Crime watch

By Jemimah Steinfeld Source:Global Times Published: 2012-8-15 18:50:03

Until recently, many have walked around Beijing late at night without worrying. Recent horror stories are changing this. 
Photo: CFP
        Until recently, many have walked around Beijing late at night without worrying. Recent horror stories are changing this. Photo: CFP

A recent spate of violent crimes in Beijing has left people on edge in the city.

Among the most broadcast, at least in expat circles, was the incident of a female City Weekend staffer being brutally attacked as she walked down a side road in Sanlitun.

More recently, an American man has been stabbed to death in a hutong, while reports of rickshaw drivers raping female riders and the high-profile incident of a British national molesting a Chinese girl back in May continue to circulate.

Beijing has long been known to suffer from petty crime in the form of bike theft and the likes, but violent crime is much less heard of. Do these events signal a change in how safe the city is?

Safer than many

China generally enjoys a reputation of being a secure country in the eyes of foreigners, with Beijing no exception. While many would think twice about walking down a dark street late at night in places like Los Angeles or New York, the streets of Beijing are considered havens where people can stroll freely at all hours of the day.

"As a whole, the security of Beijing is relatively better than that of other large international cities like New York or London," commented Wang Dawei, professor of criminology at Chinese People's Public Security University.

Wang points to the security system of Beijing as proof. "Subjectively, people's sense of security is relatively high. Beijing focuses a lot on security matters and strengthened its security system before the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games," noted Wang. "People should have confidence in the public security of Beijing."

The professor's comments allude to the government's Safe Cities program, a highly advanced monitoring system that has been around for about six years, which allows authorities to survey university campuses, hospitals and movie theaters from centralized command posts.

This system makes crimes harder to commit in the open and has perhaps added to a sense that Beijing is safe.

Yet no system is perfect and some areas are either not as closely monitored or there is less the police can do to stop crime in them. The big nightlife hubs of Sanlitun and Gongti are particularly problematic.

"I have seen brutal fights on Sanlitun Bar Street that the police have done nothing to stop. And I know of several foreigners beaten up severely in or outside of bars at Gongti. One needed 100 staples to put his skull back together after being hit with a bottle," commented 31-year-old Brian Stone about events over the past year.

Stone, an American, has never experienced problems in the five years he has lived in Beijing, but believes crime is on the rise. He said that recently the US Embassy has sent out several e-mail alerts to all US citizens naming a few hotspots that they think are not safe for foreigners due to severe beatings that have taken place there.

"There is one bar in particular where the staff is known to beat foreigners for no reason," noted Stone.

Changing perceptions

In the absence of available concrete statistics, it is hard to quantify whether Stone's experiences and other news reports amount to Beijing being less safe. Yet at least in terms of a gut feeling, many are concerned right now.

 Perhaps the lack of statistics is provoking this, since fear of crime can sometimes be greater than its reality.

It is this fear that has recently led Wendi Peng, 26, to purchase a pepper spray online. Peng, who has lived in Beijing for three years, has been particularly affected by horror stories circulating about women being sexually assaulted in public or robbed while taking black cabs.

"The expat circle is small, so the scary part is that these stories of public crime are often no longer urban legends but a halting reality check that Beijing is no different from any other global metropolis in terms of safety," noted the Chinese-born America, who is from Los Angeles.

It is not just expats who feel less safe, but also local Beijingers.

"I think Beijing is less safe than before. When I was little, I would go to school by myself all the time, but it's hard to see that happening now," said 25-year-old Yu Xiaojing, who has lived in Beijing all her life.

Yu is not sure why she feels less safe, but thinks it might be because Beijing is growing in size and with that, the odds of bad things happening has increased.

Yu's point might be at the crux of the issue. It is hard to ignore that Beijing is now an increasingly wealthy and international city of 20 million people and like any city of this caliber, there will be crime.

What is more, even if crime rates have not changed, their reporting has. The proliferation and spread of stories online ensures fewer crimes go unnoticed.

"It is an illusion that Beijing is safer [than elsewhere]," said Frederic Simon, 31, who has recently starting running free self-defense classes at Glee Gym in Chaowai Soho.

Upon talking about why he runs the class and whether Beijing is less safe, Simon continued, "There has always been crime in Beijing, despite law enforcement efforts. In 2004-05 I ran a martial arts class in Beijing and I had a lot of friends who had experienced bad things," explained Simon, adding that he remembered back in 2006 there were three reported rapes in Wudaokou and one girl was murdered in Sanlitun.   

Simon's weekly class attracts a handful of locals and expats. A few miles down the road, attendance at Krav Maga Beijing, a self-defense discipline practiced by the Israeli army, has been growing over the past year.

These are further proof that Beijingers sense the streets are not as safe as before, and it is time to take action.

Xiang Xiangping contributed to this story

Roundup of recent crimes against women in Beijing 

Assault at Pingguoyuan Station

On the morning of August 2, a girl surnamed Wang was pushed into a crowded train on Subway Line 1 at Pingguoyuan Station. She felt somebody prick her from behind, but it was too crowded to check. When she arrived at her office, her dress was stained with blood.

Singer killed by courier

On July 30, a singer surnamed Fu was sexually assaulted and murdered by courier Zhang Kunpeng in Chaoyang district. Zhang thought that Fu was very rich because she often bought items online. On the day of the crime, he pretended he had a package to deliver, entered her apartment and then killed her.

Security guard hostage

On July 19, a man at Hujialou Station, Subway Line 10, was shot down after holding a female security guard at knifepoint. Upon police arriving at the scene, the man refused to let the woman go, cutting her with his knife. After hours of confrontation, the man was shot dead.

Robbery near embassy

Around 10 pm on July 2, on a quiet street near the Tanzanian Embassy in Sanlitun, a man carrying a white female purse ran past an embassy guard followed by a Russian girl. The guard thought it was suspicious and contacted another guard. The latter chased the man and finally seized him.

Black cab mugging

In the early hours of May 7, a black cab driver surnamed Zhang, who would wait for clients at Sanjie, Changping district, saw a woman surnamed Li walking down the street alone. Zhang robbed Li of her money and cell phone.

Posted in: Metro Beijing

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