China is a huge country that shows a huge regional difference over crime rates but in general it poses no more risk than most western countries. Although you may hear locals complain about increasing crime rate, violent crime remains low. Many tourists will more likely feel safer in China than in their home country.
Generally speaking, crime rates are higher in the larger cities than in the countryside. The larger the cities, the more the crime rate. Nevertheless, they are no more dangerous than the likes of Sydney, London or New York in the Western world, so if you avoid seedy areas and use your common sense, you'll be fine.
Bicycle theft can be a problem. In big cities you may hear a story from locals that he lost 3 bikes within one month, but in some other places, local people still casually park their bike. Follow what local people do. If you see bikes are parked anywhere, just park yours and better tie it to a pole. In a place where everyone takes their bikes inside restaurants or internet cafes, it's a warning sign.
Assume your expensive lock won't help at all. Professional thieves can break any chains in a minute. In China, bike parking is common outside supermarkets or several shopping malls, and it usually charges RMB1 to 2 per day (usually until 8-10pm). If you have an electric bicycle or scooter, pay extra caution as its battery-packs may be targeted.
In long journey buses, there has been handful reports that a group of robbers mugged all passengers on the bus, especially on the ones leaving from Shenzhen. Now all passengers are required to take a mug shot before boarding and you're expected to follow the norm rather than discussing privacy issue. Since the measure has been introduced, reports have been dropped drastically.
While it's true that China claims more lives in car accidents than any country in the world, that is mainly due to its extremely high population. Its mortality rate per head remains lower than that of many Western countries. But that said, in general, the driving in China can range from anywhere from nerve-rattling to outright reckless.
Traffic rules are usually practiced half-halfheartedly and rarely if ever enforced. Cars are allowed to turn right on a red light and do not to stop for pedestrians, regardless of the walk signal. Bikers and electro-bikes tend to do as they like. Don't be fooled by following any signs and pedestrian paths; it is very common to see a motorcycle driving in a pedestrian lane. On occasion even cars will take to bike lanes and motor bikes to the sidewalk. Equally, pedestrians often walk in the roadways, especially at night, as they are better lit. Look in all directions when crossing! Expect or assume anything will come at or behind you from any direction at any time.
See also driving in China.
Chinese people traditionally hold strong negative views against begging, so unsurprisingly, begging is not a major issue in most places. It's however never off the scene and particularly common just outside the main tourist attractions and in major transportation hubs.
Be aware of child beggars who could be victims of child trafficking. While it is getting less common in China, you should avoid giving them any money. There have been several reports in local media about begging con artists who abducted a baby, made him drunk, and pretended to be his mother to beg for money.
In China, local people usually only give money to those who have obviously lost the ability to earn money. If you feel like giving them some, bear in mind that many Chinese make only ￥30-70 a day doing hard labour jobs.
See begging for more detailed discussion.
Pollution is a serious problem in the world's factory. Beijing, by some accounts, is the most polluted city in the world. 16 out of the worst polluted cities in the world are in China. Talking about air pollution has become a part of life for both locals and expatriates. Even the countryside, depending on the province in question, is not immune.
Places at higher altitudes or plains like parts of Yunnan and Sichuan, Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia, Tibet and outlying islands such as Hainan usually have good air quality. Visitors should be prepared to see smog, which can be quite heavy, in nearly all large cities, including those on the coast.
You will also hear a lot of noise. Construction and renovation are full-time activities. Chinese and long-time residents' ears are trained to filter and tolerate it.
See also: Common scams, Pickpockets
Touristy parts of Beijing and Shanghai have become notorious for the so-called teahouse scam. Variants can be seen at bars and cafes as well. Many scamming teahouses have been raided by the police in recent years but there are still a considerable number of scam reports from travelers and even local Chinese.
Around Tiananmen Square or Wangfujing in Beijing or the Bund and Nanjing Road in Shanghai, a scam artist may start a conversation in fluent English. They sometimes help you bargain and show you around. Everything is fine until they invite you to go to a teahouse, cafe or pub and leave you to foot an extortionate bill. Another scam is to take you into small shabby art shops and pressure you to buy overpriced art.
For example, in 2007, a French tourist, while strolling the Bund, was invited to a teahouse by a group of women and ended up being charged ¥7,455 for the tea and snacks. When he refused to pay, a teahouse manager threatened him. According to the local news report, the Frenchman called the police and the teahouse was raided.
Travelers often have the false presumption that the police in China are all corrupt and will not challenge the teahouse owner, but in a case like this one should always call 110 and report the scam. In China, you are also obliged to have a right to ask for "fa piao" (an official sales invoice issued by a taxation department). It is against the law that an owner refuses to give it to you. If you have already been a victim, go back to the shop with more tourists, ask for a refund and threaten to call the police. If you pay by a credit card, negotiate with your bank to get the money back.
Please note that while it is important to avoid being scammed, bear in mind that it is very common for English-speaking Chinese to genuinely want to start a conversation with you - even in touristy areas, show you around, and invite you for a drink and a meal. If you are paranoid about all invitations and interactions with the Chinese, it will ruin your travel experience.
When a stranger on the street invites you for tea or a drink, you should choose your own place, stating that you feel like eating or giving some other reason for your choice. If they are weirdly persistent at going to their "place" and make endless excuses to turn down your suggestions, use your common sense to tell if it's a scam.
Finally, high prices do not necessarily indicate a scam. In a pub or teahouse, ¥50-200 per refillable cup or pot of tea and ¥15-60 per bottle of beer is common. Tea samplings may also charge high prices for each sample. To avoid being surprised, ask for and keep the menu. Although it is perfectly possible to pay RMB1000 or more per pot of tea in a very high-end teahouse, run-of-the-mill teas should not be nearly this expensive. Such delicate tea would only be offered to tea gourmets, not a causal tea taster. Furthermore, it is considered socially offensive to take a new friend to spend so much money and expect them to pay the bill. If someone takes you to an expensive place and expects you to pay, it is most likely a scam.
The Chinese government is known to have strong hands on any media. Books, magazines and CDs can be confiscated if the content is considered inappropriate, although customs usually doesn't bother to take your English books away, if there are no explicit photos depicting politics of China.
No so-called Anti-Chinese materials: Tibetan Lion-Mountain flag, Falungong, Taiwan national flag.
Books: any books with photos on Dalai Lama or Tiananmen Square incidents. Expect a questioning session if you bring a book with Chairman Mao's portrait.
Pornography: Heavy penalty is imposed on all pornography and penalty is counted based on the number of pieces you bring into the country. If they consider what you bring is too much, let say, more than 100 videos on your laptop, they will likely detain you.
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