It's just safer in Beijing

By Chinese American Girl in Beijing
0 CommentsPrint E-mail, January 14, 2011
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For any newcomer (whether Chinese or foreign) to this sprawling metropolis, Beijing can be exciting, intimidating, bursting with promise, and filled with pockets of confusion and frustration.

Despite its size, Beijing continues to be one of the safest cities in China. In light of a recent shooting in the American state of Arizona, I would like to share my own perspective on three reasons put forth to account for Beijing's low crime rates: it's the capital; guns are prohibited; crime is a cultural taboo. Individually, these reasons are not sufficient to explain the crime-free streets of a city with a population of 22 million, but taken together, they provide an adequate explanation of why a young woman can walk down a dimly lit street at 2 am without fear.

Each time I ask Chinese locals their opinion on the city's safety, I usually get the following response: Beijing is the capital. Crime is not allowed where the most important people work and live. This is certainly a reasonable thing to believe. As the vital hub for politics and a vibrant economic center, Beijing benefits from a significant amount of security personnel and initiatives.

When I first arrived, I thought the bag check at each subway entrance was a draconian measure. However, I now understand the logic behind it, and while I sometimes wonder whether the young guards are actually meticulously checking the x-ray machines, I still feel more secure because of the extra ten seconds I spend putting my bag through the detector. The Olympics brought even more safety to the city. In true Chinese fashion, the government implemented new rules to ensure the successful hosting of the 2008 Games, including a rule that prohibited large dogs within the fifth ring road. While some rules were created to protect and impress the visiting foreigners, most of them were enacted as a means to crack down on crime and to civilize the city (as the banners in Chaoyang remind us on a daily basis).

However, the fact that Beijing is the capital, alone, cannot account for low crime rates. Washington, DC, despite being a capital city, has a crime rate much higher than that of Beijing. In 2008, the statistics were as follows per 100,000 people: violent crime (1375) and property crime (4859).

When I first arrived in the city, I mentioned to a friend that I would be taking a cab home for safety reasons. My relatives in the States had told me that crime would be rampant, and I should take extra care when roaming the streets at night. Having lived in Beijing for the past two years, my friend looked at me with an amused smile, obviously humored by my naive concern for safety in Beijing. I have discussed Beijing's safety with most of my expat friends and acquaintances and usually get the following response: no second amendment. What this refers to (for those of you not familiar with the Bill of Rights in the US Constitution) is the right to own a gun. In China, guns are strictly prohibited and thus, there is no need to worry about a mad man one day injuring innocent civilians and politicians in a local supermarket like what happened recently in Arizona.

The prohibition of firearms only provides a partial explanation for low crime rates in the city. After all, if someone really wanted to commit robbery or murder, there are a variety of ways to do so that do not require a gun. Perhaps I don't read enough local news or watch local TV broadcasts (not that I would understand any of it) to be sufficiently aware of crime in places where I don't often frequent.

When I happened to mention my thoughts on this topic to a friend from the States, who has never been to Beijing, he suggested a third reason to me: culture. Chinese people are just inherently more passive than those in the West and thus less inclined to harm others. While Chinese people are taught from the crib that committing a crime will bring dishonor to the family, this reason still does not explain why the Chinatowns in the States have some of the highest crime rates within their respective cities. Beijingers, themselves, are known for their more aggressive personalities and willingness to speak their minds when something frustrates them (hence all the car honking).

Overall, the three aforementioned reasons – capital city, gun control, and culture –are pieces of a greater puzzle that have maintained the city's orderly disorder. Anyone who lives in the city, despite its other shortcomings, can appreciate the extremes that are taken to guarantee safety. One more humorous theory that I have is that the sheer size of the population makes it almost impossible for a criminal to commit a crime without the risk of being seen. No matter where one walks at night, it's almost a guarantee that another witness will be close by.

The author is a Chinese American who currently works and lives in Beijing.

Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors, not necessarily those of


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