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Anti-crime poster
China has a low crime rate. Private gun ownership is banned and violent crime is relatively rare. The Chinese are generally very honest. They rarely steal. Tourists sometimes tell stories of leaving behind unwanted clothes in their hotel room only to have an employee at the hotel show up at the airport or train station to return the clothes.

Although China is still a relatively safe place but violent crime is on the rise. A report by the respected Academy of Social Sciences noted a “dramatic increase” in violent crime, including homicides, robbery and rape, in 2009 over the previous year, with prosecutors reporting 10 percent more cases.

Criminals from different regions have different specialties. North east China is famous for armed robbers. Xinjiang is said to be home to the best pickpockets. Wenzhou in Zhejiang produces car thieves. Many people smugglers are based in Fujian.

There was little crime in the Mao era. People didn't worry about it. Chinese cities were among the safest in the world. There was relatively little theft because people were taught that state assets belonged to everybody; there wasn't much that people valued enough to steal; and punishments were so harsh. But these weren’t the only reasons. One Chinese criminologist told Newsweek, there was an “institutional suppression of personal economic motivation.”

The relatively well-off town of Aodi in Zhejiang decided to built a “Great Wall” around the town to keep thieves out. The wall is seven meters high and nearly a meter thick and is built in the style of the Great Wall with the exception if a swipe card system used to get through the double-doored gate. The 270 villagers were concerned about rising number of thefts of cell phones, computers and cash, and raised the $75,000 themselves need to build the wall. [Source: AFP]

China only has extradition policies with 37 countries.

Rising Crime Rate After the Deng Reforms

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Police training

Crime has been increasing at a rate of 10 percent a year since the late 1970s and early 1980s, when the Deng reforms were introduced. Economic reforms and growth has been accompanied by an increase in petty crime, drug abuse, prostitution, truck hijacking and even kidnaping. Rates of serious crime, especially murder and kidnaping, have increased a lot, especially in Beijing, Shenzhen and Shanghai, but are still very low.

The Deng reforms heralded the return of money changers and pawnshops. Numerous secret societies and criminal organizations sprung up or were revived. In some remote areas road blocks have were set up on highways and drivers had to pay a "toll" to pass. Sometimes even the police participated in these endeavors.

The crime rate tripled between 1984 and 2004. The total number of criminal cases rose 13 percent to 2.2 million between 1998 and 1999. In 2004, there were more than a million serious crimes. In 2006 there was a rise in the number of “major criminal cases” including explosions, kidnapings and homicides, with crimes being committed by younger and younger people.

The crime rate in Guangzhou has soared in recent years, particularly the number of thefts, purse snatching and robberies. Violent crimes such as muggings are also on the rise. Counterfeit currency shows up in ATM machines and pay packets. Around 100,000 crimes are reported to police; many more go unreported.

Crime, Migrant Workers and Peasants in China

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A lot of crime is blamed
on migrant workers

Many of those arrested for petty thefts are migrant workers. Migrant workers are blamed for many crimes. Some hold them responsible for the rising crime rate. Many also blame the general get-rich-quick mentality.

See Migrant Workers

In his book “Country Driving”, Peter Hessler's tells the poignant story of the wife of a factory machinist who headsback to her home province of Guizhou with her recently born son, where she is mugged by a gang of men who pretend to offer her a ride in a van only to take her to a remote spot, drug her and steal all her belongings. Only the presence of her baby boy saves her from being killed on the spot, but she also manages to rescue her most prized possession, a digital camera. [Source: Andrew Field, Squarespace, blog, July 31, 2010]

The rising rate of lawlessness in rural areas is particularly alarming. There have been cases where innocent people have been killed in their homes during pitched battles between rival villages while the police stood by and did nothing. In Lanshan such a battle was triggered by a schoolboy fight and escalated to pitched battles in which villagers built ramparts and fired cannon made from empty gas cylinders.

The lawlessness in the countryside — and to some degree in China in general — has been blamed on breakdown of Maoist discipline and the rise of cutthroat capitalist competition and links between police and criminal gangs. There is often no rule of law and power is in the hands of local leaders and clan chiefs, corrupt police or Communist Party officials and gangsters.

Crime Involving Foreigners and Women in China

Foreigners are generally not victimized by violent crime. If they are and the criminals are caught they are dealt with harshly. In 2000, two men who robbed a Shanghai-based American diplomat and one man who robbed two Dutch tourists for about $80 worth of Chinese currency were sentenced to death.

Foreigners are very rarely the targets of crime in China and if they are the crimes are investigated more thoroughly and the criminals get a worse punishment than if Chinese were the victims. On June 20, 1987, the first American to be murdered in China in 40 years was a Texan named Ewald Cheer who was killed after being robbed of $186. The murderers were quickly tracked down, found guilty and executed.

In 2000, a German businessman with Daimler-Chrysler, his wife, 14-year-old daughter, and 12-year-old son were stabbed and killed at their home in Nanjing. The four men involved in the crime were believed to be migrant workers after money.

Some rape crimes are quite brutal. In 2007, a 15-year-old Chinese girl survived after being raped beaten and buried face down underground under a pile of stones in an abandoned mine shaft for six days in the municipality of Chongqing. The girl was raped by a 50-year-old man who was a partner in her father’s motorcycle taxi business.

In March 2008, a Chinese man took 10 Australians hostage on a bus in Xian. A police sniper shot and killed him.

In July 2008, a Canadian model was robbed and murdered in her Shanghai apartment after being in China for only two weeks.

In September 2005, a teacher in Mianyang, Sichuan Province was executed for raping 32 schoolgirls and committing obscene acts during physical education class and after school.

The crime rate is increasing among females. In the Mao era, only about 1 percent of crimes were committed by females, now the figure is as high as 20 percent in some places. Many of the crimes are sex-related. In Sichuan, there are all female gangs.

Juvenile Crime in China

Juvenile crime, almost unheard of in the Mao era, is a growing problem in China. Stories about crimes committed by young people are common. Juvenile crimes are now believed to account for round 10 percent of all crimes.

Widely publicized cases include one in which a 16-year-old Beijing high school students killed his mother for “being too strict” and took $50 from her pocket and headed to an Internet café. In another case a 15-year-old Beijing student stabbed a friend 17 times with a fruit knife for flirting with her boyfriend. In Guanxi, a 23-year-old student was executed after killing four roommates with a hammer over a card game. Another youth was caught pouring battery acid on zoo animals.

Most of the crimes are of petty nature. Describing a 12-year-old pickpocket working in Hekou, a town on the Vietnam border, Seth Faison wrote in the New York Times, "Here it comes. Maybe. A gaggle of red-capped tourist from northern China approaches a clearing by the river front, chattering and snapping pictures. [The pickpocket] circles in, eyes darting. he drifts alongside an overweight woman with a fat red purse, but she notices him getting close and clutches her moneybag, and he backs off.

Reasons for Juvenile Crime in China

The increase is blamed on broken homes, lack of parental control, too much pressure on kids to excel. One study found that 60 percent juvenile criminals were drop outs and 60 percent had truancy records. The Communist Party blames the problem on "spiritual pollution" from foreign movies and television programs.

Explaining why he no longer went to school the pickpocket told the New York Times, "It's boring. My ma says I can learn more earning money on the street." The pick pocket is encouraged by his mother to pick pockets. He occasionally gets caught by police, who let him go after his mother pays them some "compensation." Sometimes when they squabble over the price he has to spend the night in jail.

In an efforts to reduce juvenile crime, laws were passed that punished the parents of the child criminals. In recent years “help and education — programs have been set up involving juvenile delinquents, their parents, other relatives and people in their community.

Abductions and Human Trafficking in China

There are many unexplained disappearances in China. Newspapers and bulletin boards are filled with notices of missing persons. Some no doubt have fled to seek a better life somewhere else. Many are believed to be victims of foul play . Some are young girls thought to have been abducted and sold as wives.

See Women Trafiicking, Cgild Trafficking, Women, Children, People

Kidnapping is a crime that for most part didn't exist in China until recently. Some Chinese tycoons travel in German cars with bulletproof glass. See Women and Children

Bombings in China

See Terrorism and Spies

Theft in China

The Old Beijing Thieves' Market used to open at midnight and close at dawn so that buyers and sellers could not see each other. In some places enterprising thieves steal manhole covers and sell them for scrap metal. Mechanics have also made out like bandits, repairing shattered axles of cars that ran through the holes.

The motorcycle thieves in Guangzhou are particularly brazen. In October 2005, a woman that tried to stop motorcycle thieves from stealing her purse had her hand chopped off. Thieves apparently worked for a gang that called itself the Hand Choppers. These and other crimes prompted the city to ban motorcycles from the downtown area of Guangzhou.

One gang with nine members broke each other’s arms with iron bars and then jumped off of buildings, pretending they broke their arms to win compensation payments.

The most frequent crime in Shanghai is bicycle theft.

Employees think nothing of dipping into public fund or bank deposits belonging to others. See Lottery

'Big Belly Gang' of Pregnant Shoplifters

The Times of London reported: “A month-long police operation has finally cracked the Big Belly Gang, a band of pregnant thieves that ransacks shopping centres in Hangzhou. The decade-old maternal crime ring, whose members met each day at the local school gates.” [Source: The Times, The Australian, April 23, 2011]

“Police moved in after a series of anonymous tips and help from special informers. They captured all 47 Big Belly Gang members, of whom 22 were, at the time of arrest, heavy with child and bulging with loot. The gang, who exploited China's unusual leniency towards expectant and new mothers, is not the country's only team of pregnant thieves but ranks as by far the largest brought to justice. Police have recovered about 1.5 million yuan ($214,000) of goods stolen by the gang, but say it is a fraction of their haul.”

According to Newscore: “The 47-strong maternal crime ring, dubbed the "Big Belly Gang," was thought to have been responsible for the majority of the 3,000 cases of in-store thefts reported in the coastal metropolis of Hangzhou in 2010. Operating in groups of five, three non-pregnant women would distract staff while two pregnant gang members stole goods from the store - or money and valuables from other shoppers. [Source: NewsCore, April 22, 2011]

The gang members split their proceeds on a 60/40 basis between the non-pregnant members and those stealing for two. Most gang members appeared to have at least three children, and some had as many as eight, in defiance of China's one-child policy. Others got pregnant in order to remain active members of the gang but later had abortions. The gang members' stay-at-home husbands often looked after their children.

China's notoriously tough justice system does not extend to pregnant and lactating women, who can plead a "special situation" and be released almost immediately. One of the boldest members was arrested and released 47 times.

Fake Bus Service in Shenzhen Results in Mass Mugging

Leo Lewis wrote in The Times: They have fake Louis Vuitton handbags, Rolex watches, Rolls-Royce cars and even entire Ikea stores. Now the counterfeiters of Shenzhen have outdone themselves by running a fake city bus service. The scam, intended to exploit the very lowest rung of urban Chinese commuters, combined the drudgery of a late-night journey on public transport with the misery of a backstreet mugging. [Source: Leo Lewis, The Times, March 9, 2012]

“Passengers unfortunate enough to be waiting at the bus stop on an evening when the fake No 868 drew up imagined they were boarding the real thing on a heavily used route between the Fuyong and Pingshan districts of one of the largest cities in the world. Passengers bought their tickets as normal, but once the bus was in motion they were confronted by four burly "conductors" who demanded everything they had in their bags and wallets. Any resistance was met with a beating. In some instances, the fake bus diverted from its regular route, with the thugs manhandling the passengers out on to the pavement and abandoning them in a different part of the city.

“The scam appears to have been the brainchild of a disgruntled former employee named only as Mr Xu. He was a driver on the No 868 route before being forced into retirement. In 2011, after nurturing his criminal plot for some months in his home town in Hubei province, Mr Xu assembled two business partners - identified by police as Mr Guo and Mr Gong - and invested 40,000 yuan ($5950) in a decommissioned bus he found in a Dongguan scrapyard. A further 10,000 yuan was spent on a paint touch-up and fake No 868 plates.

“However, his elaborate ruse had two important flaws: all of the victims were by definition poor, which meant that the average amount taken from each of them was no more than $10; while, because the gang was operating late at night, there were never more than a dozen people to rob at any one time. The gang was caught in March 2012 week after police boarded a suspect bus and, according to a local newspaper account, noticed that four "large men" on board suddenly became rather nervous. Unable to bear the tension, the quartet took thousands of yuan from their pockets and invited the officers to tea - an offer that was declined in favour of four immediate arrests.

Forbidden City Break-In

In May 2011, thieves broke into Beijing's Forbidden City and took seven pieces of art made of jewel-encrusted gold from the heavily guarded former home of Chinese emperors. It was the first theft in 20 years from the historic site, spokesman Feng Naien said, adding that security would be increased. "For this to happen here shows us that, number one, we need to speed up the modernization and installation of our security systems," Feng said. "Number two, we need to investigate carefully and find out if we can implement better, more modern and more sophisticated security systems here." [Source: AP, The Guardian, May 11 2011]

AP reported: “Guards saw a suspect fleeing the scene by the Palace of Abstinence, a part of the Palace Museum inside the Forbidden City, in the early hours but failed to nab him, Feng said. An investigation found that nine pieces — all small western-style gold purses and mirrored compacts covered with jewels made in the 20th century — were missing from the temporary exhibition, which is on loan from the private Liang Yi Museum in Hong Kong. Two of the missing items were recovered nearby and were slightly damaged.

Feng said the entire Palace Museum would be checked to see if any other items were missing. "Certainly we can only blame the fact that our work was insufficient for something like this to happen," Feng said. "However, I hope that people will not lose confidence in the Palace Museum security because of this incident." Wang Xiahong, curator of the Liang Yi Museum, refused to reveal the value of the stolen items, which belong to the Hong Kong art collector Fung Yiu Fai. She said that despite the theft, the exhibition would continue and other pieces would be added to the show, which is temporarily closed but expected to reopen soon.

The museum's deputy director, Ma Jige, told reporters he felt "very guilty and sorry" about the theft. He stood up and bowed to Wang in a show of remorse. Karen Smith, a Beijing art curator and historian, said the theft was "a big loss of face" for the museum but would probably result in much-improved security at the sprawling landmark. She also noted that the robbery targeted items of relatively low value and prestige, not the museum's best-known treasures such as its large collection of rare and delicate scroll paintings. Those pieces are undoubtedly much better protected, she said. "If you were really going to go and steal something from the Palace Museum, there's a lot more valuable things you could make off with," Smith said.

Soon afterwards police arrested a man they said broke into the famed Forbidden City and stole the seven art pieces made of gold and jewels. State media said that police had caught a man called Shi Bokui in an Internet cafe who confessed to the robbery. The China Daily said some of the seven remaining stolen pieces were recovered, but did not give details.

March 2012 Reuters reported: A Beijing court sentenced a Chinese farmer to 13 years in jail for the audacious theft last year of several imperial treasures from the Forbidden City, state media said. Shi Baikui, from the eastern province of Shandong, broke into the museum and stole nine art works made of gold and jewels, but in his haste to escape left five of the pieces inside the museum compound, Xinhua news agency reported "Failing to immediately sell the treasures, he threw the other four pieces away the next day," it said, citing a court statement. Three pieces have yet to be recovered, Xinhua added. Two days after the theft, police arrested Shi in an Internet cafe in southern Beijing. Shi, who called it a "spur-of-the-moment" crime, explained that he had been able to disrupt the alarm system, Xinhua said, adding that the Palace Museum is updating its alarms to prevent a repeat occurrence. [Source: Reuters, March 19, 2012]

Hong Kong Theft Ring and $3 Million Ginza Watch Robbery

In January 2010, thieves made off with 194 luxury watches — worth $3 million — in robbery of the Tenshudo jewelry store in Ginza in Tokyo. The thieves made their way into the store throw a 50 centimeter by 80 centimeter hole they drilled in the building housing the store. Rolexes and other luxury brand watches were taken from the stores basement. The hole is believed to be to have been with a hydraulic lift. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun]

Security cameras showed intruders smashing glass showcases in the basement floor of jewelry and taking watches at about 4:50am on January 2nd. The men were shown crouching down and using flashlights to avoid being detected by infrared sensors.

Six Chinese — three men and three women — were arrested in Hong Kong for the crime. A Hong Kong Police officer who specializes in investigating the Chinese theft ring caught two members of the ring with watches taken from Tenshudo.

Members of the gang are thought to have been feuding. Before the arrest four men assaulted two mail men in the area, sprayed them with pepper spray and stole two bags of mail thought contain packages with watches inside addressed to the apartment of the group’s leader. Six hours later police discovered the bags. Twenty pieces of mail, most of them addressed to the ringleader, had been opened.

According to the Yomiuri Shimbun, investigative authorities in Hong Kong said four men — who likely left the group because of infighting — thought the stolen goods were contained in the mailbags, but had mistaken the delivery time. One Hong Kong paper said one of the thieves turned on his cohorts, identifying them to police, leading to the arrest of the six. Two of those arrested resembled the men caught on the security cameras.

According to Hong Kong and Tokyo police, the three men who carried out the crime arrived at Narita Airport in mid December posing as tourists. They stayed a cheap hotel used by Asians, caed Tenshudo several times and bought a hydraulic jack and other tools for the robbery which allowed them to easily break through Tenshudo’s five-centimeter-thick concrete wall. Afterwards they put watches in packages that were sent the from Japan to Hong Kong, Two days after the crime the thieves flew back to Hong Kong from Narita. Three of the men in the ring were linked to a similar heist of $600,000 worth of watches in Sendai in 2006.

Between 2004 and 2009 Chinese burglary rings are thought to have committed 117 robberies in Japan. Some are believed to have come to Japan because of crackdowns back home in Hong Kong and China and the relatively easy pickings in safe Japan, where jewelry stores often dispense with expensive security measures to save money.

Pyramid Schemes in China

In February 2007, a businessman named Wang Zhendng, was sentenced to death for swindling 36,000 investors in 12 towns in northeastern Liaoning Province out around $1,300 each on boxes of ants. The ants, it was claimed, could be made into valuable medicines and wines, but in reality were only worth about $25. Using a pyramid scheme arrangement Wang promised investors a 40 percent annual return if they took care of the ants properly and was able to collect $440 million.

Pyramid schemes are a big problem in southern China. In 1995, the Chinese government passed a law against them after the state lost $380 million to a pyramid scam in central Wuxi. In April 2007, 14 people were arrested for swindling people in a pyramid scheme that took in over $200 million. The suspects who worked for a wood company, promised investors high returns on investments on the sale of woodlands.

Dozens of retirees were burned in a pyramid scheme that involved buying stakes in cemetery plots and repositories for ashes of the deceased.

In August 2009, two businessmen charged with defrauding hundreds of investors of more than $127 million were executed. The Supreme Court upheld the sentence saying, the businessmen had “seriously damaged the country’s financial regulatory order and social stability.”

Smuggling, Grave Robbing and Antiquities Theft in China

Grave Robbing and Antiquities Theft, See Art

Smuggling, See Economics

Piracy in China

In the 1990s there were several incidents involving China and pirates. At that time many pirates headed to China with their cargos, where corrupt customs officials and lax paperwork made it an idea place to get rid of stolen goods. Ports associated with piracy on the southern China coast included Zhangjiagang, Shantou, Huilai, Shanwei, Haikou on Hainan Island, Beihai, and Fancheng.

In the Mao era China was one of the last places that pirates would take a hijacked vessel but in the 1990s, when there were a large number of corrupt officials and people willing to do anything to make a fast buck in China was the often the first place to go. In some cases pirated ships were brought in ports and their cargos were sold after bribing a few harbor officials. In other cases ships were seized, their cargos were confiscated and auctioned off and the pirates were sent on their way with officials who confiscated the ship pocketing the money from the auction.

Piracy syndicates operate in Hong Kong, Indonesia, China, Singapore, South Korea and are often made up of citizens from several countries. It is not unusual for a single syndicate to be lead five men: one each from China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia. Some have connections with large Mafia-like organized crime groups. A single pirating act may be masterminded by a Singaporean, organized by South Koreans, carried out by Indonesians, Malaysians and Thais who press ganged a crew hired through a Hong Kong company.

Thirteen pirates were executed on the mainland in 2000. Since then piracy in China has not been a big problem.

See Asia

Piracy Incidents and China in the Mid-1990s

In September 1995, a cargo ship in the South China Sea was attacked by a gang of 30 armed Indonesian pirates who pistol-whipped and bound the 23-member crew before tossing them overboard near the coast of Vietnam.

The cargo ship and its $5 million cargo was taken to Beihai, a sleepy fishing port in southern China. Maritime officials discovered the ship before the cargo was unloaded and demanded that Chinese authorities prosecute the pirates and turn over the cargo to its rightful owners. The pirates were released without being charged. Authorities demanded that the true owners of the ship pay $400,000 for its released. The money wasn’t paid and the 450-foot ship was broken apart and sold as scrap.

In September 1997, pirates boarded a ship with $2.5 million cargo just south of Hong Kong. The ship was brought to the Chinese port of Huilai. The pirates were released after they were forced to sign confession. Authorities then seized the cargo and sold it.

Piracy Incidents and China in the Late-1990s

In April 1998, a Singapore-owned oil tanker, with $1.5 million worth of fuel, was boarded by 12 pirates armed with machine guns and wearing balaclava hoods. They tied up the crew and threatened the Australian captain by placing a machete to his groin and then knocked him down with a swat to the head from the side of a machete. The petroleum was siphoned off into other tankers. A Chinese patrol vessel came upon the ship. Instead of arresting the pirates, the Chinese detained the crew and let the pirates go.

In December 1998, the bullet-ridden bodies of seven sailors were pulled up in fishing nets off the southern coast of China. The victims had been bound and gagged and weighted down with steel bars. They were part of the 23-member crew of a Hong Kong-owned ship that had been hijacked with a $65,000 cargo of furnace slag. The other members of crew were also killed. The pirates — 12 Chinese and one Indonesian — had posed as Chinese policemen. The pirates were caught and sentenced to death.

In September 1998, a 2,600-ton Japanese-owned ship disappeared shortly after setting sail from Sumatra. The ship showed up later with a new name at the Yangtze River port of Zhangjiagang. The original crew of 14 Chinese and South Koreans and the cargo of aluminum ingots were gone. In their place were 16 Indonesian crew members. Four months passed before the ship was recovered. During that time the ship changed name three times and had stopped in ports in Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore and Indonesia.

Image Source: 1) Landsberger Posters; 2) Defense Talk; 3) Beifan; YouTube

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated August 2012

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