Crime and Punishment: How To Stay Safe in Guangzhou

Crime and Punishment: How To Stay Safe in Guangzhou
By Thomas Ackerman ,

Despite a downturn in crime over the past few years, thefts, purse-snatchings, muggings, and burglaries are still all-too-common in Guangzhou. Reported crime rates have fallen from a peak of 140,000-a-year in 2000, as city officials and the police force put into effect an array of new measures, such as banning motorbikes, increasing the number of police at the train stations, and organizing neighborhood undercover units. Yet despite these and other crime-stopping efforts, offenses in Guangzhou, a city of 8 to 10 million, still topped 50,000-a-year in 2008.

Naturally, some criminals and gangs have simply moved or changed targets. For example, some of the crimes that used to occur on major central streets have now started to occur on the smaller ones. Motorcycle gangs may have been struck a serious blow, but burglaries are up. So residents of Guangzhou still ought to seriously consider safety in terms of where they go and when.

So which areas are worst affected, and what can you do to stay out of danger?

Train and bus stations: Police are aiming to increase their presence at Guangzhou's major terminals from about one-in-a-thousand (circa 2005) to about one-in-three-hundred, but the sheer number of people at the big stations make them impossible to police perfectly. Like any other crowded area, pay close attention to your bags and be aware of what people close to you are doing. Never go with random people claiming to be cabbies. And apply caution even at smaller terminals.

Buses and trains: These are prime places to have your pocket picked or your bag rifled through. If you have a knapsack style bag, don't wear it on your back or you're asking to get robbed. If you wear it slung on your side, make sure the zippers are facing forward where you can see them. Bags made of softer materials can easily be slashed with a razor.

The crowd that forms on entering a bus makes it a particularly vulnerable time, since everyone is close together and facing forward. This is a time when many thieves strike. You are likely thinking more about entering the bus, or getting out your card, than paying attention to your pockets. And the thief can make an easy getaway.

Outdoor barbecues: Though banned in the city center, outdoor barbecues can be loud and boisterous by nine in the evening, and turn violent by eleven. Most of the people are not hardened criminals, but bored teenagers drinking and looking for trouble. Previously, I lived across the street from such a barbecue venue in the Huadu district, and heard screaming nearly every night. Once there was what appeared to be a full-on gang fight.

The average passer-by is typically not attacked, but the kind of crowd that hangs out here late at night sometimes tries to provoke people. Most of the time, you can stay safe just by ignoring them. If you are eating at one of these barbecues, you can be sure that once the bottles start to fly against the wall, it’s time to leave.

Apartments: There is a reason why nearly all apartments have a guarded gatehouse and many have bars on the window. Burglary is prevalent, and electronic security systems are still not that common. If you ask around and find out your neighborhood has problems with break-ins, then it is worth investing in bars and a deadbolt if you don't already have them. Living on the top floor is not necessarily a way to avoid this, as thieves can, and do, go to the roof and then enter through a window.

Hotels: Even four-star hotels have their problems with robbery, despite the guards, cameras and security systems. Some of these are actually inside jobs, which could leave you waking up in the morning missing your valuables, despite being certain you'd locked the door. Leaving valuables in the hotel lock box can help with this, although lock boxes get struck by insiders as well. 

One tip, if the doorlock involves entering a code, is to wipe it down after you use it, or quickly push all of the keys. This way someone coming along later can't tell which buttons you pushed to enter the room. If you don't mind a more primitive approach, simply leaving heavy bags against the inside of the door will force anyone entering to make at least a little noise.

Shopping Areas: Any crowded shopping area puts the pedestrian at risk, especially if their attention is on the shops. They also attract scam artists who sell absolute junk. Beijing Road for example, though hardly a rough neighborhood, has plenty of these types who attempt to sell you things that they store in their jackets. Cellphones are particularly common. Do not do business with such “salespeople” unless you like losing your money.

It’s nevertheless worth noting that most thieves in China are non-violent. In fact, some are more afraid of you than you are of them. Nevertheless, Guangzhou has known its share of violent crime, including beatings that leave their victims in the hospital. While some analysts have predicted a Guangdong crime wave due to the current recession and an estimated 20 million lost jobs, so far Guangzhou has seen little or nothing of it, with the majority of crimes continuing to decrease. However, it still pays to treat living in this city with caution.

Here are the results of a 2007 report showing the most crime-stricken streets and townships in Guangzhou. The districts most popular with tourists and expats are listed first:

Fengyang street, Haizhu district; Tianhenan street, Tianhe district; Tangxia street, Tianhe district; Shimu street, Panyu district; Shiqiao street, Panyu district; Shiweitang street, Liwan district; Qiaozhong street, Liwan district; Kuangquan street, Yuexiu district; Dengfeng street, Yuexiu district; Tangjing street, Baiyun district; Jingxi street, Baiyun district; Shijing street, Baiyun district; Shiling street, Huadu district; Xinhua street, Huadu district; Jiangpu street, Conghua district; Nansha street, Nansha district; Jiulong town, Luogang district; Nangang street, Huangpu district; Shitan town, Zengcheng district; Xintang town, Zengcheng district

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Franco Calabrese

Four years ago I visited Shanghai for two weeks. I traveled alone and had an incredible time, beautifull city and beautifull people.....and great food. I felt completely safe at all time and I did go out at nite. Hope to go back soon.

Jul 09, 2010 15:05 Report Abuse



Said. Shanghai is a very different city to Guangzhou. The police in Shanghai are very active at running undesirable people out of town. And clamping down on anti-social behaviour. A few years ago there was a trend of very aggressive practices when handing out business cards on the street. This was getting out of hand and the police soon stamped it out. But that was Shanghai.

Jun 10, 2010 19:33 Report Abuse



I have been in Shanghai China for almost two years now, we foreigners as well as local citizen can walk around any time of the day or night, i have never seen or heard a fellow foreigner complaining of being robbed or beaten or faced violent confrontations for that matter. myself i would say, relative to the number of people in china, crime rate is far too low. bear in mind this is a city with more than 20 million people.

Jun 06, 2010 10:51 Report Abuse



Banning motorcycles only moved the thieves into the busses.

May 31, 2010 13:38 Report Abuse



I have seen less night club violence here in the last 3 years than I usually saw in 1 night in Portland Oregon. As for Keeping safe , be visible and be friendly and know what you have with you and where it is at all times. ! night at about 4 am I was confronted by a bunch of local punks in Dongguan maybe 15 kids about 13-18. I am 59 and in good shape so instead of acting the coward and get mugged I turned the tables and asked (in chinese ) who was the toughest kid and did he think he could even come close to hurting me ,when he was maybe 110 lbs and I am 200. Now that wont always work but its best to use common sense , think like a criminal be be aware at all times.

May 31, 2010 13:37 Report Abuse


li dakui

well we have different experiences,my 9 years in china i have only seen women beating men or boys,though some chinese told me men do sometimes beat their wives at home .but i know chinese women like attacking first.In my country ,a chinese woman was bold enough to attack and fight with a guy,i hope you guys are not trying to say women beating men is kind of ok.u really need to be very patient not to smack a chineselady(i mean being a chinese man)it is quite different with foreigners

May 25, 2010 05:21 Report Abuse



I too have witnessed men smacking women on a couple of occasions. I am in Chengdu. Both times I was across a busy street from the altercation and was unable to get to the trouble. My inclination was and is to put a stop to the assault if at all possible. My Chinese friends say that I should never get involved - and for sure should never hit the man doing the beating. According to them, if I do, the next I know about ten of his friends will show up and hang a beating on me (because he will call them on his mobile for help). Crazy. Here's hoping I never get into that situation directly...because as a red-blooded Canadian (former) hockey player, I know that I am going to flatten the girl-beating coward first and hope for the best later....

May 25, 2010 00:53 Report Abuse



Go to Shanghai. Women beat the men on the streets as well there. But before this thread is also hijacked by the domestic violence theme: China is a counttry with a large urban poor, and this is often a source of crime anywhere in the world. There is some good advice in this article which will be useful to anybody who is new to China or anybody who has not travelled widely.

May 24, 2010 14:44 Report Abuse



You beat women too! why dont you examine yourselves!

May 23, 2010 22:11 Report Abuse



your description is so fuzzy. Are you sure what's going on, seriously they beat women?!

May 23, 2010 22:10 Report Abuse



I have been teaching in Xian for 3 years. I have seen women being beaten by their men in the streets 4 times. The last bastard threw a bicycle at the woman. Lovely chinese people gathered around and were staring ang giggling.

May 23, 2010 06:33 Report Abuse



geeze, This doesnt happen much where we live,in our neigh bhood in Guangzhou.We live in a very tough area too. Must be missing something.

May 23, 2010 04:01 Report Abuse



craps! Where have you all been?! eh? You met so many violent things! I was burn in China and grow up here. Why I dont see so many things. you dont beat white women or other color women?

Apr 20, 2010 17:38 Report Abuse



Frecuently at streets, buses or metro we can see men push or beat women and nobody says nothing.

Apr 20, 2010 08:29 Report Abuse



The biggest problems I've seen is public domestic violence against women (by men.) Once, walking down the street I saw an old man punching a very old woman. Another time in a restaurant, I saw a very drunk patron assault a beer girl for no reason at all. I subdued him while he and his friends yelled "Fuck you!" Another time was when I was on the bus and a young guy was nearly choking a young girl to death. I stopped that one too. Another time on the bus a girl got something stolen from her as she was by the back door and the thief took off, while his accomplices worked to block her boyfriend from chasing after. In all of these instances, I absolutely can't stand that Chinese people are so complacent and do nothing to help. People are so damn selfish and scared it makes me sick. They will just stand by and watch as their women are getting beaten and people are victimized. Maybe I have more balls than brains, but I can't change it. In the U.S. if you beat a woman in public, not only will the public beat your ass, the police will beat your ass and your own friends will beat you!!! Instead of defending your cowardly actions...

Apr 19, 2010 20:49 Report Abuse


Matias Giron

Well i had been 2 times in China,(Guangzhou and later Nanning..I had been walking during late hours in guangzhou (lost because my wife wasnt available)//I had seen a very quiet city out of drugs and violence...It wouldnt happened in Usa or any other cities in Canada where beggers are everywhere....i was happy of the safe..

Apr 19, 2010 09:08 Report Abuse


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Oct 15, 2009 14:36 Report Abuse