Shanghai is a fairly safe city and violent crime is rare. However, the ever-increasing divide between the haves and have-nots has created its fair share of problems. Petty crimes like pickpocketing exist, and sexual harassment has been reported on crowded public transport. Be mindful during the months and weeks preceding the Chinese New Year (in Jan or Feb depending on lunar calendar) as thieves may be looking to make a little money before they have to buy a train ticket home. Also be careful during Chinese New Year as thieves prey shoppers seeking gifts for the upcoming holiday.
Various tourist-oriented scams, long practiced in Beijing, are unfortunately spreading to Shanghai as well. Be cautious if you meet a group of overly friendly students, women or new “friends” who insist on dragging you along to an art gallery, tea shop or karaoke parlor – you’re unlikely to be physically harmed, but the bill may well be more than you bargained for. Police can help to recover some part of your money. Art scams can be found around People’s Square near the entrances/exits of the museums and art galleries.
Foreign males may attract unsolicited attention from female sex workers at nightspots. Prostitution is illegal throughout all of China.
Be careful of people who approach and offer to polish your shoes, even if they are obviously a type which don’t need polishing. Often when you refuse they’ll squirt some hard-to-remove substance on them or the agreed upon price will change without warning.
Hawkers are a nuisance, particularly in areas such as Old Town and Science Museum in Pudong where there are shops in the subway selling fake designer goods. The most effective way to deal with them is to ignore them. Shouting a rude bu yao (“I don’t want it”) may help.
Be wary also of the “booths” at the Bund area (and the new waterfront development on Pudong side) offering photo services. They will offer to take your picture with the scenic background (and sometimes with costumes) for ¥50, but once you have contracted their services, several cohorts will arrive to “assist” the photographer. They may force you to buy all the snapshots and try to gather crowds to increase pressure.
As for passports, it may be best to have your passport at-hand. Chinese law requires that foreigners have their passports with them, but this is rarely enforced. Hotels will often recommend you leave your passport in their safe, though foreigners may want to consider the hotel and how much they trust it to hold their most important documents. Always carry copies of your passport and visa in a separate place in case they are lost or stolen.
Staying Safe in China
China is an 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 that local complaints about increasing crime rate, violent crime remains low. Many tourists will more likely feel safer in China than in their home country.
Basic rule to go is that big cities are usually worse than countryside, tourist spots are more vulnerable to petty crime and bus stations, train stations, clubs, airports are high risk with pickpockets.
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.
The major local concern is about non-proportional brutality in petty crime. In some cases, a victim got stabbed while being mugged. One theory suggests that a petty-crime practitioners tends to be more violent in China because of non-proportional stiff punishment on even petty crime. Locals tend to avoid walking in dark, to be cautious when withdrawing money from ATMs. Motorcycle snatchers have also been reported in some cities in recent years but you may feel relieved to see that most local people haven’t yet paid much attention on this rarely happened crime.
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 broading and you’re expected to follow the norm rather than discussing privacy issue. Since the measure has been introduced, reports have been dropped drastically.
That being said, in a country so big with 1.3 billion people, it is a big mine for seeking paranoid for any crimes, but reports of crimes are usually a story happened in FOF (Friends of Friends) and it is still not easy to get a first account witness, especially among foreigners. In general, reports that foreigners being attacked, robbed or killed remain almost unheard of, although paranoid-seeking tourists or your scaremongering travel guides or books may be able to find out one or two cases on 10 year span of time.
To many surprise, although China claims more lives in car accidents than any countries in the world, its mortality rate per head remains lower than, let say, France..
Traffic rules are usually not practiced with full heart. Bikers can run their way anywhere in any direction. Cars are allowed to turn right against a red light and they tend not to stop even if you’re crossing the road.
Bikers tend to drive in any directions. Don’t be fooled by any signs and pedestrian paths. It is very common to see a motorcycle driving on a pedestrian paths. On the contrary, car roads can also become pedestrian paths to many. In many areas, people even tend to walk on car roads especially at nights because it is more lightened.
See also driving in China.
Chinese holds a strong negative view on begging, so no surprise that begging is not a major issue in most places. It’s however never off the scene and particularly common in major transportation hubs.
Be aware of child beggars. Once you give them money, expect to be accosted by all the rest. And a few minutes later, you will see him to pass your money to an adult hidden in the corner. Child beggars could be a victim of child trafficking. There have been several reports in local media about begging con artists who abducted a baby, made him drank, 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 ￥20-30 a day doing hard labour jobs. Giving ￥1 to a beggar is very generous.
See begging for more detailed discussion.
Pollution is a serious problem in the world’s factory. Beijing, by some accounts, are the most polluted city in the world and 16 out of the worst polluted cities in the world are in China. Talking about air pollution has become a part of life and countryside, depending on provinces, are not immune.
Places with higher altitude or plains, like Yunnan, Xinjiang and Tibet are usually with good air quality. Don’t expect much on the rest including the coastal cities.
You will also hear a lot of noises and it has trained Chinese ears to be more tolerate to it.
- See also: Common scams, Pickpockets
In tourist places, while it is common for genuine students to look for foreigners to practice their English wholeheartedly and local people to invite a guest to drink, it also provides a con artist with new opportunities.
They may approach you and start a conversation in English. It is fine until they invite you to go to a teahouse, cafe, pub and leave you to foot a skyrocketing bill. Another scam is to take you into small shabby art shops (or their teacher’s private studio) and to be pushy at you to buy overpriced Chinese art counterfeit. In stations or airports, some may also offer you a bargain tour and you end up buying bunch of overpriced souvenirs.
While most scams can be avoided easily, it can be tricky in dealing with curious local people who invite you to a pub or restaurant. Unless you only hang out with other travelers from other countries, you will have a fair chance of treating or being treated. See Treating in China.
Bear in mind that legitimate teahouse can charge RMB50-200 per a pot of tea and a pub RMB15-60 per a bottle of beer. Although it is possible to pay RMB1000 per pot of tea in teahouse, assume that it’s a scam. This delicate tea will only be offered to tea gourmets, not a causal tea taster and it is considered socially offensive to take a new friend to spend so much money and expect them to pay the bill.
 Banned items
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 custom usually doesn’t bother to take your English books away, if there is 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 porns 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 porn videos on your laptop, they will likely detain you.
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