Know China: Cities and Safety


In China, expect to see spectacular architecture, sometimes alongside older buildings. The rate at which the former is replacing the latter is awesome.

The bigger cities have metro (subway / underground) systems with English language signs and announcements, so they are very easy for visitors to use.

Taxis in larger cities are reliable, but make sure that the meter is used. It’s a good idea to have the destination in written Chinese.

Didi private car systems also exist – the drivers usually have little English but an English language APP is available.

Walking in cities is a good option. There are clear traffic signals at important junctions to allow crossing, but don’t assume that a green sign means that there will be no traffic coming your way. Also, look out for the many bikes, including motorised ones!

To use the bicycle sharing systems it’s necessary to register on the company APP, with a passport. Hotels may be able to help. Cities everywhere in the world have bustle. China has its fair share of the rude – people who are oblivious to inconvenience caused to others – as well as the polite.

Bicycle sharing systems are available in most cities.

Road manners, like pedestrian etiquette, are not the same as in the West, but (though it may be a wonder to a Western observer) it works, and road rage is rare.

International drivers’ licenses are not valid in China, and it is necessary for a foreigner to take a computer test on Chinese law. The test is available in English, but in general we advise against driving.


Chinese friend: “After you’ve lived in China and returned home, what do you miss most?” American female: “Freedom.”

It’s true that news in China focuses on the positive. Bad things are less reported than in many other countries. But people feel safe in Chinese cities. There are many street cameras, and junior security officers (not policemen, and not very active, but creating a sense of neighbourhood security).

Lonely stretches of countryside are another matter. While the cities are generally highly developed, rural areas away from tourist honeypots are not. Beauty may be deceptive.

In the busy cities of eastern China you usually have to be comfortable in crowds. If you want a sense of space, head to the western provinces of the very far north – then you just have to worry about the bears, the wolves and the (very few) surviving wild tigers.

‘Sidewalk etiquette’ is not the same as many visitors experience at home. For a start, there are bikes, motorized or not. Be especially careful about stepping sideways – there may be a cycle coming up behind you.

Culture and Language In-Country Travel