When in China, Watch Your P’s and Q’s

Squatters predominate in China, but Western toilets exist
Squat toilets are common throughout China and considered more sanitary than Western toilets

In China, no one can legally own a gun, and no one can buy a gun. A Chinese friend of mine visiting the U.S. got so excited to shoot a gun at the range because that is something no one can do in China.

Because no one has guns, and because society is more passive than in the U.S., crime is very minimal in China. Sometimes people will use a knife to commit crime, but it is rare. Women walk alone on urban streets at night without concern.

Even with its massive population, the Chinese are watching everything. In order to enter the country at the airport, you first have to scan your face and give your fingerprints. It goes into a massive database. The Chinese collect such personal metrics on everyone, even its citizens. When you leave the country, the computer matches your incoming picture and fingerprints.

It is reported that the Chinese have the technology to scan the data on your cellphone as you enter the country. I leave mine turned off.

And every corner of the streets are filmed by video cameras. Security is especially pervasive around Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City, Beijing’s top tourist attractions, but also the site of an embarrassing historical conflict that the Chinese are trying to erase from memory. Young Chinese don’t even know what happened there, and those that do, don’t dare speak about it. Because of the monitoring. if there is a need, the Chinese authorities can find out where you are or have been in moments.

The Chinese have elaborate monitoring systems.
Big Brother is watching you!

In my last post, I discussed that U.S. apps don’t work in China. Instead, it’s best to use Chinese home-grown apps. Of course, using these apps, you are certainly enhancing the ability to be tracked. When you bank through the app or call a ride-sharing company, the government knows what you have done. It’s a Big Brother society for sure. The local Chinese don’t mind this. Their philosophy is that if you haven’t done anything wrong, the government knowing where you are and where you have been isn’t useful information. This is a key to understanding the difference between cultures.

Except in Beijing, you don’t see many policemen around. Beijing, being the capital, has many around, but so does Washington, D.C. The number in D.C. are way more than in China. Throughout China you see traffic police and there are police stations scattered around, but by and large, although under surveillance, the people don’t interact with the police.

Twice at the airport, security officers for the airline, trying to exercise authority, hassled our group a bit but were easily put off by quiet persuasion of our tour guide.

An American friend working in China related a story about how she was visited by the police and subjected to extensive questioning about her business in China. She answered all the probing questions that couldn’t even be asked in the U.S., such as how much money she made and acquiescing to a visit inside her apartment. If you don’t comply, bad things may happen.

It’s not a place where you want to fool around. Don’t think about taking something from the hotel. You might end up in jail.

Drink only bottled water in China. And count on having to use squat toilets, although Western toilets do exist. Many Chinese prefer squatters as you don’t share a seat. Also, prepare to carry toilet paper and hand towels, as these are not always provided. Occasionally a large roll of toilet paper graces the entrance of a restroom. Remember to grab what you need as you enter. You may experience  hand dryers, but I didn’t find them effective. Also, don’t put anything down the drain! The plumbing isn’t up to Western standards. If you see a waste basket, use it.

Despite the communist government and anomalies like these, society in China is very familiar and capitalistic. People run businesses for profit; get loans to buy cars and homes; pay taxes; and buy health, life, and auto insurance. They just  do not engage in political questions.

China’s ancient sites and modern facilities (the hotels, offices, and shopping centers) are as good as anywhere, with all the Western brands, and exciting to see, especially within the context of China’s differing governmental and societal norms.


  1. Interesting article. I am not certain that I would be comfortable visiting a communist country. I am sure there are beautiful locations and lovely people, but being used to our freedom, I fear unintentionally doing or saying something wrong.

    Have never used a squatter. Not certain how easily it works with back issues. Might be great.

Comments are closed.