There's nothing like a thief invading your home to make the general crime rate suddenly seem very personal. One of my top employees in Shenzhen was burgled last week, as he lay sleeping in his bedroom; work laptops and equipment were stolen leading to frustration all around. But what makes this all-too-common occurrence remarkable is that he lives on the 19th floor of an apartment building, and the thief got in through his unlocked balcony door!
Robbery in China has been on the up for the past few years, bucking the (official) trend for other crimes - cynics could say that this is because there is now a lot more worth stealing in China; it is also indicative of the growing rich/poor divide, inevitable for an economy changing as fast as China's.
Officially, in the Guangdong province (which includes Shenzhen) more than 80,000 people were convicted of “robbery” and “violent robbery” in 2003 - 2005, making up more than one-third of the total number of criminals convicted. Visitors to Shenzhen from gentle Hong Kong hold on so tightly to their handbags that they get cramps in their fingers, and it's fair to say that a foreigner stands out as somebody who's probably rich and probably doesn't have a clue - an easy target on the street for thieves, street hawkers and shop owners alike!
Still, giving the death penalty to bag-snatchers does seem an overreaction from the authorities (so far, this is a ruling which hasn't been put into practice). To minimize your chances of being a victim, I think just a little extra vigilance is needed: no visible Rolexes down dark alleys, locking your car (if you're using one) and of course, locking your balcony, even 60 meters up.
A couple of years ago, this item was spotted in the South China Morning Post: "Shenzhen crime spree escalates: The opening of a Shenzhen subway station has been delayed after an armed gang raided the construction site and stole the escalator." Maybe they're using it to scale apartment walls!