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.


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


If you lived in China for any length of time you learn to pack a roll of toilet paper with you. Or better yet, never go #1 in public restroom.


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.


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...


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

D. Gizzle

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.


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.

Airil H

An example of management of perception at its best perhaps?


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

Pat McGee

I've not been to China, but in Japan, providing free toilet paper in public restrooms is very much _not_ a cultural norm. I was warned before going to buy a hankie to dry my hands on and always, always carry tissue when going to the restroom. I've heard that in some companies that gaijin were able to convince some departments in companies where they worked to put in toilet paper, but never anything bigger than that one department where they worked.

In Japan at least, this seems to have nothing to do with thinking people would steal it.

Eric M. Jones

Graffiti is a problem where people can afford (or can shoplift) aerosol paint. This has declined everywhere for a variety of reasons. Maybe you are comparing China to Chicago?


I definitely got counterfeit money in China. I either got it from an ATM, or from the travel company I used to see the Great Wall that was attached to a reputable international hotel chain. Once I knew it was fake I could learn to feel the difference in the paper and the ink used, but the processes was clearly quite sophisticated.


What a weird article. Counterfeit money probably is a problem. Tourists stealing from hotel rooms is a problem anywhere in the world. The high fee for the lost card is an incentive for you not to lose it. Not uncommon either. The gates probably were to keep the orphans in, not like orphanages are happy places. I don't really have any arguments for the train tickets or the toilet paper because who cares but I can't see how any of it puts the official murder rate in China in doubt.


I lived in China for four years, so I have seen most of these.
Counterfeit money does seem to happen more often in China with shopkeepers proudly displaying the ones they caught as if to say to would-be offenders: "Don't try us, we will catch you!"
The checking of hotel rooms I have never experienced. The high fee for the key card is just a way to make people more careful with it, I would say.
The gates and guards around orphanages may also be a response to recent attacks on schoolchildren by knife-wielding, desperate individuals.
The train checking does seem excessive, but I would think are vestiges of the old times when the tickets weren't personal, so could be carried by any individual.
No TP in restrooms, ah, the eternal bane for a newbie westerner :) You learn to carry it around pretty quickly... I'm not sure if they worry about having it stolen as much as wanting to save money.
Overall, I never felt unsafe in China, even as a single female traveler. People are very friendly and men are respectful towards women. I did have my bag stolen once, but that didn't change my view on safety. I left it out of sight, which is a stupid move anywhere in the world.



After spending the last several years in Beijing, and traveling throughout China, the crime rate is not high in comparison to other locations that I have lived around the world. There remains petty crime, counterfeit money is a real concern amongst shopkeepers as they have no recourse if the accept the money. This difference is then taken from their wage, similar to a "short-drawer" at restaurants or other retail establishments. For people who don't make a lot of money, this loss could be a devestating event.

Violent crime does occur, but it is kept more quiet. Knife attacks, bombings, etc. are all rising but they remain well below other large city crime rates. Refer to the OSAC Reports on China and the Tier 1 cities for some of the other intel.

TP is frequently stolen, and we found that it was taken as soon as the bathrooms were outfitted with new rolls. It isn't limited to TP though, any commodity can be stolen quickly, just like any other big city. Different perspective that's all.



Been living in China for 5 years. It does feel a lot safer than other countries like the US, and even other countries of comparable income levels.

Your first point about counterfeit money is correct, I had a friend get 5000 RMB from an ATM (about $800 USD I think) and all of it was fake. Highly recommended to only use ATMs at banks themselves. I've had other friends complain about fake 1 RMB coins even, though I haven't seen this myself.

Second point, I've seen that in other Asian countries too, though I assume its for the reason you mentioned

#3, almost every housing neighborhood is built like a fortress as you mention. It's stupid too, because the good-for-nothing guard in front of my building opens the gate for whoever walks up to it. I've seen people get in fist fights near guard posts and the guard just looks on smoking a cigarette. I guess that's one way to guarantee full employment.

#4, haven't had this happen to me

#5, Other countries are like this, but Chinese people aren't good at restraint. Every buffet I've ever been to has big signs with fixed penalties for people who don't clean their plates. And it's for a good reason too, I've seen some really crazy abuse of freebies. It might have something to do with previous scarcity, or just bad manners? I don't know.

I would say that while violent crime is much, much lower in China, there are tons of pickpockets. I've had a camera stolen and know most people who have a lost a wallet, cell phone, or more to thieves.

In one extreme case, I had a Filipino coworker who was kidnapped by a taxi driver who was working with some shady types, and held hostage in a warehouse until he gave up his bank information. He lost several thousand dollars because of this. Granted I think this is very rare, but it's still a scary thought. He wasn't hurt at all, but I imagine the financial loss was not pleasant.



Dear Steven,

having lived in Beijing/China for more some time, I do feel the same. I only had one instant, where someone was trying to steal the cell out of my jeans in a club. Besides that I always felt safe.

I would like to add two more signs of crime to your list:

Maybe you have heard of so called "black cabs", that are non official ones? There are also some that do look like real ones. I once found myself inside one of them, where I could only tell from the "Daxi Drver Lizence" that was in front of me :-).

Also in pretty old cabs (maybe you encountered them in Beijing), the driver is surrounded by a kind of PlexiGlass cage. They did that because cab drivers used to be rubbed frequently and killed.

Did you notice that you get seldom any receipt in a restaurant? That is because the tax authorities are giving out the receipt blocks according to the taxes paid and estimates of the revenues. If you are a foreigner, some of your daily expenses are tax deductable. If you than ask for a receipt, you will often find that they are “out of receipts” for this month. Meaning they already surpassed the revenues they paid taxes for and now they will just make money for them self, without taxes.

I would also like to counter some of your evidence:

There is always a regulation that guards are needed for almost any kind of building. I did live in a compound where they had 4 guards at night (they all slept). It is not meant to prevent crime. It is rather a job-scheme (also like the conductors on the busses and the lift boys/girls). They all need to be hired by laws (city, province or state law).

You will only find toilet paper in restaurants that are clearly meant for foreigners. All Chinese just take a napkin with them and you will soon also.

Best regards




I would like comment on the second issue you raise there, regarding the hotel key cards with a simple 2-stage answer:

1-Hotel key cards are often encrypted.
2- Encryption is illegal in China.

This encryption is often not of a great standard and its easy to grab a magnetic scanner and copy the encrypted information, while this can be used to make working copies of the key card (aka, they will open the same door the original did), it is still very hard to access the information inside the card, which is good because often personal information on the guest is kept on it. Regardless, any sort of encryption in China is highly regulated and while some industries get exceptions to this rule, the government still demands full access to encryption/decryption machines, as well as access codes.

I strongly suspect its for this reason that you do not see those magnetic strip machines at hotels. It is very possible these are located at a central nearby government building. Even if it is on premises, government agents would need to be informed and I can imagine the kind of questions they ask in return get increasingly more and more uncomfortable for every copy you request beyond the 1st.

I imagine this is a reason why the highly disincentivizing $15 was attached to getting a new hotel keycard. I imagine the hidden costs of a copy of a hotel key to be much higher than that.