Company addresses are valuable pieces of data in the hands of an adroit investigator. They can reveal more about a company than simply where it is physically located. For example, matching addresses between two companies can provide evidence that individuals who share a name and appear on both companies are likely the same person. Similarly, an address shared by two or more companies can help analysts identify links that otherwise might be missed. This can be especially true for Chinese addresses, as we’ll show in this post.
When investigating individuals and corporate entities in China, a firm grasp of the elements of Chinese addresses and how they appear on public records is crucial. This is particularly the case 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 outside China.
Structure of Chinese Addresses
In English, addresses are listed from smallest to largest unit. For example, Apple’s headquarters:
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. This address, of a trading company in Liaoning Province, is a good example:
China Liaoning Province Dandong City Zhenxing District Guo’an Road No. 14 Unit 3 Room 205
中国 辽宁省 丹东市 振兴区 国安路14号 3单元 205室
Country Province Municipality District Street Address Unit Room
Most addresses in China contain all of the basic units listed above. Sometimes addresses listed on corporate filings leave out implied parts of the address. 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:
Getting into Guesswork
However, things aren’t always this simple. Some companies, rather than listing each of the units mentioned above, abbreviate their address in corporate records by listing numbers. For example, the Shenyang representative office of Korea Jinsong Trade Company, a Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) trading company, lists this address in Chinese corporate records:
– (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 visiting the compound. It’s likely that 3 references the specific building, 6 references the floor, and 1 is the unit number on that floor. Therefore, 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, a rare earth metals processor based in an industrial zone in Inner Mongolia lists this address:
– 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, because 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.
For example, consider the Beijing office of Air Koryo, the DPRK state-owned airline that has been sanctioned by the United States. Until at least December 2018, Chinese corporate records listed the following address for the office:
– Great Hall, Hong Kong Macau Center, Chaoyang District, Beijing
Moving from this address to a more analytically useful 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) reveals 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, we can identify the corporate filings of the company that owns the hotel, Hong Kong Macau Center Ltd.
Finding Alternate Chinese Addresses for Investigations
How can an investigator make use of this discrepancy in how companies list their addresses? An illustrative example is Dandong Hongda Trade Co. Ltd., a Chinese company that the United States sanctioned in November 2017 for engaging in millions of dollars of illicit trade with the DPRK.
At the time, Dandong Hongda’s corporate filings indicated that its address was Room 2005, Building A, Jiadi Plaza, Yanjiang Development Zone, Dandong City, Liaoning Province (辽宁省丹东市沿江开发区佳地广场A座2005室). A search of Chinese corporate records contained in Sayari Graph uncovered no other companies located at that address.
However, we were concerned we might be missing something. “Jiadi Plaza” isn’t a street address; it seemed to be some kind of commercial facility. An internet search for Jiadi Plaza in Dandong showed that assumption was correct: it is a mixed-use complex situated on the Yalu River in Dandong directly across from the DPRK city of Sinuiju. Jiadi Plaza’s street address is No. 66 Binjiang Middle Road.
Using Sayari Graph to search Chinese corporate records for companies located in “Room 2005” at “No. 66 Binjiang Middle Road” in Dandong uncovered another Chinese trading company that listed that address on its corporate records. Furthermore, one of the major shareholders of Dandong Hongda was also an officer of the newly discovered co-located company. Customs records show that the company traded with the DPRK in 2017.
In this case, searching for address matches allowed us to quickly identify other companies of interest that we might not have otherwise uncovered. And the co-location of the two companies increased our confidence that the associated individual was a single person, rather than two distinct individuals who shared a name. (Similarly, address matches increased our confidence in our identification of a Chinese affiliate of a German logistics company in another recent investigation.)
Expanding This Approach
When investigating companies through their addresses, it’s important to keep two factors in mind:
– First, all 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 omitted a single address component on public records.
– Second, 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.
These factors hold true not only in China but in many other jurisdictions as well. Wherever you’re searching, it’s important to take stock and gain an understanding of how addresses are constructed. Once you’ve done so, who knows what you might turn up.
Photo credit: Bunkichi Chang