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Patiently awaiting a Chinese crime wave

By James Skinner | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2017-09-27 10:20

"Be very careful in China. There are criminals everywhere," my new employer said.

It was my first week in China and my new boss was giving me some survival tips about the country that was now my home. I'm sure he said plenty of other things, but this was the only piece of information I took away from my talk with him.

Patiently awaiting a Chinese crime wave

The author pictured at a Jinan restaurant. He enjoyed two years in Jinan before deciding it was time to move on. [Photo provided to chinadaily.com.cn]

His warning had unnerved me. Had I made a mistake?

I had already come somewhere where I didn't speak the language, didn't understand the culture, and now I needed to worry about the crime rate?

Of course, I didn't come to China expecting it to be perfect. I had done my research, or I thought I had.

I had found a job in Jinan, Shandong province. And while my research didn't extend far beyond a Google search for basic information about the city, everything seemed to be in order. I read about the city's baking-hot summers, freezing-cold winters and the many springs that are popular with tourists visiting the city.

Having come from a small, grim, post-industrial town in England, where every day had seemed a different shade of grey, it had all sounded positively exciting.

In England, we have sadly gotten used to living with a certain level of crime and a low level of constant anxiety about our personal safety. People know there are areas of towns and cities where they shouldn't go, people don't expect a fast response when they call the police, and many criminals offend with impunity.

But now, that was all behind me. With my employer's warning ringing in my ears, it was time to start my life in China.

I tried to be constantly on my guard whenever I was in public, and wondered if there was a chance my apartment might get burgled. I had noticed bars on many people's windows on the lower levels of apartment blocks and was very aware that mine didn't have any.

I was especially careful on buses, and always tried to walk with my hands in my pockets to protect my phone and wallet.

Yet, little by little, I noticed that the city's residents certainly did not act like they were living somewhere with a high crime rate.

In fact, people seemed far more relaxed in public and around strangers than I had ever seen in my life. Most noticeably, elderly residents appeared confident walking around the city at any time of day, getting together for the famous square dances in the evenings.

If there were any "no go" areas, I didn't know about them.

I talked to other local expats to see if I was missing something. But, other than a vague second-hand story about a bike theft, nobody had any horror stories to rationalize my fears.

Local people I spoke to insisted it was really a very safe city, and I shouldn't worry.

After a time, I began to believe them and started to enjoy the city's many attractions, not once experiencing any type of crime.

My experience in Jinan has been representative of my time in China, wherever I have been. Since then, I have always felt very safe here. While most of us expect cities to have a certain level of crime, considering China's size, the relative safety of its cities is really something it can be proud of.

Unfortunately, in my case, it was first impressions that really counted, and someone telling me that there was a crime problem led me to look for and fear a problem that wasn't there.

I never saw my employer again after our little talk at the start of my time in Jinan. And, after two good years in the city, I decided it was time to move on.

Before I did, I discovered that my crime-fearing boss may perhaps not have been the best person to dish out advice about living in China. When he warned me about China's crime problem, he had apparently been on a rare trip to the country, having left to live in Australia many years ago.

James Skinner is a contributing editor at China Daily with an MA in International Relations. He has a particular interest in British and American politics, as well as global security issues.


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