China is relatively safe and non-violent. Unrest is mostly contained to certain areas, as noted in those chapters. Most crime, such as pickpocketing, is preventable by taking precautions.
Travellers are more often the victims of petty economic crime, such as theft, than serious crime. Foreigners are natural targets for pickpockets and thieves – keep your wits about you and make it difficult for thieves to get at your belongings.
High-risk areas in China are train and bus stations, city and long-distance buses (especially sleeper buses), hard-seat train carriages and public toilets.
Women should avoid travelling solo. Even in Běijīng, single women taking taxis have been taken to remote areas and robbed by taxi drivers.
If something of yours is stolen, report it immediately to the nearest Foreign Affairs Branch of the Public Security Bureau (PSB; 公安局; Gōng’ānjú). Staff will ask you to fill in a loss report before investigating the case.
A loss report is crucial so you can claim compensation if you have travel insurance. Be prepared to spend many hours, perhaps even several days, organising it. Make a copy of your passport in case of loss or theft.
Con artists are widespread. Well-dressed young women flock along Shànghǎi’s East Nanjing Rd, the Bund and Běijīng’s Wangfujing Dajie, asking single men to photograph them on their mobile phones before dragging them to expensive cafes or Chinese teahouses, leaving them to foot monstrous bills. ‘Poor’ art students haunt similar neighbourhoods, press-ganging foreigners into art exhibitions where they are coerced into buying trashy art.
Taxi scams at Běijīng’s Capital Airport are legendary; always join the queue at the taxi rank and insist that the taxi driver uses his or her meter. Try to avoid pedicabs and motorised three-wheelers wherever possible – we've received a litany of complaints against pedicab drivers who originally agree on a price and then insist on an alternative figure (sometimes 10 times the sum) once you arrive at the destination.
Be alert at all times if you decide to change money or buy tickets (such as train tickets) on the black market, which we can’t recommend.
Always be alert when buying unpriced goods (which is a lot of the time): foreigners are frequently ripped off. Always examine your restaurant bill carefully for hidden extras and if paying by credit card ensure there are no extra charges.
Traffic accidents are the major cause of death in China for people aged between 15 and 45, and the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates there are 600 traffic deaths per day. On long-distance buses, you may find there are no seatbelts, or that the seatbelts are virtually unusable through neglect or are inextricably stuffed beneath the seat. Outside of the big cities, taxis are unlikely to have rear seatbelts fitted.
Your greatest danger in China will almost certainly be crossing the road, so develop 360-degree vision and a sixth sense. Electric cars and 'hoverboards' can approach quite silently. Crossing only when it is safe to do so could keep you perched at the side of the road in perpetuity, but don’t imitate the local tendency to cross without looking. Note that cars frequently turn on red lights in China, so the green ‘walk now’ figure does not always mean it is safe to cross.
Government Travel Advice
The following government websites offer travel advisories and information on current hot spots:
- Australian Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade (www.smarttraveller.gov.au)
- British Foreign & Commonwealth Office (www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice)
- Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs & International Trade (http://travel.gc.ca/travelling/advisories)
- New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (www.safetravel.govt.nz)
- US State Department (http://travel.state.gov)