Using Chinese Addresses as an Investigative Tool
When investigating individuals and corporate entities in China, it is crucial to understand how to read addresses as they appear on public records. This is especially true when investigating networks of illicit actors, who sometimes register multiple corporate entities from a single address.
While the specific tips in this article will be most helpful for analysts who are proficient in Chinese, these investigative approaches apply in many jurisdictions around the world.
Key Takeaways When Researching Chinese Addresses
There are two main takeaways to remember when dealing with Chinese addresses:
- Chinese addresses can be broken down into distinct units (street, district, city, etc.) Searching for these distinct parts in different combinations can uncover co-located companies that report the same address differently.
- A single address can often be referred to multiple ways—such as “Jiadi Plaza” or “No. 66 Binjiang Middle Road.” Identifying and searching for such alternative addresses is often critical to making connections.
For detailed examples of how to use these techniques, see our blog post on Chinese addresses.
Structure of Chinese Addresses
In English, addresses are listed from smallest to largest unit. For example:
|Office 523||One Infinite Loop||Cupertino||CA||95014||United States|
|Unit||Street Address||Municipality||State||Zip Code||Country|
In Chinese, address order is the opposite:
|China||Liaoning Province||Dandong City||Zhenxing District||Guo’an Road No. 14||Unit 3||Room 205|
|Country||Province / provincial-level city||Municipality||District||Street Address||Unit||Room|
Most addresses in China contain all of the basic units listed above (a list of common vocabulary used in each of these address units can be found here). Sometimes addresses listed on corporate filings leave out implied pieces of information. For example, in its filings with China’s corporate registry, the company located at the above address does not include its country or district in its address:
Fig. 1: Address listed on Chinese corporate filings. Translated literally, it reads, “Liaoning Province, Dandong City, Guo’an Road No. 14, Unit 3, Room 205.”
Figuring Out Missing Pieces
However, the process isn’t always so simple. Some companies, rather than listing each of the units mentioned above, abbreviate their address in corporate records using numbers. For example, a company may list its address in corporate filings in the following manner:
- (3-6-1), No. 15-3 Huaihe South Street, Huanggu District, Shenyang City, Liaoning Province
In this address, “15-3” indicates the third building (3栋) in the compound that is located at No. 15 Huaihe South Street. The numbers “3-6-1” refer to more detailed parts of the address, although it’s difficult to determine what these are without actually visiting the compound. It’s likely that 3 is a repeated reference to the specific building, 6 is the floor, and 1 is the unit number on that floor. If this is the case, the company’s full address would be:
- Unit 1, Floor 6, Building 3, No. 15 Huaihe South Street, Huanggu District, Shenyang City, Liaoning Province
Relational Chinese Addresses
Instead of a specific street address, some Chinese companies will indicate their address relative to another location, company, or feature. In our experience, the companies that do this most often are ones that are based in rural areas.
Companies whose headquarters occupy a sizable tract of land—such as mines or large factories—also occasionally list their addresses this way on corporate records. For example:
- North of Tengyi, West of Jingjiu Road, South of Weisan Road, East of Zhonglian Wulashan Cement, Industrial Park, Jiuyuan District, Baotou City, Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region
In rural areas, where there are fewer official roads, it’s also common for companies to just list the village or neighborhood. This can be frustrating for analysts as it makes it difficult to identify other companies that are genuinely co-located with the target.
Building Blocks of Chinese Addresses
Some companies—especially those based in major office buildings—list their address as just the city and the name of the building where their offices are located. This may not be an issue for local residents, but it can pose a challenge for investigators. Without an exact address, it’s difficult to identify other co-located companies. Consider the following example:
- Great Hall, Hong Kong Macau Center, Chaoyang District, Beijing
In this form, the address reveals very little about the company’s locations providing no street name or number. However, moving from this address to a more specific street address is just a matter of some targeted internet searching. A search for the Chinese terms “Beijing” and “Hong Kong Macau Center” (北京港澳中心) reveal that Hong Kong Macau Center is an alternative name for the luxury hotel Swissotel Beijing. The hotel’s website states that its street address is No. 2 Chaoyangmen North Street, Chaoyang District, Beijing (北京市朝阳区朝阳门北大街2号). By searching for this address in Sayari Graph, we can identify the corporate filings of the company that owns the hotel.