policy for locking luggage in china
Q: I will be traveling throughout china for an international program through my school. We will be traveling by boat, train, and air occasionally sending our luggage ahead of us. My professors have said that in some places, you must lock every last compartment, even if some of them have nothing in them because of one of China's policies, so that noone can tamper with your luggage or put things in that weren't supposed to (like drugs).
My problem is that some of my compartments do not zip and only have one zipper. So what are the policies for locking your baggage when traveling in China? Will I be okay if I either don't lock some of the external pockets? Should I "fake it" by placing a lock on a compartment even though it doesn't secure it, or just get a new suitcase?
A: There do not seem to be such specific rules per se, but the danger your refer to does exit - for example, a smuggler make you help without you being aware of it. Also, travelers are generally lock up their bags if they leave them for people such as hotel staff to take care of. One reason for this is safety concerns you referred to - placement of unwanted stuff in your luggage etc. Another reason is the carers of the luggage do not want to be liable for the missing of items from your bags.
So, if you're talking about you traveling with your own luggage, there is no rule that says that all your bags must be locked, etc.
Locking up your luggage is probably is probably a good idea as it prevents pickpockets from stealing from you easily. When you travel, you do need to keep close watch your stuff, especially at crowded places such as trains or buses or stations. Violent crimes against travelers are rare, but property-related crimes do frequently happen, such as pocket-picking. Keep your valuables, including your passport, etc., close to yourself, like in a belt bag in front of yourself. Don't place valuables in your backpack if you, well, carry the bag on your back - thieves may reach in and lift your stuff. If you keep good watch of your stuff, you'll save yourself from serious headaches.
A different philosophy (yes, a big word) is that you avoid put your valuables in a conspicuous place. Instead, keep them on yourself and yet do not make them draw thieves' attention.
An issue related to your question is that under certain circumstances some places may refuse to care your luggage for you. You check out you hotel but want to spend the rest of the day touring the city. Normally you can ask your hotel to keep you luggage for you till you pick it up. Now, at some places, out of security concerns, they do not do this for their guests. Some travelers in Shanghai, for instance, have recently ran into this problem, partly because the heightened security in the city due to the ongoing Shanghai World Expo. This is nothing new, of course; it seems they stopped doing this sort of things at bus terminals in New York after 911 attack on the World Trade Center.
The gist of this meandering answer is this. If you're talking about traveling with your luggage, there are no rules that say you must lock all your bags. You yourself may find it a good practice to do so to prevent theft. If you leave your luggage for others to care for you, they may ask you to lock it up out of security concerns and/or to avoid liability for loss of stuff. Lastly, some hotels may refuse to care for your luggage; ask to make sure you know what you can or cannot do so that you can better plan your itinerary.