What are some apparently harmless things I shouldn't do in China as a tourist/traveler that can get me arrested by the police?

I am talking about something which most people outside China would consider absolutely harmless, but then it can get them in real trouble with law enforcement or the government.

  • 2
    'Attempting to overthrow the government' is definitely high on that list
    – Valorum
    Commented Apr 21, 2023 at 18:03
  • @Valorum from which country does it seem lawful to overthrow a government? Commented Apr 28, 2023 at 18:22
  • 1
    @FranckDernoncourt - In most civilised countries it's acceptable to set up your own party of government and/or argue that the current lot should be thrown out.
    – Valorum
    Commented Apr 28, 2023 at 20:03
  • 1
    @Valorum, In most civilised countries ... --- In terms of age, Chinese civilization is older than Western civilization. ... it's acceptable to set up your own party of government and/or argue that the current lot should be thrown out. --- that is Western idea of democracy; AKA Liberal Democracy. China has its own version of democracy. Besides, arguing about something is a complete waste of time. The best example is India. They have one of the slowest bureaucratic systems in the world.
    – user366312
    Commented May 1, 2023 at 23:58

3 Answers 3


I've been in China a dozens of times and I never had even a casual run in with the authorities and the thought never occurred to me.

Follow the same rule as pretty much anywhere: don't talk about politics and religion, don't commit any crimes (NO drugs) and don't behave like a pompous and inconsiderate fool.

China has less stringent cultural norms than many other countries: alcohol, moderate displays of affection, jeans, shorts, T-shirts etc. are all perfectly fine.

  • 10
    Really if you look clearly non-Chinese and/or have a foreign passport you get a lot of leeway unless you are physically confrontational with the police (which is a bad idea everywhere, at least in China the cops won't usually shoot you). But yes, NO DRUGS, not even weed (which is basically considered as bad as heroin there). To a lesser but still significant extent, avoid prostitution or grey areas (not only due to frequent police controls, but also significant possibility of scams.)
    – xngtng
    Commented Apr 20, 2023 at 17:57
  • @xngtng And for some reason poppy seeds. Commented Apr 21, 2023 at 7:35
  • 2
    @user3819867 Poppy seeds contain trace amounts of opium.
    – Burgi
    Commented Apr 21, 2023 at 10:47
  • 1
    Poppy seeds were not banned until a few years back actually, and was quite frequently used in restaurant cooking. Now it's banned for food use but I still don't think it's considered a drug yet.
    – xuq01
    Commented Apr 22, 2023 at 15:20
  • 1
    in most places ("pretty much anywhere") talking about politics is not a problem and doesn't end you in jail
    – njzk2
    Commented May 1, 2023 at 20:35

A big "harmless" thing that is often overlooked by Western travelers when traveling to developing countries is money. From personal experience, a lot of people you meet in China will want to trade currency with you. Keep in mind that China is supposed to have strict currency controls, so this is illegal. Do not swap money at shady venues - you are always supposed to show your passport and you will receive a standardized receipt with stamp and all the details of the exchange.

The currency thing also applies to Russia and countries within its sphere of influence.

Police in PRC is especially kind and outgoing to foreigners. In major cities there is an extremely heavy police presence, pretty much on every block. You can count on a policeman being able to help or guide you to a particular place if you're lost (or at least make an honest effort to). They are unarmed and do not speak English.

Other than that, I can't think of anything else. Do not get involved in drugs as this will end badly.

  • 4
    Maybe I met different people than you but I haven't met a single person in China that wanted to trade currency with me. If you do meet people that want to trade currency, your warning is valid though.
    – quarague
    Commented Apr 21, 2023 at 7:33
  • Same here. In contrast to many other countries I was never approached for currency exchange in China, not even by people who I know quite well and who would perfectly "safe". If I need cash, I just draw it from an ATM.
    – Hilmar
    Commented Apr 21, 2023 at 17:34
  • Usually currency controls applies to countries that have difficulty getting hard currency (us$, euros). Those controls allows the government to get all of the currency brought by tourists, restricting the amount that is used by its own citizens travelling abroad or importing foreign products. China does not have much trouble getting hard currency
    – SJuan76
    Commented Apr 21, 2023 at 22:04
  • There was some truth in this 25-30 years ago, when FECs existed, but I've not seen it since. Citizens can buy moderate quantities (easily up to $60k USD+ if memory serves) at normal exchange rates legally. I've never found the police to be anything but kind and helpful. I would not describe it as "heavy", since they generally are unarmed, on foot, and simply dealing with traffic or whatever when they're not goofing off in their kiosks. Commented Apr 21, 2023 at 22:09

Beware of buying counterfeit brand things like handbags, watches etc. You can get into serious trouble at the airport if you're caught with this kind of contraband.

  • 4
    Do these products get you in trouble in China or only when you return home?
    – Willeke
    Commented Apr 21, 2023 at 17:47
  • I don't know what you mean by "serious trouble" but I doubt you get any jail time for that. Specially when you consider that of all the places, Chinese counterfeit products dominate the world's of fakes. Commented Apr 21, 2023 at 18:34
  • This might depend on country. Customs in my home country (Sweden) does not intervene if a traveller is bringing counterfeit goods for personal use. But the question is about China, and I don't think they care, because counterfeit goods are sold very openly in big markets that are well known for selling counterfeits.
    – jkej
    Commented Apr 21, 2023 at 19:58
  • 3
    Attempting to export commercial quantities of fakes could get you into trouble. Nobody will care if you arrive or leave with a fake handbag. Commented Apr 21, 2023 at 22:11
  • In fact, I do not think there is even a reliable way to tell if something is counterfeit in China. Most counterfeits are actually produced by the factories that also produce the genuine stuff, and they'd sell the ones that the brands don't want at a low price.
    – xuq01
    Commented Apr 22, 2023 at 15:22

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