I’m not sure if it was because I was a lone non-Asian tourist walking around the tourist sites of Beijing, and had I been in a group perhaps I wouldn’t have encountered issues, but I lost count of the number of times I was approached by locals offering me this, that and the other. As is my nature, I was naturally cautious of whatever it was they were offering me, and sure enough, after some online research, most of what was offered was part of a scam, which could ultimately mean the easily-led tourist loses an awful lot of money or gets involved in a risky situation.
Here are the scams/hard-sells I encountered:
1. In Tiananmen Square particularly, I was bombarded with street-seller after street-seller, offering me books, postcards, small souvenirs. Now, not a scam in itself, but having to fend off literally tens of them in a short space of time does try your patience.
2. People approaching me and asking if I needed a guide. Now, some of the prices they were offering seemed pretty reasonable (had I wanted a giude in the first place), and I’m sure some of them would be very knowledgeable and not lead you down the wrong path, but having researched about this, quite a lot of the time the guides will take you to just certain ‘attractions’ and gift shops which are owned by a family member or friend. Once at these shops a hard-sell ensues, with the tourist feeling pressured to buy overpriced items. If the tourist succumbs, both the guide and shopowner will profit.
3. Similar to number 2, but someone approaches you asking if you’d be interested to visit a ‘free’ gallery which is run by them, their friend, or their school. The gallery may be free, but again, you’re pushed hard into buying something in the gift shop which you probably don’t want.
4. The infamous tea ceremony invitation. This was the scam which I most approached about, and the one which could potentially cost you a lot. An often very pretty lady will approach you asking if you would be interested in attending a traditional Chinese tea ceremony. You might think that sounds lovely, and if you can attend one where you know it’s all above board, I would recommend it. But, according to online comments, more often than not these ladies coax you to a ceremony where, at the end, you’re presented with a bill for anything up to US$1000! If you don’t pay, the ‘police’ are called, things get messy. Be very careful when accepting any invitation to this activity.
I was only in Beijing for a weekend, but I became completely fed up with the constant hassle of having to fend off these scam artists, that seemed to appear out of nowhere. I haven’t encountered this, to that extent, in any other city. In the end I just completely ignored people who approached me, or those trying to sell me things – yes, I got cursed and shouted at down the street on one occasion for ignoring her, but at least I didn’t end up in an awkward situation and out of pocket.