What Are China’s Future First-Tier Cities?

What Are China’s Future First-Tier Cities?
Dec 15, 2016 Translated by eChinacities.com

Editor’s Note: China’s second-tier cities are catching up the “Big 4” first-tier cities. Which second-tier cities will become first-tier cities in the near future? This author predicts that Hangzhou, Tianjin, Wuhan, and Suzhou have the best chances of being first-tier cities.

China now has 10 cities with GDP that are higher than one trillion RMB. These cities include Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Chongqing, Chengdu, Tianjin, Wuhan, Suzhou, and Hangzhou. Nanjing is also close to breaking one trillion. The seven second-tier cities on the list now have the potential to become first-tier cities.

However, GDP only cannot reflect the level of a city’s economic development. The National Bureau of Statistics’ 21st Century Economic Report examines a number of factors in assessing the development of Chinese cities. These include economic strength and growth, ability to attract talent, international influence, technological innovation, and traffic and transportation. The report predicts that Hangzhou, Suzhou, Wuhan, and Tianjin may become first-tier cities in the near future.

The Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development reported that Chengdu and Chongqing are regional centers in the west, and at least one of them should become a first-tier city as well.
Chengdu and Chongqing both have high GDP, cover large areas, and have large populations. However, the cities score lower on the National Bureau of Statistics’ indexes in terms of technological innovation, traffic and transportation, international influence, and ability to attract talent.

This leaves Hangzhou, Suzhou, Nanjing, Tianjin, and Wuhan. Hangzhou has been widely recognized as a future first-tier city. In Jiangsu, Suzhou and Nanjing have comparable economies but Suzhou beats out Nanjing in terms of technological innovation, economic growth, and construction. Wuhan is a major city in the Yangtze River Delta Economic Zone and is known for its university and leading scientific research. Tianjin has flourished since China’s 12th Five Year Plan was implemented and large numbers of state-owned enterprises have invested in local projects. The Airbus final assembly plant is also in Tianjin.

Nanjing is the provincial capital of Jiangsu, but lags behind Suzhou and Wuhan. In 2015, 78 percent of Nanjing’s industrial output was heavy industry. Nanjing has not benefited from national policy like Tianjin. It is unlikely that Nanjing will become a first-tier city in the next few years. 

Hangzhou: Which second-tier city is closest to becoming a first-tier city? Many Chinese will say it is Hangzhou. Hangzhou rose to international prominence after the G20, and the city will host the 2022 Asian Games.


Hangzhou is one of the largest cities in China, and has maintained double-digit growth in the past six quarters. Hangzhou has the highest per capita GDP and per capita disposable income in all of China.

As the headquarters of Alibaba, Hangzhou’s Internet financial development index is first in the country. Beijing’s Zhongguancun and Shanghai’s Lujiazui are ranked seventh and eighth in the country.

Hangzhou has become the best city in the world for mobile payment. In August, Hangzhou became the first city where residents can use Alipay to pay for the city bus. Residents and visitors with a Sesame Credit score of 600 points or more can borrow umbrellas and chargers at bus stops and airports for free. 

Suzhou: Suzhou is not as beautiful or internationally known as Hangzhou, but its economic strength is actually much higher. Suzhou has recently constructed many new industrial parks and has created a better environment for start-ups and tech companies. 

Suzhou’s GDP is 40 percent high than Hangzhou’s, and the non-capital city has demonstrated impressive growth. For many years, Suzhou’s GDP was far behind that of China’s first-tier cities. Now, it is close to that of Tianjin and Chongqing.

Suzhou was one of Forbes’ best cities for tech from 2013 to 2015, second to only Beijing and Shenzhen. A large number of venture capital firms are also based in Suzhou.   

Wuhan: Wuhan is a huge national transit hub in the Yangzte River economic belt. In recent years, the city has become an economic star. From 2005 to 2015, Wuhan’s GDP grew by 387 percent— a rate higher than most first-tier cities. 

Wuhan is an old industrial base. The steel and auto industries were its economic backbone. Recently, Wuhan has transformed. Now, Wuhan’s core industries are information technology, health, and smart manufacturing. Wuhan is an important base for science and education in China—second to only Beijing and Shanghai. The city is home to China’s third largest center for scientific education. 

Tianjin: Tianjin had the fifth largest GDP in China in 2015, behind Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen. Tianjin’s biggest advantage is its proximity to Beijing. The city has experienced major population growth in recent years. Nearly 500,000 people relocate to Tianjin every year. 

There are two reasons for Tianjin’s increasing population. First, Tianjin’s large projects and enterprises are attracting new talent. Second, Beijing imposes limits on its population which creates a spillover into Tianjin.
Source: QQ News

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Keywords: China first-tier cities China second-tier cities


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So only 4 cities are already considered as first-tier cities. I wonder which place SHenyang will take. As a capital of the Liaoning province it must be the second-tier city

Jan 21, 2017 20:37 Report Abuse



I've been to Wuhan, the city is huge and the lightrail is great, but the roads are horrible.

Jan 12, 2017 23:04 Report Abuse