Ask an expat in China about the crime rate there and they will no doubt tell you it is extremely low.  They will invariably tell you there is almost no violent crime, particularly against foreigners, but theft is on the rise.  The local Chinese tend to say the same thing.

Probably pretty good anecdotal evidence, but what about the numbers?  How does the crime rate compare between a prosperous mid-sized (for China) city like Qingdao and a larger, less prosperous city like Chengdu?  I have had Chinese tell me Harbin has a lot of criminals.  Does it?  How many Chinese criminals are in gangs?  Now a country like China which seems to have (not always reliable) statistics on just about everything, must have all sorts of statistics about something as important as crime.

Nope.  Very little.

The Shanghai daily recently ran an article, entitled, “Homicide rates down as cracking rate up.” [link no longer exists]  According to the article, China had 31,000 homicides, of which more than 20,000 were murders.  This is down from 33,000 and nearly 25,000 in 2004.  The police “cracked” 89.6 percent of the homicide cases, compared to 63 percent in the United States.

China’s Ministry of Public Security recently launched a campaign that “requires all local public security authorities to crack at least 85 percent of their homicide cases, and to ensure the number of homicide cases and escapee criminals will decline by 2007.”  I find it difficult to believe this campaign will do anything more than cause local authorities to play with the statistics, to the extent they are not doing so already. But I will bet that the numbers in next year’s Shanghai Daily article will be even more impressive.

China had 554,000 cases of seriously violent crimes (never defined) last year, down 2.16 percent from 2004.

By way of comparison, there are typically around 16,000 murders in the United States and around 1.3 million violent crimes per year, out of a population of approximately 300 million.  Therefore, if China’s murder statistics are accurate, one is around four times more likely to be murdered in the United States than in China.  If (and this is a big if) violent crime means the same thing in the two countries and if (and this too is a big if) China’s statistics are as accurate as the United States’, one is around sixteen times more likely to be the victim of a violent crime in the United States as in China.

Accurate?  You tell me.