During my sister’s recent trip to China, we passed through Nanchang, a southern city with little more to distinguish it than wicked pollution and the fact that some important Chinese Communist history went down there, guaranteeing that it’s now endowed with a handful of revolutionary museums. Yet unpleasant cities such as Nanchang that are situated well off the tourist map (the Lonely Planet recommends: “travelers, unless otherwise detained, should hop on the first connection out of town”) have their own share of interesting discoveries that just can’t be found in the big cities. In Nanchang, one of my favorites was a hand-painted ad painted right onto the street. I stopped to take a picture:
The character on the left that looks like a many-legged critter means ‘black’ and the character on the right means ‘car.’ Yet instead of selling cars of the ebony variety, phone number would lead to an unregistered (and thus illegal) taxi—most likely someone’s personal car.
Ads for blatantly illegal services are common in China—anything from fake IDs to bogus receipts to prostitution (those last two are probably linked)—so this wasn’t what made this advertisement for “black cars” so interesting.
Instead, it was the gall with which the advertisement was made. There are any number of ways that they could have proffered their services using innocuous terms, perhaps under ‘taxi’ or ‘personal transportation.’ Yet the ad-maker chose the term for the illegal cars. I still can’t decide whether that proves the ad-makers brave or just over-earnest, but it does mean that Chinese towns you’ve never heard of aren’t without a charm of their own.