China Travel Safety
Is China Safe to Travel?
Perhaps the single most reassuring fact about
travel in the People's Republic of China is its remarkably low crime
The Ministry of Public Security (MPS), the principal authority of
domestic criminal procedures, announced significant declines in violent
crime over the past few years, while common property infringement
incidents such as theft, fraud and robbery, which account for 80
percent of all cases, rose by only 1 percent.
Cosmopolitan cities such as Beijing and Shanghai, which annually
attract tens of millions of overseas visitors on business or holiday,
applaud themselves for providing public order and relatively safe city
streets where one can walk at just about any hour in relative safety.
But all is not necessarily quiet on the home front. In an
uncharacteristically candid public admission, the MPS has reported a
pandemic of illicit drug trafficking in China led by an increasing
number of foreign crime syndicates, reportedly from the African regimes
of Nigeria and Liberia and triads from neighboring Asian countries.
Moreover, violent crime on the southern shore is notoriously rampant in
Guangdong, making it the only province in China's mainland to arm
police with guns.
Nor is this to say that Westerners are entirely exempt from either being the victim of, or committing, more serious crimes.
I have found myself in several situations while traveling extensively
throughout China. I fondly remember the street gang who confronted me
in a darkened alley in Inner Mongolia, or facing off with a pickpocket
in crowded Qianmen hutong in Beijing with a baying crowd of onlookers
taking great delight in watching a 196cm waiguoren vigilante.
Then there was that time in Chongqing. Not exactly heralded as a top
tourist destination, the interior municipality of Chongqing, located on
the rusty banks of the Yangtz River, uncannily resembles a lawless
early-century port-of-call of maritime merchants, hardened dock
laborers and waterfront brothels.
An overnight stay in a small hotel on the outskirts of China's largest,
and hottest, city, turned into a midnight brawl after a polite request
on my part to ask three obviously drunk men loitering in the hallway to
settle down, was met with a hostile response.
A push on their part led to a not gentle shove on mine, sending one of
the men flying back into his two friends. The next few moments were a
feral blur, and for a short time I laudably held my own. But six bare
fists can infallibly do more damage than two. The tough guys retreated
into the night, leaving me breathless and battered.
The police arrived thereafter and took me to the Public Security Bureau
to get a statement. It was determined that the hotel security guards
failed to serve their purpose, and it was also found that the hotel did
not follow strict municipal protocol in copying the three perpetrators'
identification cards before accommodating them, which would have
assisted the police in their investigation.
This meant that it was my right under Chinese law to demand an
immediate financial settlement from the hotel proprietor for my
troubles, you see, though it hardly made up for the bang up job those
inebriated gentlemen did on me.
To be sure, the aforementioned incident is an isolated one, with a
great majority of expatriates being lucky, or not, to see so much
action during their stay in China ("I was overcharged!" seems to be the
With only one police officer for every thousand residents in a
population of 1.3 billion, and more than 40 percent of mainland
precincts having fewer than five officers, compounded with a general
lack of funding, resources or state-of-the-art technology, China's
police ought to be commended for maintaining an impressively low
national crime rate.
Let there be no mistake: Xinhua News Agency has reported that there
were twice as many reported criminal cases in 2005 than in 1990, and
six times that of 1980. But compared to hyper-violent icons of the wild
West such as Los Angeles and New York, it is no wonder that China is
witnessing an increasing number of foreigners residing in its gleaming
municipalities. China remains one of the statistically safest countries
to visit, and the rest of the world would do well to take notice.
San Francisco is an internationally published freelance photographer
and travel writer specializing in the People's Republic of China. Tom
has traveled extensively throughout all 33 Chinese provinces and
autonomous regions and currently resides in Beijing
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