What’s the Real Crime Rate in China?

Official statistics would certainly suggest that crime in China is extremely low.  Murder rates in China are roughly one-fifth as high as in the United States.  According to the official crime statistics there, all crimes are rare.  China certainly feels safe. We walked the streets in rich areas and poor and not for a moment did I ever feel threatened.  Graffiti was completely absent.  The one instance where I thought I finally found some graffiti near a train station in the city of Shangrao, the spray painted message on a bridge turned out not to be graffiti, but rather a government warning that anyone caught defecating under the bridge would be severely punished.

Yet, there were all sorts of odd behaviors that made it seem like some crimes were a big problem. 

First, there seemed to be an obsession with the risk of counterfeit money.  Our tour guides felt the need to teach us how to identify fake money.  Whenever I bought something with currency, the shopkeeper went through a variety of tricks to validate the legitimacy of the bills. 

Second, when checking out of some of our hotels, there was a fifteen minute delay while a hotel worker went to check out the vacated hotel room, I presume to check for stolen clocks, towels, and mini-bar items.  (Possibly I misunderstood why they checked the room, just as I struggled to understand why there was a $15 fee associated with each lost key card, which couldn’t possibly have cost the hotel more than a few cents.  On the key cards, it almost seemed like they didn’t have the device on hand that regular hotels use to program key cards in real-time as a new guest checks in, although this seems impossible.)

Third, places that no sensible person would ever want to break into (for instance, orphanages) were protected by guard houses and metal gates that had to be retracted to let vehicles in.  And I don’t think the gates were to keep the orphans in, but maybe they were!

Fourth, on the trains we took, they checked our tickets before we boarded, while we were riding the train, and also required that the ticket be produced on the way out of the station.

Finally, and most notably, public restrooms were completely devoid of toilet paper, even in some reasonably nice restaurants.  Again, maybe I’m completely missing something, but the impression was that (a) toilet paper was a very valuable commodity, and (b) if it were left in public restrooms it would be stolen.

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  1. Dave says:

    You’re leaving us on the edge of our seats…. how did you wipe?!

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  2. YX says:

    I’ve checked for counterfeit money for 15 years and never found any. They even sell those UV scanner that suppose to be able check counterfeit in the streets.

    AFAIK Chinese LOVES to build gates. Everything is gated, from university to apartment complex. On the same note, every window is barred, even those virtually impossible to break in. Every family have heavy iron door that’s chainsaw proof for no possible justification. I just chalk those to great salesman for construction company.

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    • Neil (SM) says:

      I suppose they have a rich and deeply embedded cultural history of building barriers.

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    • Enter your name... says:

      The Chinese immigrants settling in the Sunset Park and Bay Ridge areas of Brooklyn, NY are putting up massive stainless steel gates and bars on the windows of their houses. a relative who is a NYC cop in that area said it is not for safety. It’s more of a status symbol, to imply the owners are wealthy.

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    • Phil Persinger says:

      Gates ARE a big deal in China and have been traditionally a major architectural feature to their respective buildings or cities– often the only architecture the outside world is permitted to see. On the whole, traditional Chinese architectural space was directed inward to the courtyard; windows to the world outside are very rare and on upper stories; to be allowed entrance to any interior space at all was an extraordinary thing. The gate to the Chinese house was the demarcation between the public sphere of the city and the extraordinarily private sphere of the family. (In traditional urban Chinese society, women were kept under tight wraps– sometimes literally– and seldom went beyond the courtyard gate.) A further measure of privacy in the old-style siheyuan courtyard house was provided by the zhaobi (screen wall) placed directly behind the gate to block the gaze of prying eyes (and the entrance of evil spirits) whenever the gate happens to be open.

      Beyond that, there is no reason to believe that the Chinese are any different from the rest of us regarding wanting security or harboring criminal intent. A reading of “Dream of the Red Chamber” will immerse one into a first-class soap opera with as much addiction, cheating, stealing, double-dealing, etc., as you might find on any modern US television network.

      Whatever claims the Party makes about its having transformed Chinese culture should be viewed with great skepticism. A mere sixty-year rule is not enough to change that country in any fundamental way. Ask the Northern Wei, Jin, Yuan and Qing dynasties– all founded by foreigners.

      As for the official crime rate, remember what Twain said about statistics…..

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  3. Jam says:

    I’m sorry, but what do the latter points have anything to do with crime rates? Seems to me they’re just a different form of practice compared to the western countries…

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    • Philip says:

      Exactly. Especially the toilet paper point: many Asian societies do not use toilet paper, and instead use water (often with soap). Maybe the Chinese are also like that? Modern places do provide bidet showers in toilets, though.

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      • Xiang says:

        No, we DO use toilet paper!
        The only reason we don’t keep toilet paper in public restroom is to prevent people from stealing it.

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    • James says:

      Any statistics that come from China are likely to be modified to paint a more positive picture. On crime, well depends on what you think crime is! Counterfeiting is a national job creation scheme, there is nothing that’s not counterfeited here . Bribery is alive and well in 2015 openly police taking extra funds to let people off the “hook”. There is nothing called food safety so long as you don’t kill lots of people and can pay someone all is ok. Tourist shops have hidden rooms that hide counterfeited goods that are quickly taken up by tourists and taken home. Personal Crime safety Mmm been here 2 years and never been threatened but it is here like all countries and dumb tourists who get scammed and then threatened for there money.

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  4. Dan says:

    So, you don’t know how to use the three seashells

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  5. D. Gizzle says:

    I have been to China a few times and actually spent most of my time in Macau. The Portuguese SAR gambling “area”.

    All modern casinos and the like had TP, BUT if you walked off the beaten trail and made your way to a “locals” resturant, they often did not.

    In some places the toilet was flush with the ground. Not these “thrones” us westerns are use to perching ourselves on.

    While I made sure to never be in a situation where I had to use one of these flush with the ground toilets I DID ask about them……

    Apparently if you are healthy and squat that close to the ground…everything comes out nice and easy and there is no need for TP. As a matter a fact one local laughed in the sense that TP is a western invention and a scam to take our money, and he knew better!

    Pardon me sir, my clean bottom is so foolish.

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    • James says:

      look you’re talking about macau which like hk is largely a westernized area. it’s not really east asian. it’s a lot different in .cn or .tw than that

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    • Chris says:

      What you call the “ground toilet” are squats, I’ve been living in China for 10 years now and I must admit that in public spaces squats are way more hygienic than western toilets despite whatever people think. At the beginning I was skeptical but I got used of it and now I like it more than regular western toilets.
      However if squats are convenient for men, whenever they do number 1 or 2, it is another story for women, especially if they wear a dress.

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      • James says:

        I am not sure what part of China you are in but like all toilets there are some that are a throwback to the Stone Age and others that are very western, however my last two years here in China would say that the bad ones are extremely bad and the good ones very good . Overall things are getting very good here but we always carry a back up even when going out as it’s likely to be a time when no toilet paper is available. Toilets in general are
        Not as good as western areas but getting better.

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  6. wc says:

    The question was not answered. So is their crime rate high? You cannot flush the tissue down the toilet btw. You have to throw it in the waste paper bin beside it in china.

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    • Mari says:

      In other parts of the world like latin america toilet paper cant be flushed down either. Just bad piping system I suppose. Not a big deal as long as the paper bin is emptied everyday.

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  7. Airil H says:

    An example of management of perception at its best perhaps?

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  8. Paul says:

    Id love to live in a country where stolen toilet paper, counterfeit currency and sneaking onto trains were the only perseptible crimes. This is a strange thesis, as it sounds like it was written by someone who hasnt seen much of the world. Levitts observations are not just common in china, but in many countries that aren’t the usa. Headline should read: American surprised people in other countries live differently

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    • JBP says:

      No, he’s not surprised to learn they live differently. He’s interested in causes of why they live differently. It’s called curiosity.

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    • Karozans says:

      You are free to move there anytime you wish. No one is stopping you.

      I bet $1000 you won’t.

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    • bob says:

      This is my 10th month in china, idk about the laws, but I do know police don’t do their job and killing someone with a car or injuring them is meaningless here. People don’t move out of the way of ambulances or fire fighters in emergencies.

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    • wang says:

      Chinese love to live in western , because they want a efficient government which cares ppl more rather than try to get advantage from them. However, they hates to live in a place where everyone can carry a gun. Chinese wont try to kill someone most of time, but its ok to hurt someone. There is no perfect place for ppl to live in.

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