China’s harsh drug laws are well-known to the expat community all over the country, but a severe crackdown in Shenzhen that detained 491 people has partygoers of all types reeling. Early in the morning of February 21, a popular party held in an underground tunnel was raided by police officers after responding to a tip. Witnesses describe being trapped in the tunnel with no means of escape, with hundreds of suspects being herded onto buses and tested for drugs including marijuana.

Known as “The Real Deal,” the famous Shenzhen raves were no secret to the surrounding community. Openly promoted on social media, the parties attracted large crowds and famous DJs. According to That’s Mags and The Shenzhen Daily, at the time of the police raid, an anonymous American expat claimed that the sudden arrival of the police caused chaos and fear, and he felt like a “prisoner of war” as police arrived shields and forced everyone to the ground. With hundreds of revelers being detained for hours, police tested everyone for drugs, gradually releasing those who tested negative. 118 people tested positive, mostly for marijuana, a relatively minor drug as far as drugs go. Out of that number, 93 people are under administrative detention, including 50 expats. Two foreigners were arrested on suspicions of drug trafficking.

China has notoriously strict drug laws. Abiding by a “zero tolerance” policy, those who are caught using drugs of any kind will be forced into a two-year “compulsory isolation for drug rehabilitation” according to the PRC’s Anti-Drug Law. Also, the state’s definition of ‘drugs’ is particularly broad, and include the obvious opium and heroin but also marijuana, and “other narcotic and psychotropic substances that are addictive and are kept under control according to State regulations.” Those who violate China’s drug laws may even face execution.

With these strict punishments hanging over the heads of the 93 detained in Shenzhen, it is obvious why fear is spreading through the expat community and anyone who enjoys a night out. “I think the arrests should not have happened because weed isn’t technically a drug,” said NYU Shanghai freshman Andre Lucas. “It’s just an excuse to control the foreign community.” Since many countries outside of China have more relaxed and tolerant policies toward drug use, it makes sense that China would target them as the biggest violators of the drug laws.

As for those arrested and detained in Shenzhen, facing unknown punishment, it is unclear what will happen to them next. Legal proceedings in China are often shrouded in mystery and interference from the State, which makes it difficult for outside sources to gauge what will happen in this developing situation. Some expats, who are familiar with more relaxed drug laws, have an extreme view of the situation: “I feel like this is a way to send a signal to the expat community,” said the same anonymous American expat. Although the partygoers in Shenzhen broke Chinese law—whether ignorantly or not—it is important that they receive fair and humane treatment, both in detainment and the courtroom.

This article was written by Savannah Billman. Please send an email to
Photo Credit: Sina Weibo News

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