Winter Games 2022 - Safety in China

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Generally speaking, China is a safe country to travel around, and most people you meet are friendly, honest, and trustworthy. However, China is far from  immune to crime, the weather can affect travel plans, and accidents do happen.

Travelers are more often the victims of petty economic crime, such as theft, than serious crime. Often Americans and Foreigners are natural targets for pickpockets and thieves – keep your wits about you and make it difficult for thieves to get at your belongings.  Thieves commonly target cell phones, cameras, and other high-value items. Travelers are advised to place their wallets in their front pockets. Purses should be kept with the straps draped across the body. Travelers are discouraged from keeping valuable items inside backpacks, which may be out of view and more vulnerable to thieves. As a general rule, lesser developed areas in major cities have a higher rate of crime. 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 Beijing, single women taking taxis have been taken to remote areas and robbed by taxi drivers.

Unlike outright robbery, pickpocketing is more common in China since it’s easier for criminals to get away with it(no hard evidence). So be especially wary in touristy-areas or crowded places like buses, markets, and train stations. Pickpocketers often work in groups to crowd or distract you. Similarly, one person might distract you somehow (e.g. bumping into you, getting into an argument, or “dropping” their change), while their accomplices pick your pocket or steals your bag. Don’t stash any valuables (such as cameras or iPods) behind you in a backpack pocket or put all of your cash in a bulging wallet (separate your small spending money from your hidden main stash). Be especially wary at train stations. For example, while waiting in line to buy your ticket, the Chinese tend to push up really tight (for fear of someone cutting in line!) so be particularly cautious about that guy behind you. Also, when at the ticket counter, don’t just casually leave your bag next to you.

Another hot spot for thieves is in crowded restaurants. Notice that the Chinese never just hang their purses or bags on the chair behind them. Instead, they usually eat with it still draped around their shoulder and on their laps. 

If something of yours is stolen, report it immediately to the nearest Foreign Affairs Branch of the Public Security Bureau. 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, organizing it. Make a copy of your passport in case of loss or theft.

Con artists are widespread. Well-dressed young women flock along Shanghai’s East Nanjing Rd, the Bund and Beijing’s Wangfuijing 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 neighborhoods, press-ganging foreigners into art exhibitions where they are coerced into buying trashy art.

Taxi scams at Beijing’s Capital Airport are legendary; always join the queue at the taxi stand and insist that the taxi driver uses his or her meter, no meter no ride.  Try to avoid pedicabs and motorized three-wheelers wherever possible, pedicab drivers will originally agree on a price and then insist on an alternative figure (sometimes 10 times the sum) once you arrive at the destination.

Visitors may be approached by beggars with young and/or disabled children on the street. Another variation involves beggars with sound amplifiers strapped to their upper bodies who sing sad Chinese songs in an effort to appeal to the visitor’s sympathy. Some of these beggars may be part of a larger network of criminals who use children and handicapped persons in their criminal enterprise.

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 seat belts, or that the seat belts are virtually unusable through neglect or are stuffed beneath the seat. Outside of the big cities, taxis are unlikely to have rear seat belts 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, 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. A big part of the problem is that they just haven’t been driving very long. Most drivers are first-generation drivers who probably learned to drive in a day and didn’t learn the basics of defensive driving.  Combine this inexperience with a culture of bending the rules and lax traffic enforcement and you’ll understand why China has the world’s highest per capita rate of vehicular fatalities. China has only 3% of world’s drivers but one of the highest per capita rates of road fatalities.  Beware of drivers running red lights, if you’re crossing a busy street without a traffic light or pedestrian overpass, the rule of thumb is to walk slowly — stopping if necessary — but never unpredictably (for example, never suddenly backtrack!). Also, always look both ways before crossing, even on a supposed one-way street, bikes and scooters can literally come at you at any direction, even while on the sidewalk.

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