I'd like to make a field recording trip to Hong Kong and mainland China in June. Anyone know if I need to worry about permits? Can I float a blimp around without worrying the authorities, or should I keep it stealth? Any advice concerning such an endeavor would be greatly appreciated.


I am in hong kong now and it's a city which never sleeps! I reckon HK is less strict than china and is overall more English language-friendly. I have done recordings with a team in the industrial area and we never really got questioned aside from curious onlookers. When in HK, Be sure to look out for small protests downtown almost every Sunday (usually against government policies etc) those make quite interesting recordings ;) they are safe to be around and are well-managed. All the domestic workers get an off-day on Sundays too, and depending on which zone you go to, you can get really interesting Indonesian walla, or Filipino walla mixed with Cantonese.

If you're down there in June, you're in luck. Don't miss the memorial gathering (in rememberance of the Tiananmen Massacre) on June 4th I think. Hundreds of thousands of people gather, holding a candle each. Quite an experience!

It's hard to get recordings without traffic or unwanted walla but if you go to the New Territories away from the city, there are buses which go into the mountains and rural areas. You can hike on Lantau Island too if you wanna record something more natural, or take small boats across to isolated islands from Sai Kung where people fish. I doubt people will stop you from recording there.

China would be different because they are generally wary of outsider reporters (mistaking you for one) and based on experience, they are also harder to reason with. I could also only make do with a handheld.

When in Beijing, be sure to visit Jingshan Park. My last visit there (4 years ago?), it was super lively with mostly old folks doing activities like reciting poetry, performing, singing, dancing, some with whole orchestras. Definitely an unique sonic experience.

Sorry I can't really share more about Beijing (it was also one of my first recording trips :P) !

  • Thanks for all the detail Gwen! Knowing all this makes me want to go even more. – aross001 Feb 26 '12 at 20:05

I think in any country the foreigner with a reserved (stealth) behavior always provoke more suspicions than a usual (impudent) tourist with a camera. Or in your case with a blimp.

If there will be some prohibited places a local police officer will always warn you about that. Or you just can ask him about it yourself.

  • you have a point there, I would imagine if I behave as though I'm doing something wrong I'll have started off on the wrong foot! I bet I could use binaurals as @Andrew mentioned. – aross001 Feb 26 '12 at 20:13
  • @aross001 I don't have an experience with binaural recordings and I'm curious, is there any possibility to use those records later in DAW as a usual (non-binaural) material? – Conant Feb 27 '12 at 19:05
  • I believe so. It's just a standard stereo L/R but when listened to on head phones it sounds like surround because of spacing and the acoustics of the recordists own head. The actual files can be manipulated like any other regular stereo or mono file. I would imagine that the mics are close enough together so that phasing probably isn't an issue if you wanted to just record in mono. Not sure about that though... en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Binaural_recording – aross001 Feb 29 '12 at 11:59

I would say that there are some places that are considered more sensitive than others (i.e. government buildings, public transport systems) so this may be more problematic if you intend to record in these places. Though I don't think a recording permit exists, it may be worth inquiring at the Chinese embassy when you sort out your visa. If you are working for a production, this should be more easily sorted by the production company, but if this is a personal trip you should check with the embassy if any sort of official documentation is required.

On arrival, customs officials can be quite strict. Most of the time, they are familiar with recording equipment (every sound recordist travelling to China will 99% of the time have the essential/breakable items in his/her hand luggage). I would also suggest having a small test recording on your recorder - it can be useful to quickly playback to the official just to show what it is you do.

I have only been to Beijing and did all my recordings using a small handheld, so don't have first hand experience. I think it's probably very similar in other big cities, so here's some tips that may be useful. Everytime you enter the metro, you have to scan your bag. This is also the case in many shopping centers. Though I genuinely got the impression that the police were much less concerned with foreign tourists than Chinese locals, be prepared to be questioned on your kit. Having mic cables going into your recorder may freak them out slightly, so have your explanation ready. English is not widely spoken, so make sure you are prepared to explain that you are a recordist. Perhaps learn the word in mandarin and cantonese before you travel - speaking a few words of the local dialect can go a very long way!

My experience, although limited to the capital, was fantastic. It took a little getting used to, but the locals are genuinely friendly and I had some awesome conversations (usually myself speaking English and the the other in Chinese) and learnt a lot from this country.

Good luck with your trip!

  • Thanks! I think you're right, learning some mandarin will be a good idea. – aross001 Feb 26 '12 at 20:07

Years ago I was in China and had a little recorder, it was my first recording trip overseas actually. I had no issues whatsoever apart from people staring and coming to talk in the middle of the recording - the usual... Don't know about a blimp though. As Colin says, be careful of certain places. Maybe if there are lots of officials around, skip it, or go stealth (in-ear binaural mics?).

If I can recommend a place, you should really try head to Pingyao, it's an amazing place..

Oh, and the Beijing train station was particularly interesting sonically, it's huge!


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