As with most things in life, it depends on how you define the terms, in this case “safe”. Pretty much any Chinese main-lander you talk to, both at home and abroad, will say “China is a safe country”. Most expats living here will also agree, “China is safe”. If you are talking about violent crime, especially crimes involving firearms, then indeed China is a safe place to be, mainly because no one has guns. But if your idea of living in a safe place goes beyond low gun violence rates, then China may not be your best choice of countries to live in.
Compared to America
As positively everyone on the plant knows, the USA is not the safest place to be where guns are concerned. For all of America’s intelligent laws and respect for human rights and freedom, to have interpreted a constitutional right of states to arm militias for protection against invasion as the right of individuals to own as many and varied a selection of armaments as they so chose, is clearly mystifying to all outsiders and I suspect, a vast number of Americans. Apart from making the US look a slight bit stupider as a nation than it should be, it invariably leads to horrendous homicide rates and should be dispensed with forthwith.
Unfortunately, possibly every gun death that makes the news in the USA also makes the news in China. The Communist Party loves to show Chinese people US gun deaths as a away of lulling them into the belief that China is a gloriously safe country. Still, even with all its guns, 270,000,000 of them to be exact (88 for every 100 people), Americans generally enjoy a better life expectancy than people in China. China, with only 0.05 guns per 100 people now has a population that can expect at birth to live to the ripe old age of 74, while in America it is 78, just slightly ahead. So in fact, if you equate “safe” with a lower of dying young, then America still maintains the lead.
Another aspect of modern living that has been known to affect life expectancy the world over is cars. America has more cars than China, 231 million VS 23 million, and far more cars per 1000 people, 812 VS 83, yet China has a way higher percentage of people dying by motor vehicles. In China there are 36 deaths for every 100,000 cars on the road while in America it is 15. Clearly, Chinese cars, or should I say drivers, are far deadlier than American ones. In this aspect at least, America is a much safer place to be.
America by no means represents the West, and even for the numbers listed above, we can easily see America is not the safest place to drive compared to many western countries that have 1/3rd or less the fatality rate than the US does on its roads. And cars are only part of the story. I only brought them up because America has more of them than anyone else and depending on which stats you read, either the number 1 or number 2 spot for cars per person in the world. As for guns, I had to include them as they are inseparable in most people’s imaginations about the dangers of living in the USA. Still, where guns are concerned, there are a few countries that outshine America in this macabre aspect, most notably Columbia and El Salvador (50+ per 100,000) whose fatalities per capital are 5 times higher than the USA (10+ per 100,000). Likewise there are countries with higher automobile fatality rates than China, most notably Togo with over 14,000 fatalities per 100,000 vehicles (what the hell is going on there???). But as China’s roads continue to be clogged with ever more cars, I expect they’ll be catching up, if only a little, in the years to come.
I think its safe, well, sort of.
Generally speaking I think China is a safe country. By comparison, I found Mexico, in particular, Mexico City to be extremely unsafe. A year before my first trip to China I had the privilege of spending some time in Mexico City, and for the first week, I was almost too scared to venture into the city alone, almost. Venturing into the Red Zone (business district) in daylight hours, I was amazed to find the streets lined with armed policemen. It looked like a terrorist attack or perhaps war was about to take place. Every bank and every bank machine was watched over carefully by police in full riot gear packing some serious automatic heat. In addition to that shocking scene, just about every foreigner I had met in the city had been robbed at gun point during the previous year with one unlucky acquaintance having been taken hostage in his car, had his bank account drained of two daily limits of cash, and then was driven to the desert where he was tied up and left after his assailants had stripped his car of every removable part including most of the body and the engine. Fortunately China is nothing like that.
I can safely say that there is not a street, pedestrian underpass, or unlit ally in shanghai I would have any apprehension about entering. Not even in the smallest of Canadian cities could I make that claim, though Germany would be a different matter, as I find it to be as safe as here. When it comes to street violence, Shanghai and China in general are a relatively safe place. Having said that, there have been two occasions where I have had confrontations on the street.
Once in the winter of 2009 when I caught a group of XinJiang people, 3 guys and 2 girls, trying to pickpocket me and perhaps foolishly, picked a fight with the 3 guys. I won the fight but suffered a slight concussion from being clocked in the head with a chink of cement and had my net-book’s screen damaged in the process costing about 600rmb to replace.
The other time, just a last spring, I came upon a scene of a disgruntled Chinese guy getting into a fight with a group of gambling cons who had just expertly relieved him of his hard earned cash. He became angry at the guy playing the game with him (guessing how many seeds are under a shallow cup) and failed to realize that all the onlookers were in on the scam and quickly found himself facing off against 12 or 13 others. I stood and watched as I find Chinese fights to be quite amusing with lots of scratching, slapping, kicking, and hair pulling. The guy was hopelessly outnumbered and looked to be losing as his dozen or so adversaries took turns kicking and slapping him from behind and quickly scurrying away, but that still didn’t stop them from escalating the violence. Out of nowhere, one of
the attackers jumped on the sucker’s back and firmly racked him across the base of the skull with a brick! I pulled the brick wielding maniac off the guy’s back and looked up to see another moron coming at him with a huge chunk of concrete. I jumped in front of the guy being attacked and knocked the concrete from the other guys hands. I hauled the victim to his feet told him to run and faced off against the gang… who quickly set down their weapons, mostly in shock that anyone, let alone a white guy, stepped in. Oh, I almost forgot, this was in broad daylight on a Saturday afternoon on a busy street. Which brings me to my next point…
Danger with Chinese Characteristics
If something happens to you or anyone around you in China, undoubtedly, it will draw a large instant crowd of onlookers with no one willing to help. Just about every-time you see a news report about someone getting hurt, one observation that is often made is that nobody helped. Chinese, it seems, just don’t want o help people in trouble, whether it be because they don’t know what to do (quite likely) or that they derive pleasure from watching others suffer (also quite likely, public executions, for example, only became passé just over a decade ago), no one is entirely sure. All you can be sure of; is that if you are unlucky enough to find yourself the victim of some bodily injury; the people who come are there to watch you die, not to save your life. This fact alone makes China a dangerous place to be. Click on the links below for some shocking examples:
Another ever present danger besides locals lacking empathy is drivers. Whether on scooters, behind the wheels of cars, or bearing down on you in a dump truck, it seems to be the goal of most here to have as many near misses as possible over any given stretch of road. The rule of thumb is, the smaller you are, the more expendable you are, which makes crossing the road as a pedestrian the most dangerous of all. There isn’t a week that goes b that I am not almost run over here. If you are new to Shanghai, whatever you do, don’ simply proceed across an intersection because the walk signal has come on. Cars will be running red lights, turning through the cross walk, driving on the wrong side of the road, pulling u-turns, and any other number of activities that are too dangerous to be doing at a busy intersection. When crossing the street, look both ways about every 2 steps and you should survive.
Being in a car is no safer. Even if you or the person driving the car is the safest driver in the world, the people around you are not. Random lane changes, sudden braking, passing on the left, and other semi-retarded habits of the locals will surely be present to put your life in peril, not to mention randomly parked cars and other hazards, like chunks of concrete for example, in any lane anywhere on the road. And this is the best case scenario. Odds are that if you are not driving the vehicle you are in, some half crazed local without a clue about how to drive safely is behind the wheel.
As an illustration of what you are likely to encounter here, I’ll relate to you this story which happened not more than a week ago. The metro system to my part of the city was closed for repairs requiring passengers to bus to the nearest operational terminal or to take a taxi there. Being that a Chinese bus has to be the most horrendous of Chinese road experiences (sudden braking and swerving constantly while clinging to an overhead bar is not my idea of fun), I elected to take a taxi back and forth instead. The distance is about 10 kilometers and I would take a taxi there and back about 5 times a week for 2 weeks. Between my home and the terminal there are exactly 7 traffic lights. On average, my taxi driver would run a red light at about 3 of these during the trip. Not a bad average, but one night I got a driver home that blew that number out of the water.
As we approached the first set of traffic lights, the light had been red long before we approached, but the driver ran right through. On the next 2 he arrived just after the yellow and ran through only slowing slightly. At the 4th set, the light had been red and there were lots of cars lined up for the lights, so he pulled into the left turn lane. We were going straight so when the light turned green, he passed the cars waiting to turn left crossing into oncoming traffic and hit the gas narrowly missing the waiting cars and those coming from the other direction, but we made it. At the 5th traffic light, it was green but we were turning left and the left turn light was red. This didn’t stop my driver as he turned left anyway across 3 lanes of traffic. At the 6th intersection he made a right turn on read into traffic without looking. At the 7th and final intersection just before my building, he turned left by driving for a hundred meters on the left side of the road first causing havoc with the oncoming cars. I arrived home safe and sound.
For some typical traffic stories, click the links:
Generally, when in China, beware of what you eat. Not a month goes by here without some story of food contamination making the news. From melamine milk, to pork coated in beef chemical, there seems to be no end to the amount of poison that can be added to food. Another large problem besides unsafe additives is spoiled food. I swear to god that half the food served in Chinese restaurants is rotten and nearly half as much has gone bad before leaving your local supermarket. In general, food quality is so abysmal here; I find it amazing that anyone survives at all. The biggest offender, however, has to be sewage oil.
For those of you uninitiated, sewage oil is cooking oil that has been ignorantly poured down the drain by restaurants only to be fished out by enterprising locals, treated with a deadly assortment of chemicals, and resold to those same restaurants and to the local supermarket, or even added to your antibiotics. It’s extremely gross, deadly and quite common. I for one, never eat street food, but even that is no guarantee. Of the thousands of tons of cooking oil used in Shanghai each year only about 25% finds its way to the legal recycling plants where it is supposed to be turned into industrial oil. The other 75% is sold to illegal refineries that “purify” it with carcinogenic chemicals and resell it back to restaurants. It I no wonder China has one of the world’s highest rates of stomach cancer as this practice is by no means relegated to Shanghai.
Click the links below for more info.
People Going Bat-shit Crazy
And finally, the big danger of living in China, sometimes locals just go nuts. Of course this is by no means merely a Chinese phenomenon, anywhere in the world has its share of crazies, but China has a special kind of crazy, the kid that randomly takes revenge against the innocent. Story after story hits the airwaves here about someone having a beef with someone o a problem in their lives and chooses to take it out on some random innocent.
One example I read about some time ago, is of a man in Beijing who killed his neighbor’s children. He had been friends with the neighbor and one weekend offered to take the neighbors children along with his own son on a camping trip. When they arrived at the location just outside of Beijing, he strangled his neighbors children, and his own son’s friend, to death and buried him and went back home. He was quickly caught and upon questioning as to why he killed the boy he said that he had lost all his money gambling. He was angry at his bad luck and became jealous of his neighbor who had two children, a boy and a girl. Because his neighbor had had the good fortune of having two children (and not losing all his money gambling I would assume), he decided to kill his neighbor’s son and daughter because, and get this, why should his neighbor be allowed to have a happy life when he did not! Now that’s what I call bat-shit crazy.
Some stats on random violence in China: Of the 122 listed rampage killings in Asia, 55 of them have been in China. Of the 61 school massacres worldwide, 18 have taken place in China. Quite a high total for a supposedly harmonious society don’t you think?
And then theirs mob violence where large groups of people beat or kill each other in the street for no apparent reason. I’ve linked to videos a few of these incidents below.
So, is China safe?
My conclusion is that is not as safe as it looks on the surface. Being able to walk down a dark alley at night without fear for ones safety is indeed a positive, but not being able to trust the food, medicine, random wing-nut strangers, maniac drivers, and the crowds of gawkers who would just as soon see you die of your injuries rather than help may outweigh it.
Oh, if my blog didn’t scar you enough, check this out: