China now reportedly boasts a thousand billionaires and over 3 million millionaires – calculated in renminbi, but still rich beyond the wildest dreams of the millions living on less than a dollar a day. As the income gap grows, crimes targeting the conspicuously wealthy have grown more frequent. Two kidnappings in Beijing have shocked China's rich and famous into a heightened consciousness over personal security.
The kidnapping of actor Wu Ruofu outside a bar in Beijing's Sanlitun bar district, followed days later by the abduction and apparent murder of Zhu Yan, a female executive with Ping An Insurance Company, are expected to stimulate demand for private bodyguards in major Chinese cities. Other crimes against wealthy individuals this year include the death of the chairman of Shanxi Haixin Iron and Steel, Li Haicang, who was shot in his Taiyuan office in January, and the murder of Zhou Zubao, a Wenzhou businessman, killed in the doorway of his residence in February.
Although not recognized under Chinese law, bodyguards are fairly commonplace in Shenzhen and Guangzhou, where the typical bodyguard is a martial arts expert nominally serving as a driver or assistant. Private bodyguards in Shenzhen earn anywhere from US$500 per month for the relatively green guards to US$2,000 a month for seasoned veterans, according to the China Detective Website.
Chinese media reports put the number of bodyguards working in Guangzhou at 5,000. Twice that number reportedly now works in Shenzhen, says China Detective. According to a recent Washington Post report, crime in Shenzhen was up by 57% in 2003, with kidnappings jumping by 75% and assault and murder rates increasing by over a third.
American Insurance Underwriters (AIU), in cooperation with Clayton Consultants, has begun offering a Kidnap and Ransom insurance product to clients in the Guangzhou area and plans to offer the service in Shanghai in the second half of this year. AIU said the offering, approved by the China Insurance Regulatory Commission (CIRC), is the first of its kind offered in the Mainland and targets "companies with overseas employees and executives who travel frequently, high-net worth or high profile individuals and their family members." With premiums ranging from "some hundreds of US dollars to thousands of US dollars," the insured are covered for ransom money, negotiation and consultant fees, expenses including medical costs, reward money, property loss and other associated costs of kidnapping.
Property developer Zhang Xin, who with her husband Pan Shiyi are behind the successful Soho developments in Beijing, said concerns for personal safety aren't anything new to them. "We've always been quite conscientious about security. Generally, we keep people around us and don't travel alone," said Zhang.
Sam Porteous, Greater China managing director for risk and security consultancy Kroll Inc, said "there is certainly an increase in awareness of security, so that individuals who may not have thought about it in the past are now at least looking into it." But he added that for foreign businesspeople "and especially for foreigners who are not ethnically Asian" China still remains "a pretty safe environment compared to most parts of Asia and the world." Crimes against foreigners are generally prosecuted with extra vigor, Porteous said.
That does not mean that foreigners are entirely safe. In April, 2000 a German family living in a villa in Nanjing was stabbed to death during a robbery. Four young migrants from rural Jiangsu were arrested within weeks and executed in connection with the murders. Investigators said that the family's home was selected at random, and not because they were foreign.