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Geocaching dangerous in China


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Any one (any foreigner, more likely) who wants to go geocaching in China may first want to read this report, which appears in the South China Morning Post, a Hong Kong newspaper.


Foreign GPS users risk arrest

Stephen Chen in Beijing

Updated on Mar 26, 2009

Foreigners using GPS on the mainland risk being detained by police or national security agents if they suspect them of conducting illegal mapping.


"It's better for [your] safety not to turn on the GPS function [on your cellphone]," a State Bureau of Surveying and Mapping official said.


The bureau announced 10 days ago that it was launching a year-long crackdown this month on illegal surveying, with foreigners among its prime targets. Six ministries are involved in the campaign.


Its announcement cites the detention in December 2007 of a foreigner in a village near Luoyang in Henan province. State security agents found a number of locations marked on his hand-held Global Positioning System device and used that as evidence for his arrest, the bureau said, without elaborating.


The South China Morning Post spoke to a bureau official, who identified the detainee as American mining expert Calvin Herron. According to his online profile, Mr Herron is "an exploration geologist with more than 20 years experience in acquisition and management of precious and base metals projects in the western United States" and experience "managing gold and lead-zinc exploration programmes" on the mainland.


The official said Mr Herron was deported four months later after the authorities confiscated his equipment and data and fined him 100,000 yuan (HK$113,700). Mr Herron could not be reached for comment.


Xu Shijie, a guided-missile expert at Beihang University, said there were missile facilities near Luoyang and Mr Herron had probably been arrested because he was getting too close to them.


He is not the only foreigner to have been detained for surveying and mapping on the mainland without approval. At least six Japanese visitors were reportedly arrested in the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region between 2005 and 2007.


Bureau deputy director Song Chaozhi told China News Service earlier that the bureau would intensify its watch on non-Chinese people using GPS devices for mapping and surveying purposes. "[such behaviour] severely threatens China's national security," Mr Song was quoted as saying.


An anonymous article, possibly inspired by the crackdown and entitled "How to Catch a Foreign Spy Mapping Chinese Terrain", is circulating in mainland internet chat rooms, urging people to watch out for foreigners using GPS devices.


Beijing bans foreigners from conducting a wide range of topographical activities, from plotting terrain to aerial photography. Non-Chinese institutions or individuals intending to use mapping devices on the mainland must file a request to the central government - which can take months to approve; they must also be "assisted" by mainland bodies and submit their data for vetting.

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I have been in China fro the last 9 months and have done a couple of caches in Beijing and was thinking of placig a few in Luoyang. The place mentioned in the article. After reading the post I now abandon the thought as I dont want to be the cause of anyone to be in trouble due to the use of GPS devices,


I just cannot understand why the chineese are so afraid that someone will see where what is. Even if you look on google earth you will see that most of the "danger zones" are very blurred and hidden away.


Makes one wonders why they will copy anything from the westeren world but are to avraid to show their own beautiful country. Hence finding a english map of China is almost impossable. I think they have much to learn and much to expose to the free world as hiding things is a sign of something not right.


Great article thanks




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I just cannot understand why the chineese are so afraid that someone will see where what is. Even if you look on google earth you will see that most of the "danger zones" are very blurred and hidden away.


It amuses me when I hear of plans (or in this case, the actual occurance of) blurring a section of map because it's "secret". Because y'know... that's accomplishing the exact opposite of it's intended goal. Because it's blurred, you now know that something secret IS there, and merely passing by with a car (or from a block away with a telescope or whatever) can confirm the exact location and nature of it. Had they NOT blurred anything, well then on Google Maps it would look the exact same as everything friggin' else... the top of a building :D.


Ahh, the 'Streisand effect'... always good for a laugh.

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Attended a speech by Cal Herron yesterday titled: “The XYZs of China’s Survey Law - New Risks for Foreigners using GPS Technology in China”, Cal Herron- President, Quest Geological Consultants and Ben Zhu, Managing Partner, B&J Partners Law Firm


Chinas surveying law stipulates that any GPS device with an accuracy better than 100 meters is a surveying instrument and as such subject to the survey law.

The use of GPS for mapping, geological surveying, mountain climbing and tourism is restricted by the surveying law.

Key issue is the mapping and asserting the geographical position of natural and man made objects. The altitude can be more sensitive that long & lat.

Possession of a GPS is not an offense but can be enough to attract unwanted attention.

Use of non-chinese made maps in China in illegal as is the production of such maps but using a printout of google earth is ok.

The survey that Mr. Herron was conducting was done in a county closed to foreigners, but his client and Chinese partner did not inform his company of this (maybe they knew maybe not)


The Japanese mentioned by skrikvirniks where using differential GPS, not your standard geocaching tool.


My own conclusions.

Dont expose your GPS

Use stealth

Stay well away from military areas and closed counties

Dont keep any waypoints or tracks in China in your GPS

Searching for caches is not an offense but placing them and posting the coordinated may be


Happy caching!

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Going to China on business and want to document the places I visit. This is one of the reasons I chose a Garmin Oregon over the Colorado. The Oregon is less conspiquous than a Colorado as it doesnt have the antenna protruding from the unit body.


My fear is that it Chinese Customs agents will be looking out for GPS devices and confiscate it. Does anyone know if this is occuring?

Edited by tRayler
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My fear is that it Chinese Customs agents will be looking out for GPS devices and confiscate it. Does anyone know if this is occuring?


Having a GPS device is not illegal in China, just recording your position. I live in Beijing and traveled several times to Europe and Australia and nobody at chinese customs was ever interested in the things I brought with me.


So don't be afraid. Put it into your pants pockets so nobody will see it if they X-Ray your suitcase (which never happened to me).

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We traveled extensively around China (Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Tibet, Xi’an and back to Beijing). We found 12 caches and searched for a few others, including at the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, various places in Shanghai and Hong Kong, and various places in Tibet, including Everest Base Camp


We had absolutely no problems using our GPS – it was clearly visible at all times. However, having seen this post prior to going to China, I was a little nervous about using my GPS, but decided to take my GPS anyway. I am pleased that we did. I carried a geocaching notice in English and Chinese to use just in case (which I eventually left in the cache at Everest Base Camp) (e-mail for a copy if you like), but found that it was not required.


I suggest that if you are careful and do not look suspicious you should be OK.

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I don't think it is not illigal or dangerous to use a GPS. I'm Chinese and I live in Beijing since I was born. Many cars have GPS on it now and more and more cell phones have it since the 3G network covers more and more places. Besides, how can the others know you are using it?

I think it is totally OK to use GPS.

Anyway, welcome to China :lol:

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Having lived in China for a very long time, I can assure everyone that at least in the cities, using a GPS is completely legal and very common.


It's a different story in the countryside, though. Many local policemen see foreigners for the first time in their life, and usually have no idea what a GPS is. To them, people using weird high-tech doing strange search patterns must seem like E.T. just landed. Also just knowing very rudimentary English, they will likely not try to communicate in a friendly manner, but simply arrest you. If you speak at least some Mandarin - which is easier to learn than it looks - you should be able to resolve the situation quickly, but if you don't, they may fine you.


When setting up caches in China, never forget that


1. Cities change very fast, buildings get torn down and rebuild faster than anywhere else in the world.


2. Sounds obvious, but there are LOTS OF PEOPLE on the street, therefore lots of muggles. And many of them are poor, just the raw material value of many geocoins is higher than what they normally earn in a week.

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Sorry if this is slightly off topic but I am new at GeoCache Hunting and I plan to look for some caches near my girlfriend's home back in China if I ever go back to visit, but I have no idea how to access the map to show me China's caches.. I went via the normal map and manually went to china and zoomed in very slowly on her home town but it only lead to glitching..

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Hi, GPS using b laowais in China is critical. I wanted to buy a camera with GPS, in China it was not possible, only in HK. In January 2017 I was arriving in Shanghai PVG Airport. There I was forced to go to costums clearance. They found my eTrex 10, explore it and confiscated it.

A friend of my lost his eTrex in Shanghai during a normal testing of GPS funktion in the Nanjing Lu. He was taken by the police and was asking for. This "interview" took a full day, after they confisating the etrex and he lost his visa (working visa).

So be very carefull in China when u do caching.

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