers, though, with the superstitious super-rich doling out millions of RMB to get those 8s, 9s and 6s. Recently, special dispensation was also made for Tao Bihua, founder of the Lao Gan Ma chili sauce empire, when she was awarded a quadruple-8 plate by the central government.

Without further ado, here's how to decode them and figure out where the car is from and even who's behind the wheel:

Provinces, Autonomous Regions and Direct-controlled municipalities

京 Beijing

  • 京C, 京E, 京F, 京H, 京J, 京K, 京L, 京M, 京Q: Urban area

  • 京G: Suburbs

  • 京N, 京P, 京Y: Suburbs and urban area

  • 京A, 京LB, 京LC: Vehicles owned by foreigners or foreign companies

  • 京A88: Diaoyutai State Guesthouse (where visiting foreign dignitaries and provincial government officials are housed)

  • 京B: Taxis

  • 京O: Ministry of Public Security

  • 京V: Central Security Bureau (responsible for security of senior government, party and military officials)

  • 京V-0: General Staff Department organs

  • 京V-1: PLA General Political Department

  • 京V-2: PLA General Logistics Department

  • 京V-3: PLA General Armaments Department

  • 京V-020, 京V-021, 京V-022, 京V-023, 京V-024: Politburo members

  • 京V-025, 京V-026, 京V-027, 京V-028, 京V-029: PLA General Staff Department leaders

  • 京OB: Beijing Public Security Bureau (PSB)

  • 京OD: PSB department of transport

  • 京OE: Railway security

  • 京A-*****: Police vehicles

  • 京A-A*****: Court vehicles

  • 京A-B*****: Prosecutor's office

  • 国A: State Council

津: Tianjin

  • 津A, 津B, 津C, 津F, 津G, 津H, 津J, 津K, 津L, 津M, 津N: General issue

  • 津E: Taxis

沪 Shanghai

  • 沪A, 沪B, 沪D, 沪E, 沪F, 沪G, 沪H: Urban area

  • 沪C: Suburbs

  • 沪O: Police vehicles

渝 Chongqing

  • 渝A: Jiangnan District

  • 渝B: Jiangbei District

  • 渝C: Yongchuan District, Jiangjin, Hechuan, Tongnan County, Tongliang County, Bishan County, Dazu County, Qijiang County, Rongchang County

  • 渝F: Wanzhou District, Liangping County, Chekou County, Wushan County, Wuxi County, Zhong County, Kai County, Fengjie County, Yunyang County

  • 渝G: Fuling District, Nanchuan, Dianjiang County, Fengdu County, Wulong County

  • 渝H: Qianjiang District, Shizhu Tujia Autonomous County, Xiushan Tujia and Miao Autonomous County,  Youyang Tujia and Miao Autonomous County, Pengshui Miao and Tujia Autonomous County

冀 Hebei

  • 冀A: Shijiazhuang (冀AZ: Taxis

  • 冀B: Tangshan (冀AT: Taxis)

  • 冀C: Qinhuangdao

  • 冀D: Handan

  • 冀E: Xingtai

  • 冀F: Baoding

  • 冀G: Zhangjiakou

  • 冀H: Chengde

  • 冀J: Cangzhou

  • 冀R: Langfang

  • 冀T: Hengshui

豫 Henan

  • 豫A: Zhengzhou

  • 豫B: Kaifeng

  • 豫C: Luoyang

  • 豫D: Pingdingshan

  • 豫E: Anyang

  • 豫F: Hebi

  • 豫G: Xinxiang

  • 豫H: Jiaozuo

  • 豫J: Puyang

  • 豫K: Xuchang

  • 豫L: Luohe

  • 豫M: Sanmenxia

  • 豫N: Shangqiu

  • 豫P: Zhoukou

  • 豫Q: Zhumadian

  • 豫R: Nanyang

  • 豫S: Xinyang

  • 豫U: Jiyuan

云 Yunnan

  • 云A: Kunming

  • 云B: Dongchuan

  • 云C: Zhaotong

  • 云D: Qujing

  • 云E: Chuxiong Yi Autonomous Prefecture

  • 云F: Yuxi

  • 云G: Honghe Hani and Yi Autonomous Prefecture

  • 云H: Wenshan Zhuang and Miao Autonomous Prefecture

  • 云J: Pu'er

  • 云L: Dali Bai Autonomous Prefecture

  • 云K: Xishuangbanna

  • 云M: Baosham

  • 云N: Dehong Dai and Jingpo Autonomous Prefecture

  • 云P: Lijiang

  • 云Q: Nung

  • 云R: Diqing

  • 云S: Lincang

辽 Liaoning

  • 辽A: Shenyang

  • 辽B: Dalian

  • 辽C: Anshan

  • 辽D: Fushun

  • 辽E: Benxi

  • 辽F: Dandong

  • 辽G: Jinzhou

  • 辽H: Yingkou

  • 辽J: Fuxin

  • 辽K: Liaoyang

  • 辽L: Panjin

  • 辽M: Tieling

  • 辽N: Chaoyang

  • 辽P: Huludao

  • 辽V: Provincial-level agencies

黑 Heilongjiang

  • 黑A: Harbin

  • 黑B: Qiqihar

  • 黑C: Mudanjiang

  • 黑D: Jiamusi

  • 黑E: Daqing

  • 黑F: Yichun

  • 黑G: Jixi

  • 黑H: Hegang

  • 黑J: Shuangyashan

  • 黑K: Qitaishan

  • 黑L: Area of the Sungari River

  • 黑M: Suihua

  • 黑N: Heihe

  • 黑P: Daxing'anling Prefecture

湘 Hunan

  • 湘A: Changsha

  • 湘B: Zhuzhou

  • 湘C: Xiangtan

  • 湘D: Hengyang

  • 湘E: Shaoyang

  • 湘F: Yueyang

  • 湘G: Dayong

  • 湘H: Yiyang

  • 湘J: Changde

  • 湘K: Loudi

  • 湘L: Chenzhou

  • 湘M: Lingling

  • 湘N: Huaihua

  • 湘P: Xiangxi Tujia and Miao Autonomous Prefecture

皖 Anhui

  • 皖A: Hefei

  • 皖B: Wuhu

  • 皖C: Bengbu

  • 皖D: Huainan

  • 皖E: Ma'anshan

  • 皖F: Huaibei

  • 皖G: Tongling

  • 皖H: Anqing

  • 皖J: Huangshan

  • 皖K: Fuyang

  • 皖L: Suzhou

  • 皖M: Chuzhou

  • 皖N: Lu'an

  • 皖P: Xuancheng

  • 皖Q: Chaohu

  • 皖R: Chizhou

  • 皖S: Bozhou

鲁 Shandong

  • 鲁A: Jinan

  • 鲁B: Qingdao

  • 鲁C: Zibo

  • 鲁D: Zaozhuang

  • 鲁E: Dongying

  • 鲁F: Yantai

  • 鲁G: Weifang

  • 鲁H: Ji'ning

  • 鲁J: Tai'an

  • 鲁K: Weihai

  • 鲁L: Rizhao

  • 鲁M: Laiwu

  • 鲁N: Dezhou

  • 鲁P: Liaocheng

  • 鲁 Q: Linyi

  • 鲁R: Heze

  • 鲁U: Qingdao Development Zone

  • 鲁V: Weifang extra

  • 鲁W: Jinan extra

新 Xinjiang

  • 新A: Urumqi

  • 新B: Changji Hui Autonomous Prefecture

  • 新C: Shihezi

  • 新D: Kuitun

  • 新E: Bortala Mongol Autonomous Prefecture

  • 新F: Ili Kazakh autonomous prefecture

  • 新G: Qoqek

  • 新H: Altay

  • 新J: Karamay

  • 新K: Turpan

  • 新L: Hami

  • 新M: Bayin'gholin Mongol Autonomous Prefecture

  • 新N: Aksu Prefecture

  • 新P: Kizilsu Kyrgyz Autonomous Prefecture

  • 新Q: Kashgar

  • 新R: Hotan

苏 Jiangsu

  • 苏A: Nanjing

  • 苏B: Wuxi

  • 苏C: Xuzhou

  • 苏D: Changzhou

  • 苏E: Suzhou

  • 苏F: Nantong

  • 苏G: Lianyungang

  • 苏H: Huaiyin

  • 苏J: Yancheng

  • 苏K: Yangzhou

  • 苏L: Zhenjiang

  • 苏M: Taizhou

  • 苏N: Suqian

浙 Zhejiang

  • 浙A: Hangzhou

  • 浙B: Ningbo

  • 浙C: Wenzhou

  • 浙D: Shaoxing

  • 浙E: Huzhou

  • 浙F: Jiaxing

  • 浙G: Jinhua

  • 浙H: Quzhou

  • 浙J: Taizhou

  • 浙K: Lishui

  • 浙L: Zhoushan

赣 Jiangxi

  • 赣A: Nanchang

  • 赣B: Ganzhou

  • 赣C: Yichun

  • 赣D: Ji'an

  • 赣E: Shangrao

  • 赣F: Fuzhou

  • 赣G: Jiujiang

  • 赣H: Jingdezhen

  • 赣J: Pingxiang

  • 赣K: Xinyu

  • 赣L: Yingtan

鄂 Hubei

  • 鄂A: Wuhan

  • 鄂B: Huangshi

  • 鄂C: Shiyan

  • 鄂D: Shashi

  • 鄂E: Yichang

  • 鄂F: Xiangfan

  • 鄂G: Ezhou

  • 鄂H: Jingmen

  • 鄂J: Huanggang

  • 鄂K: Xiaogan

  • 鄂L: Xianning

  • 鄂M: Jingzhou

  • 鄂N: Yunyang

  • 鄂P: Yichang

  • 鄂Q: Enshi Tujia and Miao Autonomous Prefecture

  • 鄂R: Tianmen

  • 鄂S: Suzhou

桂 Guangxi

  • 桂A: Nanning

  • 桂B: Liuzhou

  • 桂C: Guilin

  • 桂D: Wuzhou

  • 桂E: Beihai

  • 桂F: Nannjing

  • 桂G: Liuzhou

  • 桂H: Guilin

  • 桂J: Hezhou

  • 桂K: Yuzhou

  • 桂L: Baise

  • 桂M: Hechi

  • 桂N: Qinzhou

  • 桂P: Fangchenggang

  • 桂R: Guigang

甘 Gansu

  • 甘A: Lanzhou

  • 甘B: Jiayuguan

  • 甘C: Jinchang

  • 甘D: Baiyin

  • 甘E: Tianshui

  • 甘F: Jiuquan

  • 甘G: Zhangye

  • 甘H: Wuwei

  • 甘J: Dingxi

  • 甘K: Longnan

  • 甘L: Pingliang

  • 甘M: Qingyang

  • 甘N: Linxia Hui Autonomous Prefecture

  • 甘P: Gannan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture

晋 Shanxi

  • 晋A: Taiyuan

  • 晋B: Datong

  • 晋C: Yangquan

  • 晋D: Changzhi

  • 晋E: Jincheng

  • 晋F:  Shuozhou

  • 晋H: Qinzhou

  • 晋J: Luliang

  • 晋L: Linfen

  • 晋M: Yuncheng

蒙 Inner Mongolia

  • 蒙A: Hohhot

  • 蒙B: Baotou

  • 蒙C: Wuhai

  • 蒙D: Chifeng

  • 蒙E: Hulunbuir

  • 蒙F: Hinggan League

  • 蒙G: Tongliao

  • 蒙H: Xilin Gol League

  • 蒙J: Ulaan Chab

  • 蒙K: Ordos

  • 蒙L: Bayan Nur

  • 蒙M: Alxa League

陕 Shaanxi

  • 陕A: Xi'an

  • 陕AT, 陕AU: Xi'an taxis

  • 陕AV: Provincial-level agencies

  • 陕B: Tongchuan

  • 陕 C: Baoji

  • 陕D: Xianyang

  • 陕E: Weinan

  • 陕F: Hanzhong

  • 陕G: Ankang

  • 陕H: Shangluo

  • 陕J: Yan'an

  • 陕K: Yulin

  • 陕V: Yangling Gaoxin Agricultural Zone

吉 Jilin

  • 吉A: Changchun

  • 吉B: Jilin

  • 吉C: Siping

  • 吉D: Liaoyuan

  • 吉E: Tonghua

  • 吉F: Baishan

  • 吉G: Baicheng

  • 吉H: Yanbian Korean autonomous prefecture

  • 吉J: Songyuan

闽 Fujian

  • 闽A: Fuzhou

  • 闽B: Putian

  • 闽C: Quanzhou

  • 闽D: Xiamen

  • 闽E: Zhangzhou

  • 闽F: Longyan

  • 闽G: Sanming

  • 闽H: Nanping

  • 闽J: Ningde

  • 闽K: Provincial-level agencies

  • 闽O: Police vehicles

贵 Guizhou

  • 贵A: Guiyang

  • 贵B: Liupanshui

  • 贵C: Zunyi

  • 贵D: Tongren Prefecture

  • 贵E: Qianxi

  • 贵F: Bijie Prefecture

  • 贵G: Anshun

  • 贵H: Qiandonnan

  • 贵J: Qiannan

粤 Guangdong

  • 粤A: Guangzhou (粤AQ: Panyu)

  • 粤B: Shenzhen

  • 粤C: Zhuhai

  • 粤D: Shantou

  • 粤E: Foshan (粤EV: Gaoming; 粤ET: Sanshui)

  • 粤F: Shaoguan

  • 粤G: Zhanjiang

  • 粤H: Zhaoqing, Gaoyao (粤HL: Sihui)

  • 粤J: Jiangmen

  • 粤K: Maoming

  • 粤L: Huizhou

  • 粤M: Meizhou

  • 粤N: Shanwei

  • 粤O: Provincial Public Security Department

  • 粤P: Heyuan

  • 粤Q: Yangjiang

  • 粤R: Qingyuan

  • 粤S: Dongguan

  • 粤T: Zhongshan

  • 粤U: Chaozhou

  • 粤V: Jieyang

  • 粤W: Yunfu

  • 粤X: Shunde, Foshan

  • 粤Y: Nanhai, Foshan

  • 粤Z: HK and Macau vehicles registered to enter mainland China, suffixed with 港 (HK) or 澳 (Macau)

青 Qinghai

  • 青A: Xining

  • 青B: Haidong Prefecture

  • 青C: Haibei Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture

  • 青D: Huangnan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture

  • 青E: Hainan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture

  • 青F: Golog Tibetan autonomous prefecture

  • 青G: Gyegu Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture

  • 青H: Haixi Mongol and Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture

藏 Tibet

  • 藏A: Lhasa

  • 藏B: Qamdo Prefecture

  • 藏C: Shannan Prefecture

  • 藏D: Xigaze Prefecture

  • 藏E: Naqu Prefecture

  • 藏F: Ngari Prefecture

  • 藏G: Nyingchi Prefecture

川 Sichuan

  • 川A: Chengdu

  • 川B: Mianyang

  • 川C: Zigong

  • 川D: Panzihua

  • 川E: Luzhou

  • 川F: Deyang

  • 川H: Guangyuan

  • 川J: Suining

  • 川K: Neijiang

  • 川L: Leshan

  • 川Q: Yibin

  • 川R: Nanchong

  • 川S: Daxian

  • 川T: Ya'an

  • 川U: Ngawa Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture

  • 川V: Garze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture

  • 川W: Liangshan Yi Autonomous Prefecture

  • 川Z: Meishan

宁 Ningxia

  • 宁A: Yinchuan

  • 宁B: Shizuishan

  • 宁C: Wuzhong

  • 宁D: Guyuan

  • 宁E: Zhongwei

琼 Hainan

  • 琼A: Haikou

  • 琼B: Sanya

  • 琼C: Qiongbei

  • 琼D: Dongfang

Military and armed police

According to "97-style," military license plates used ordinals based on the Heavenly Stems and Earthly Branches in red to designate different branches of the PLA.

  • : PLA  headquarters

  • : Army grouping

  • : Communications and transport

  • : Shenyang Military Region

  • : Beijing Military Region

  • : Lanzhou Military Region

  • : Jinan Military Region

  • : Nanjing Military Region

  • : Chengdu Military Region

  • : Guangzhou Military Region

  • : PLA Air Force (PLAAF)

  • : PLA Navy (PLAN)

  • : General Armaments Department

When a new format was introduced in 2004, however, military plates started to follow a more intuitive and systemic set of prefixes:

  • : Central Military Commission, PLA headquarters, PLA units at Army-Grade or above

  • : Beijing Military Region

  • : Shenyang Military Region

  • : Lanzhou Military Region

  • : Chengdu Military Region

  • : Jinan Military Region

  • : Nanjing Military Region

  • 广: Guangzhou Military Region

  • : PLA Navy

  • : PLA Air Force

After these initial characters is a letter assigned to a specific department.

  • A: Military command center

  • B: Political Department

  • C: Logistics Department

  • D: Armaments Department

  • G: Provincial military district

  • H: Depot

  • K: Local railway, aviation, or shipping representative

  • P: Hospital

  • S: Logistics depot

In 2012, however, the system was overhauled again with the characters generally replaces by the first letter in their Pinyin romanizations.

  • V A0: General Staff Headquarters

  • V A1: General Political Department

  • V A2: General Logistics Department

  • V A3: General Armaments Department

Z: Central Military Committee and units directly subordinate to the four departments

  • Z A: General Staff Headquarters Grade 2

  • Z B: General Political Department Grade 2

  • Z C: General Logistics Department Grade 2

  • Z D: General Armaments Department Grade 2

  • Z E: Academy of Military Sciences

  • Z F: National Defense University

  • Z G: National University of Defense Technology

  • Z K: Units directly under the General Logistics Department, including Academy of Military Medical Sciences and PLA General Hospital

  • Z M: CMC Military Commission Branches

  • Z O: CMC Military Commission vehicle supervision

  • Z R: Military academies directly under the four professional service branches in Beijing

  • Z T: Divisions under the four general departments

H: PLA Navy

  • H A: Naval Command

  • H B: PLAN Political Department

  • H C: PLAN Logistics Department

  • H D: PLAN Armaments Department

  • H E: North Sea Fleet

  • H F: East Sea Fleet

  • H G: South Sea Fleet

  • H L0: North Sea Fleet Aviation Department

  • H L1: East Sea Fleet Aviation Department

  • H L2: South Sea Fleet Aviation Department

  • H O: PLAN vehicle supervision

  • H R: Naval Academy

  • H R20: Naval Command Academy

  • H R21: Naval Engineering University

  • H R22: Submarine Academy

  • H R23: Dalian Naval Academy

K: PLA Air Force

  • K A: Air Force Command

  • K B: PLAAF Political Department

  • K C: PLAAF Logistics Department

  • K D: PLAAF Armaments Department

  • K E: Shenyang Military Region Air Force

  • K F: Beijing Military Region Air Force

  • K G: Lanzhou Military Region Air Force

  • K H: Jinan Military Region Air Force

  • K J: Guangzhou Military Region Air Force

  • K K: Chengdu Military Region Air Force

  • K M: Fifteenth Airborne Division

  • K O: PLAAF vehicle supervision

  • K R: Air Force Academy

  • K R10: Air Force Command Academy

  • K U: Nanjing Military Region Air Force

  • K L, K N, K Z: Units directly subordinate to PLAAF

E: Second Artillery Corps

  • E A: SAC Command

  • E B: SAC Political Department

  • E C: SAC Logistics Department

  • E D: SAC Armaments Department

B: Beijing Military Region Ground Force

  • B A: Beijing Military Region Command

  • B B: Beijing Military Region Political Department

  • B C: Beijing Military Region Joint Logistics Department

  • B D: Beijing Military Region Armaments Department

  • B H: General Armaments Department based in military region

  • B S: Provincial Military Region

  • B R1: Military Academy directly under the General Staff Department in the Military Region

  • B R2: Military Academy directly under the General Political Department in the Military Region

  • B R3: Military Academy directly under the General Logistics Department in the Military Region

  • B R3: Military Academy directly under the General Armaments Department in the Military Region

  • B R43: Ordnance Engineering Academy

S: Shenyang Military Region Ground Force

  • S A: Shenyang Military Region Command

  • S B: Shenyang Military Region Political Department

  • S C: Shenyang Military Region Joint Logistics Department

  • S D: Shenyang Military Region Armaments Department

  • S H: General Armaments Department based in military region

  • S S: Provincial Military Region

  • S R1: Military Academy directly under the General Staff Department in the Military Region

  • S R2: Military Academy directly under the General Political Department in the Military Region

  • S R3: Military Academy directly under the General Logistics Department in the Military Region

  • S R4: Military Academy directly under the General Armaments Department in the Military Region

L: Lanzhou Military Region Ground Force

  • L A: Lanzhou Military Region Command

  • L B: Lanzhou Military Region Political Department

  • L C: Lanzhou Military Region Joint Logistics Department

  • L D: Lanzhou Military Region Armaments Department

  • L H: General Armaments Department based in military region

  • L S: Provincial Military Region

  • L R1: Military Academy directly under the General Staff Department in the Military Region

  • L R2: Military Academy directly under the General Political Department in the Military Region

  • L R3: Military Academy directly under the General Logistics Department in the Military Region

  • L R4: Military Academy directly under the General Armaments Department in the Military Region

J: Jinan Military Region Ground Force

  • J A: Jinan Military Region Command

  • J  B: Jinan Military Region Political Department

  • J C: Jinan Military Region Joint Logistics Department

  • J D: Jinan Military Region Armaments Department

  • J H: General Armaments Department based in military region

  • J S: Provincial Military Region

  • J R1: Military Academy directly under the General Staff Department in the Military Region

  • J R2: Military Academy directly under the General Political Department in the Military Region

  • J R3: Military Academy directly under the General Logistics Department in the Military Region

  • J R4: Military Academy directly under the General Armaments Department in the Military Region

N: Nanjing Military Region Ground Force

  • N A: Nanjing Military Region Command

  • N B: Nanjing Military Region Political Department

  • N C: Nanjing Military Region Joint Logistics Department

  • N D: Nanjing Military Region Armaments Department

  • N H: General Armaments Department based in military region

  • N S: Provincial Military Region

  • N V: Second Artillery Corps in Military Region

  • N R1: Military Academy directly under the General Staff Department in the Military Region

  • N R2: Military Academy directly under the General Political Department in the Military Region

  • N R3: Military Academy directly under the General Logistics Department in the Military Region

  • N R4: Military Academy directly under the General Armaments Department in the Military Region

G: Guangzhou Military Region Ground Force

  • G A: Guangzhou Military Region Command

  • G B: Guangzhou Military Region Political Department

  • G C: Guangzhou Military Region Joint Logistics Department

  • G D: Guangzhou Military Region Armaments Department

  • G H: General Armaments Department based in military region

  • G S: Provincial Military Region

  • G R1: Military Academy directly under the General Staff Department in the Military Region

  • G R2: Military Academy directly under the General Political Department in the Military Region

  • G R3: Military Academy directly under the General Logistics Department in the Military Region

  • G R4: Military Academy directly under the General Armaments Department in the Military Region

C: Chengdu Military Region Ground Force

  • C A: Chengdu Military Region Command

  • C B: Chengdu Military Region Political Department

  • C C: Chengdu Military Region Joint Logistics Department

  • C D: Chengdu Military Region Armaments Department

  • C H: General Armaments Department based in military region

  • C S: Provincial Military Region

  • C R1: Military Academy directly under the General Staff Department in the Military Region

  • C R2: Military Academy directly under the General Political Department in the Military Region

  • C R3: Military Academy directly under the General Logistics Department in the Military Region

  • C R4: Military Academy directly under the General Armaments Department in the Military Region

ZG: PLA vehicles in Hong Kong (驻港)

ZA: PLA vehicles in Macau (驻澳)

Since vehicles with military plates are not subject to the Road Traffic Safety Law of the PRC, they can run reds, drive the wrong way down roads, weave in and out of traffic and park wherever they want.

This has created a booming black market in fake military plates used generally by young and reckless drivers. Although a quick run through the system would quickly turn these up as fake, police are extremely reluctant to pull over or penalize any vehicles with such plates.

People's Armed Police (PAP) license plates begin with WJ in red, denoting the Pinyin for 武警 Wujing, the abbreviated name for the PAP in Chinese. Thereafter, two numerals also in red indicate province of origin:

  • 01: PAP headquarters

  • 02: Hebei

  • 03: Inner Mongolia

  • 04: Shanxi

  • 05: Liaoning

  • 06: Jilin

  • 07: Heilongjiang

  • 08: Shanghai

  • 09: Jiangsu

  • 10: Zhejiang

  • 11: Anhui

  • 12: Jiangxi

  • 13: Fujian

  • 14: Shandong

  • 15: Guangdong

  • 16: Guangxi

  • 17: Hubei

  • 18: Hunan

  • 19: Henan

  • 20: Sichuan

  • 21: Yunnan

  • 22: Guizhou

  • 23: Shaanxi

  • 24: Gansu

  • 25: Qinghai

  • 26: Xinjiang

  • 27: Ningxia 

  • 28: Tianjin

  • 29: Tibet

  • 30: Hainan

  • 31: Beijing

  • 32: Chongqing

After the area prefix, a letter (formerly character) in red then denotes PAP subdivision:

  • X () Fire Police

  • B (): Border Police

  • T (): Traffic Police

  • S (): Forest Police

  • G (): Gold Mine Police

  • D (): Hydropower Facilities Police

Diplomatic vehicles

Cars belonging to embassies and consulates have black backgrounds with the red character (for embassies) or (for consulates) in red. Thereafter, a series of three numbers reflects the country represented:

  • 101: Afghanistan

  • 102: Albania

  • 103: Algeria

  • 104: Angola

  • 105: Argentina

  • 106: Australia

  • 107: Austria

  • 108: Azerbaijan

  • 109: Bahrain

  • 110: Bangladesh

  • 111: Belarus

  • 112: Belgium

  • 113: Benin

  • 114: Bolivia

  • 115: Botswana

  • 116: Brazil

  • 117: Brunei

  • 118: Bulgaria

  • 119: Burkina Faso

  • 120: Burundi

  • 121: Cambodia

  • 122: Cameroon

  • 123: Canada

  • 124: Chad

  • 125: Chile

  • 126: Colombia

  • 127: Republic of the Congo

  • 128: Ivory Coast 

  • 129: Croatia

  • 130: Cuba

  • 131: Cyprus

  • 132: Czech Republic

  • 133: North Korea

  • 134: Denmark

  • 135: East Timor

  • 136: Ecuador

  • 137: Egypt

  • 138: Equatorial Guinea

  • 139: Eritrea

  • 140: Ethiopia

  • 141: Fiji

  • 142: Finland

  • 143: France

  • 144: Gabon

  • 145: Germany

  • 146: Ghana

  • 147: Greece

  • 148: Guinea

  • 149: Guyana

  • 150: Hungary

  • 151: Iceland

  • 152: India

  • 153: Indonesia

  • 154: Iran

  • 155: Iraq

  • 156: Ireland

  • 157: Israel

  • 158: Italy

  • 160: Jordan

  • 161: Kazakhstan

  • 162: Kenya

  • 163: Kiribati

  • 164: Kuwait

  • 165: Kyrgyzstan

  • 166: Laos

  • 167: Lebanon

  • 168: Libya

  • 169: Luxembourg

  • 170: Madagascar

  • 171: Malaysia

  • 172: Mali

  • 173: Malta

  • 174: Marshall Islands

  • 175: Mauritania

  • 176: Mexico

  • 177: Micronesia

  • 178: Mongolia

  • 179: Morocco

  • 180: Mozambique

  • 181: Myanmar

  • 182: Nepal

  • 183: Netherlands

  • 184: New Zealand

  • 185: Nigeria

  • 186: Norway

  • 187: Oman

  • 188: Pakistan

  • 189: Palestine

  • 190: Papua New Guinea

  • 191: Peru

  • 192: Philippines

  • 193: Poland

  • 194: Portugal

  • 195: Qatar

  • 196: South Korea

  • 197: Romania

  • 198: Russia

  • 199: Rwanda

  • 200: Saudi Arabia

  • 201: Senegal

  • 202: Seychelles

  • 203: Sierra Leone

  • 204: Singapore

  • 205: Slovakia

  • 206: Slovenia

  • 207: Somalia

  • 208: South Africa

  • 209: Spain

  • 210: Sri Lanka

  • 211: Sudan

  • 212: Sweden

  • 213: Switzerland

  • 214: Syria

  • 215: Tanzania

  • 216: Thailand

  • 217: Toga

  • 218: Tunisia

  • 219: Turkey

  • 220: Uganda

  • 221: Ukraine

  • 222: United Arab Emirates

  • 223: United Kingdom

  • 224: United States

  • 225: Uruguay

  • 226: Vanuatu

  • 227: Venezuela

  • 228: Vietnam

  • 229: Yemen

  • 230: Serbia

  • 231: Democratic Republic of the Congo

  • 232: Zambia

  • 233: Zimbabwe

  • 234: Macedonia

  • 235: Zimbabwe

  • 236: Lesotho

  • 237: Uzbekistan

  • 238: Turkmenistan

  • 239: Georgia

  • 240: Namibia

  • 241: Lithuania

  • 242: Moldova

  • 243: Mauritius

  • 244: Panama

  • 245: Niger

  • 246: Tajikistan

  • 247: Antigua and Barbados

  • 248: Armenia

  • 249: Suriname

  • 251: Estonia

  • 252: Haiti

  • 253: Latvia

  • 254: Bosnia and Herzegovina

  • 255: Guinea-Bissau

  • 256: Cape Verde

  • 257: Djibouti

  • 258: Central African Republic

  • 260: Dominica

  • 261: Liberia

  • 262: Jamaica

  • 263: Grenada

  • 264: Maldives

  • 265: Costa Rica

  • 266: Malawi

  • 267: Bahamas

  • 268: Comoros

  • 269: Montenegro

  • 270: Tonga

  • 271: South Sudan

  • 272: Barbados

  • 159: Shanghai Cooperation Organization

  • 259: Pacific Islands Forum

  • 300: European Union

  • 301: Arab League

  • 302: Un Development Program

  • 303: UN Food and Agriculture Organization

  • 304: UN Population Fund

  • 305: UN World Food Program

  • 306: UN Children's Fund

  • 307: UN World Health Organization

  • 308: UNESCO

  • 309: UN International Labor Organization

  • 310: World Bank

  • 311: UN High Commissioner for Refugees

  • 313: IMF

  • 314: International Finance Corporation

  • 316: UN Industrial Development Organization

  • 317: Asia Development Bank

  • 318: Red Cross

  • 319: UN Asian and Pacific Center for Agricultural Engineering and Machinery

  • 321: UN Environment Program

Following these three numbers follow another three, the first of which is generally bestowed upon the ambassador himself. The plate reading 使 158-001 would therefore belong to the Italian ambassador (who of course drives a Fiat):

There you go. Happy license plate hunting!


For more of The Explainer, click here.

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