China is a very safe country with one of the lowest murder rates in the world. The most common problem is, fortunately, limited to petty theft and scams to get money from people, especially foreigners. As the middle class grows and more and more people earn higher incomes, theft is less widespread and more concentrated in certain places.
Train, bus, and subway stations are always busy places, especially during peak travel times like rush hour and holidays. Especially for long-distance travel on a train or a bus, travellers are often already stressed and trying to find their way, not paying attention to their belongings. So this is the perfect setting for pickpockets to grab your phone, wallet, or other valuable items. Pay attention to who is around you and keep your most valuable possessions closest to your body.
Similar to transportation stations, tourist attractions are popular destinations for thieves because of the mindset of the people there. People are in a new and unfamiliar location, unsure of where they are, trying to find their way, focusing on maps and taking photos. Again, not paying careful attention to their belongings. Additionally, people often ask directions and ask strangers for help. Many thieves have taken advantage of this and work in teams to ask questions as a means to distract people while they steal your valuables. Fortunately, in China, the government and local people are concerned for tourists' safety and work hard to help keep people and their valuables safe.
Whether you're shopping for fresh food, flowers, clothing, or just a bargain, markets are another place to watch your money and other valuable belongings. While you focus on negotiating for the lowest possible price, petty thieves are focusing on picking your pocket. If you're not using your phone to pay for things, make sure you have small bills and don't pull out a large quantity of money, if you can avoid it. It also helps in negotiations if you don't look like you can afford high prices, so not wearing valuable jewelry keeps it safe from thieves and also might help you get a better deal!
Spring Festival (New Year)
The Chinese New Year, or Spring Festival, is the biggest holiday of the year. Hundreds of millions of people travel to their home town during the week-long public holiday to visit family bringing lots of gifts and preparing thousands of RMB in red envelopes. So hundreds of millions of people are travelling at the same time and are carrying lots of valuable items and money with them as they travel. It's a thief's paradise. In addition to the opportunities for thieves, people become more and more desperate to acquire money and valuable items in the weeks leading up to the new year celebration. They are under pressure from their family to buy high-priced train or airplane tickets to come home and they would be embarrassed if they showed up empty-handed. The month before Spring Festival is the perfect storm of factors contributing to a sharp rise in petty theft so be extra vigilant during this time of year, no matter where you are.
This article is part of our new online Chinese course. An efficient way to learn Chinese language for working and living in China.