Allow me to share a story: While traveling in southern China, I met a couple from the Netherlands. They were traveling in China for a month. They told me that they had just came from traveling in Argentina and that they had stopped for a layover in Los Angeles before arriving to Beijing. “It’s funny”, said the woman, “when we arrived to the U.S people at the airport warned us to be careful in some parts of Los Angeles. They told us not to go outside too late at night and not to go to certain areas of the city.”
Why is this story relevant? Because the United States is a role model for many Chinese people, but not when it comes to personal safety. The United States is ranked 24 in murders per capita in the world, 9th in rapes per capita, 6th in assaults per capita and it holds the first place in the world in prisoners per capita. Although I was unable to find statistics about China, According to the OSAC (Overseas Security Advisory Council), An American based organization, “major metropolitan areas in China are relatively safe, especially in comparison with similarly sized cities in other developing countries. A sizable law enforcement and security presence serve as an effective deterrent against most types of crime, including those of a violent nature.” (The report was written in 2008)
This feeling of security expresses itself in many aspects of life here. One can walk freely at every hour of the night and will feel (rightfully) completely safe. The only places where you might feel danger are, ironically, places where foreigners come to gather such as bars or clubs. Nonetheless, even these places are usually very safe. Locals usually treat foreigners in a very warm and kind manner. Sometimes they would ask to take pictures with a foreigner or to speak English with him or her for practice purposes.
Despite China being safer than many countries, crime is definitely on the rise. It is reasonable to assume that as China continues its economic growth, the gap between the rich and poor will continue to expand, a situation that might lead to social instability and more serious acts of violence. Even today petty thefts such as various forms of financial scams or pick pocketing become more common than before.
The Chinese authorities are aware of this problem. That is the reason that in order to maintain personal security and safety among Chinese citizens, the authorities have ordered the installation of tens of thousands of cameras all across China. The OSAC continues to write that “All visitors should be aware that they have no reasonable expectation of privacy in public or private locations.” China is networked with cameras. You can spot them everywhere – in the streets, in elevators, on the subway and even in places you might think are private such as residences or hotels. There is an ongoing debate in many countries whether the right to receive privacy exceeds the right to receive security. Obviously these two issues are related, since it has been proven that cameras increase security and are a deterrent for criminals. More countries (Including England and Israel) are using cameras to prevent crime. Cameras do not only prevent crime, but also save money that would have been used to pay for security services. In addition, as terrorism is becoming more of a threat to everyday life in major world cities, one would expect the level of privacy to decline.
China is also safe for other reasons: Education against violence, prohibition to posses any form of firearm by civilians, severe punishments against those who commit violent acts and, perhaps most importantly, the peaceful nature of the Chinese people. All of these turn China into a very peaceful and safe place to live or to travel.