We return to our country safety series, following shows on Russia and Mexico. Today we’ll be featuring the most populous nation in the world, and one of the largest in terms of land mass. We’ll state again that this is by no means an exact science, as living in certain parts of countries can be more dangerous, and it certainly counts how you choose to live in a place.
Nonetheless, by checking statistics on crimes, driving accidents, deaths, and even disease, it may give us an idea of how safe a country is. We will also check out official government warnings and what people living in these countries think about their safety. So, without further ado, welcome to this episode of the Infographics Show, Is it safe: to live in China.
First of all, we should point out that mainly due to China’s thriving economy, it has become the home to many expatriates. The latest numbers we can find put the number of foreigners living and working in China at around 900,000, with the largest groups coming from South Korea, the USA, and Japan. These are people living in mainland China, aside from the 1.38 billion Chinese people. In total, there were 59.3 million international visitors to China in 2017, according to the world tourism organization, making it the fourth most visited country in the world behind Spain, the US, and France. With that kind of popularity in mind, we should probably know something about the safety of China.
Let’s have a look at the website Numbeo, which offers all kinds of information for people wanting to visit countries around the world. Numbeo gives each nation a score for both crime and safety, which is based on surveys answered by visitors and expats. China comes way down the list in 71st place, with a good safety score – placed next to Canada and scoring better than the US, France and the UK. It’s most dangerous cities according to the surveys are Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Beijing and Shanghai, but they all come far behind many American cities. In fact, in terms of what people thought, China scored low for violent crime, moderate for other crimes, but high for corruption and bribery.
What about official statistics? Well, some of the murder stats out there are quite old, with 1.1 per 100,000 people being the most cited number. That was 13,410 murders in that year. The average global rate is about 6 per 100,000. A more recent report we can find puts China’s murder rate for 2016 at 0.62 per 100,000 residents, which is one of the lowest rates in the world. According to the Commission for Political and Legal Affairs of the Communist Party of China Central Committee, there was a 43 percent decline in all violent crime since 2012, although major traffic injuries and deaths went up by more than 50 percent.
It seems in China much of the crime is related to gang crime, such as drug and human trafficking, although corruption seems to be endemic. This might not have any effect on the visitor, but let’s see what other governments say about safety in China.
According to the US Department of State, China is a low-threat location. Although, it says in large cities such as Beijing, petty crime is quite common. It gives the example of pickpocketing, credit card fraud, and financial scams. It also states, “Violent crime affecting the expatriate community most often occurs in the bars/clubs of Beijing’s nightlife districts.” One of the reasons for this is cultural misunderstandings that are sometimes fueled by booze. Crime in more rural areas, says the US, is not common at all.
Another thing in China – and expat websites are full of these stories – are foreigners being approached on the street by innocent-looking Chinese girls saying they want to practice some English. It’s usually men that are the target, perhaps attracted to these cute gals, that fall for the scam. They might then be whisked off to a teashop and asked to pay an inordinately high bill which will be hard to get out of – the cute girl may have large male friends who are in on the scam. Foreigners should also be aware that criminals have pretended to be police and have tried to extort money, and that they may meet criminal gangs if taking home prostitutes.
The British government says 595,000 British nationals visited mainland China in 2017, and for the most part, the visit was trouble free. The major criminal incidences include: disputes over taxi fares, and also the scams we already discussed. Another thing pointed out is China’s strict drug laws, so bear in mind that being found with drugs on you could mean a lengthy prison sentence. While China is open to foreigners, and most people are very tolerant, it also says to avoid political gatherings and that it might not be a good idea to get into political arguments.
The British government says there have been terrorist attacks in some places, such as Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous region, but foreigners are not the target. There are also some armed criminals wandering around very remote areas on the borders of Siberia, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Vietnam, Laos and Burma. If anything, it states that visitors have more to worry about in terms of pollution or even natural disasters such as earthquakes or cyclones. One thing the Brits do point out is danger on the roads, so let’s have a look at that.
According to the South China Morning Post, around 260,000 deaths occur on China’s roads each year, so think about that if you are renting a car or motorbike, especially a motorbike. Per 100,000 that is 18.8 deaths, which is mid-high on a global scale. Many countries in Europe have a death rate of under 10, but some countries have a rate at way over 30. The US is around 10 per 100,000. When someone asked the question: Is it safe to drive in China, a Chinese resident said it can be dangerous, and to beware of overloaded trucks and the fact that many people drive without a license.
Another Chinese respondent said it’s what happens after the accident that can be dangerous, as people do lash out. Others said people can be selfish drivers, yet others said it was fine. One expat wrote, “Driving in China is either utterly terrifying, or amazingly awesome depending on your state of mind and attitude. Coming from America, it’s not very difficult to get around.” He also wrote that driving can be crazy at times, but there’s a method to the madness, adding that’s there is not much safety culture and rules will be broken often. He added that if an accident does happen, the foreigner is often blamed.
Reading forums about general safety in China, it seems people think it’s safe. According to one American living in Shenzhen, he says it is much safer than New York or San Francisco. In fact, most expats praised the safety of China. An African-American expat named Matthew said use common sense, but stated, “Undoubtedly, China is the safest country I have ever lived in.” As for racism, according to an Economist article in 2018, China sees racism as a western problem, but like in many Asian nations, there can be a stigma, or even accidental rudeness, regarding what people think about darker-skinned people. This certainly doesn’t mean aggressive racism, but more passive ignorance. From what we can tell, it seems homophobia is much the same. There is no outward hostility towards gay people, but the country might be somewhat behind the times in some respects.
The consensus everywhere was that China is mostly safe, even walking at night, relating to physical attacks. But one person added that crossing the road can be hair-raising, so don’t go thinking there is anything like a ‘pedestrian comes first’ policy. Like many Asian countries, don’t walk around thinking cars will stop, and even be aware that people jump red lights and don’t stop at what looks like a crossing. He talked about the scams we have mentioned, and also that drunken foreigners can be more dangerous than any locals when on a night out. Oh, and he mentioned getting sick from the food.
You shouldn’t drink tap water in China, ‘cos that could give you diarrhea or worse. In fact, if you are new to China, there’s a good chance you’ll get some kind of stomach problem at some point. The rule of thumb in some Asian countries, especially off the beaten track, is don’t eat street vendor food, but then a million expats would tell you that’s being way overly cautious as they often love the stuff.
As for disease, the CDC recommends some vaccinations, but it depends where you are going. Perhaps try not to sleep with strangers, and apply mosquito repellent where there are lots of mosquitos. China is mainly low-risk or risk free for malaria, but dengue – pronounced dengy – is common in some areas.
So, there you go. It’s very, very unlikely you’ll come across hostility in China and the people generally don’t exhibit violence towards foreigners. Watch out for those road crossings, and be careful if you choose to drive. You might also be aware that pollution can cause breathing problems, a stuffy nose, or general irritation, when levels are high. If you want a pain-free visit be aware of petty scams and try not to make drug dealers your best buddies. That’s common sense, and if you have it, you will most likely not have any problems. We give China a very safe rating, the safest country so far. That means up until now we have China, Russia and Mexico in that order of safety.