What’s the Deal with Infinite Numerals?

dec32Walking the streets of Dongguan, cell phone numbers can be seen pasted or painted everywhere—the ground, a bus stop, a pole, a wall, a public toilet, a tree, a statue and anything lifeless, or even alive if it is motionless. They are advertisements obviously, but what are they offering? How do they do it? And is it a headache for city management?

Widely known in China as street psoriasis, or niú pí xiǎn, they cover the city in scale-like patches and the side effect of constant annoyance. Already difficult to remove, especially the painted on variety, they return like weeds because of their economic and effective ability to promote services from any walk of life in any location. For example, ads around construction sites advertise equipment rentals. And the ones close to residential back alleys are often for rental properties, handymen or job offerings.

The pay for sticking and painting business numbers across town is relatively high to attract those willing to risk the fines. Finishing 6,000 flyers in one day reaps a reward of RMB 500, more than two times the average daily rate. Since most people turn a blind eye to the behavior, they are not necessarily doing it at night. Depending on location and working experiences, they can be spotted during the daytime.

These ads have been thriving within all Chinese cities partly because of tolerance from the authorities and citizens. But considered to be slightly “uncivilized” behavior, Dongguan has been running a campaign since November to medicate the city’s skin disorder. Some measures in the city have been applied for the first time, showing renewed determination to hold the “civilized city” title for the third consecutive year.

According to the guidelines released by the Dongguan Spiritual Civilization Steering Committee, the responsible parties for each street, lot or establishment are required to clear the areas by 9 a.m. daily; anyone caught putting up ads will be fined between RMB 50 to 500; and communities should set up signboards for free advertisement as well. The numbers themselves will be sorted to related government departments for further investigation and punitive action. Any reports can be sent to the city management bureau at 2310 8000. Illegal ads can be reported to the Public Security Bureau at 2248 0096.