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Going to China next week, and have been reading a lot of stuff on bringing pepper spray, it seems like it is illegal, but you would probably only get into trouble if you actually used it. But if I'm using it, I don't think I would have any issue dealing with the repercussions

So is pepper spray a good option to bring, or are there alternatives that are just as effective as a self defense mechanism, that you wouldn't get in trouble for using?

Yes - I understand that China is a "Fairly Safe" place. However, I would still like to know what my options are.

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    What are you up to that you see such a need for self defense? China is a fairly safe place. – mts Aug 10 '16 at 14:41
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    @Adjit: My hometown is a fairly safe place, as well, and it means that I do not remotely consider any need for carrying any means of self-defense. Maybe your place is not at all as "fairly safe" as you seem to believe? – O. R. Mapper Aug 10 '16 at 14:54
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    @O.R.Mapper New York, US, is a pretty safe place. And I'm not carrying around anything that is hindering my agility. The question was not do you think I need self defense, it is what can be used as a legal form of self defense. – Adjit Aug 10 '16 at 15:06
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    Beijing is much more orderly than New York, particularly in the central tourist areas, where there are a lot of soldiers and plain clothes police. It is very unlikely you would need to defend yourself. Also you can expect to be regularly searched for weapons if you go into tourist places like museums or Tiananmen Square, and even at metro stations. – Calchas Aug 10 '16 at 15:18
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    @jpmc26: Questioning the premise of questions is commonplace all over the Stack Exchange network. It has nothing to do with belittling anyone, nor with promoting any particular political view, nor is it an unwarranted intrusion into anyone's business to request clarification about the motivation behind a question (for instance, to rule out an x-y-problem), especially if the question is about behaviour that can pose a danger to the asker and others. – O. R. Mapper Aug 11 '16 at 5:17
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Pepper Spray is forbidden and likely will be discovered

Pepper spray is forbidden in China. Your luggage will be searched and/or x-rayed frequently when in China, including customs controls when exiting into the airport and entering the subway or train/bus stations. There is a high chance that it will be discovered. (I've had a can of deo spray taken away when getting on a bus once. Even pocket knives get confiscated there at times.) If that happens in the best case it will be thrown away and in the worst case police will treat you as a potential terrorist. You do not want this kind of interaction with security forces.

Right to carry arms / alternative weapons

You asked for alternative means of self-defense and mentioned in a comment that you do walk around with a form of self-defense even at home. I somehow come to assume you are a US citizen, where there is a constitutional right to bear arms. Many Americans find it surprising that this is not at all the case around the globe, and the principle adhered to is rather the "monopoly on violence" owned by the state. Carrying weapons (and be it only for self-defense) in China is highly unusual and links you to crime in the eyes of the police and public. I strongly advise against it.

It has additionally been pointed out by @Berwyn that if shit hits the fan,

Chinese legal culture is much less permissive in self-defense claims

compared to e.g. the US.

Staying safe

As mentioned in an earlier comment, China is a fairly safe place. If you want to be extra safe, adhere to official travel warnings of your embassy/government, e.g. the Australian Smarttraveller.gov.au on China, and the "stay safe" section on Wikivoyage.

Your best self-defense is to avoid situations where you would need self-defense.
That includes, but is not limited to

  • don't get wasted, even better, don't get drunk
  • don't do drugs - they are illegal anyway
  • avoid prostitutes or any other illegal activity
  • know and avoid the scams. That includes the unofficial taxis
  • avoid being alone in an area. That one is easy in China
  • be wary of strangers, especially those speaking (good) English
  • avoid nightclubs and bars. Intoxicated folks can get aggressive (pretty much anywhere in the world)

Finally to answer your true question, if you do still feel the urge for a form of self-defense, martial arts are perfectly legal to my knowledge.

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    I'm surprised to see this answer accepted - while it's helpful, it doesn't answer the core question. It states that pepper spray and firearms are banned, but what methods are permitted? – CMaster Aug 10 '16 at 15:26
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    @CMaster that is actually a fair point. Everyone was making a big deal about wanting a form of self defense, so I figured this was the most I'd get out of people – Adjit Aug 10 '16 at 15:28
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    @CMaster "Carrying weapons (and be it only for self-defense) in China is highly unusual and links you to crime in the eyes of the police and public." implies that I advise against carrying anything. And tbh I'm surprised myself. Also note that weapons here intends not only firearms but also knives and I don't know what else. – mts Aug 10 '16 at 15:32
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    @CMaster: The permitted methods of self-defence are quite famous around the world and are usually incorrectly known as "kung fu". One of the few instances of something approaching "racism" among the various ethnicities of China that I've heard was a stereotype that Tibetans carry knives and the same for another group I can't recall. It gave me the impression that "typical law abiding Chinese" regard carrying anything weaponish with revulsion. My impression after several visits to China is stay away from shady activities and you are very unlikely to come across shady people. – hippietrail Aug 10 '16 at 16:42
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    @CMaster The answer seems pretty clear to me as to what's the best method of self defense: Common sense. Not particularly limited to China though. Or another point of view: Weapons are dangerous not just to others, but also to yourself. They also escalate situations, which is exactly the opposite of what you want in a dangerous situation. – Voo Aug 10 '16 at 20:14
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If you want to carry something then you need to be creative. You could carry one of the tactical pens out there . Smith and Wesson has a pen for $30 which is made of6076 T6 aircraft aluminum. There is a screw on cap with a pointed end (but not sharpened so it is hard to think of as “a weapon”) I f you want to go cheaper get a G2 pen which goes for about a dollar. A navy this is what a Nave interagator carried at Guantanamo Bay. Since it has a legitimate purpose then no one will take it away. I was reading on leathermans web and they had a list of multi-tools that are legal. Asia has a long history of unconventional weapons. For example a Tom fa (sp) which is a club with a handle on the side was actually used fir harvesting grain.

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