The Recent Wave of Beijing Violence: Should Expats Be Worried?

The Recent Wave of Beijing Violence: Should Expats Be Worried?
By Melissa Morgenstern ,

In 2008, in light of the Olympics, tourists, netizens, the media and expats alike all feared for the safety of foreigners in Beijing. Numerous publications warned individuals of growing antiforeigner sentiment and rising violence. Today, in 2012, some very similar fears have reared their ugly heads. Recent violence, both from and towards foreigners in Beijing, have sparked major outcry with famous commentators in China, such as Yang Rui, making startling and sweeping generalizations about foreigners in China. Recent crackdowns and new visa regulations, following these events, are also raising the eyebrows of Beijing's expat community. Should Beijing's expatriates be especially worried? Is there a new mass wave of antiforeigner sentiment growing? Recent events might affirm these fears, but there are more reasons to think that the majority of antiforeigner sentiment is coming from a very small minority.

Recent events and the hype surrounding them

The most recent event to spark media attention is the killing of Howard Thomas Mills, an American tourist, in Qianmen's Qudeng Hutong. Residents of the area disagree on whether the hutong is a safe place or not; however, this is not the first time that violence against a foreigner has occurred here. On May 17, another Chinese individual stabbed an American businessman in the same area. Also in May of this year, in Sanlitun, a Cityweekend columnist and two other foreigners were harassed and physically abused by two local men.

Yet, despite these various incidents, much more emphasis has been put on the recent British man who tried to sexually assault a Chinese female. Responses have ranged from Yang Rui's especially harsh denouncement of foreigners in China to netizens who are linking this type of behavior with larger political themes such as the "bullying" of developed nations towards China. Even large, well-known social media companies, Baidu and Sina Weibo, have called on users, "to expose bad behavior by foreigners in China." However, Kaiser Kuo, the director for Baidu's international communications, has stated that any such statements that were made in the name of Baidu were made without proper authorization and have already been rescinded.

Beijing's violent hotspots

Qianmen has been the scene of some recent violent crimes against foreigners, and while we won't say you should completely avoid this area, it would be best to travel the hutongs with a friend, tour guide, or any other group of individuals. Sanlitun has also been known to be one of the less safe places for expats in recent years due to its infamous bar street and the lack of willing late night taxi drivers.

In the past a large foreign expat community might mean a higher chance of getting pick pocketed, but, especially now, it's best to have a designated non-drinking friend with you for the night, travel in a small group, and to have a travel plan for getting home. Wudaokou tends to be another risky area for the same reasons as Sanlitun. The best thing to do, overall, is to go out with a group, be safe, and have a plan of action for returning home.

How worried should foreigners be?

China's Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Hong Lei publically announced that there is no "anti-foreigner" trend in China. He also stated that the country's opening up policy would always be implemented as an inclusive and harmonious measure. However, he did also state that the national government is asking foreigners in China to respect Chinese customs, culture, laws and regulations. James McGregor, the senior counselor at Apco Worldwide in Beijing, suggests that if there is a rise in violence against foreigners it may not be intentionally directed towards non-Chinese nationals.

He explained that, China's constantly changing state of affairs can lead to feelings of frustration, for both local individuals and government officials.  Therefore, it can be easier for both groups to point the finger at foreigners instead of at each other. In general, there is no need to believe that a nation or citywide antiforeigner movement is imminent. But it should be noted that China is demanding to be taken seriously in terms of how foreign nationals view and treat their country.

What to do if you're in trouble

In the case that you or someone you know in China happens to be the victim of harassment or assault, the following actions should be taken.

  • Call 110 for the police and notify your local embassy that a crime has been committed against a foreign national from their country.
  • You should then report to the police station near the scene of the crime, and have them verify that a 110 call was placed at the time.
  • You will need to fill out some paperwork and verify your story (don't forget your passport). You will most likely need to recount the events in Chinese so bring a friend or interpreter to help you.
  • You will then be given a form to bring to the local hospital and instructed to report there within 48 hours to have an injury assessment. This last step is especially important since it verifies the seriousness of any injuries and also determines the severity of the punishment that will be given to the perpetrator.

A bit of positivity

Being safe and legal is important in any city that is far and different from your own hometown. There is no need to worry about violence or xenophobia in Beijing; the city has its doors wide open to all who want to come. "北京欢迎你" (Beijing welcomes you) isn't just an Olympic slogan, it's a citywide concept.

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Keywords: Safety in Beijing Violence against foreigners in China


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I must say I feel much safer walking at night in China than I do my own country.

After what has happened in the United States yesterday,it puts China and the rest of the world into perspective. Given the population of China and the number of violent deadly incidents, statistics show that China is one of the safest counties in the world.

Right now China does not have a large proportion of sick, selfish and trigger happy people, let's hope it stays that way.

Jul 22, 2012 08:27 Report Abuse



Sorry but it will get worse. There will be over 25 million males in China who will never have a wife because of the gender imbalance that exist.

As Professor Neil Ferguson recently predicted in his latest book, societies with much more males tend to become very violent. This is just the beginning buddy. As the economy keeps slipping, the risk/reward of living in China is not attractive anymore, probably a good time for wai guo ren to return home.

Jul 22, 2012 20:07 Report Abuse