Lanzhou. Source: wikipedia.org
Oftentimes, as foreigners living in one of China's larger, more metropolitan cities, it's easy to become spoiled by all of the little conveniences. In Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou and their metropolitan ilk, we're spoiled by our Carl's Jr. hamburgers, our waiters who speak English, and our sweet, sweet watering holes where it's not unheard of to pay 50+ RMB for a gin and tonic.
Yet, for foreigners living in other cities in China, the picture isn't always quite as rosy. Granted, if you're looking for out-of-the-way and the nebulous "real" China experience, you probably won't even notice the absence of 24 hour sandwich delivery services at your disposal. But even then, the desolately bleak and faceless characteristics of many of these urban centres will be enough to drive any self-respecting laowai away. Here are five of the cities in China you'd only want to live in.
China has many beautiful places. Lanzhou, an industrial city in Gansu Province, isn't one of them. Here, the pollution mixes with the naturally dusty features of the landscape, settling over the city in a warm, miasmic embrace of swirling toxic chemicals. The drab, uninviting landscape around the city matches nicely the light mud-brown colour of the Yellow River.
A good majority of roads in certain areas are in a state of constant disrepair or simply haven't been paved at all. Wandering around the city I had never gulped down so much pollution and dust in my entire life. By the time I reached my hotel after a day of sightseeing, I was panting and short of breath. If, for whatever tragic reason, you have your heart set on Lanzhou as your next home city, pack an extra pair of lungs.
The capital of China's far flung Xinjiang Province, Wulumuqi is peculiarly out of place in a sea of interesting and culturally unique cities in China's autonomous Uyghur region. Granted, it's the only place in Xinjiang were you are going to find a Carrefour, but if you're travelling so far out into Western China, you don't want to see a city simply transplanted from the east coast.
If you want to experience the real Uyghur culture, head to Kashgar or Turpan and see a wildly different side of Chinese life. Also, it should be noted, that when I went to Wulumuqi in April of 2011, the police presence in the city was palpable. It was not uncommon to see several armed soldiers patrolling the streets keeping the king's peace. Nothing serious happened mind you, but the ever-present sense of potential violence was quite unnerving.
While Lhasa does have some amazing cultural heritage sites like the Potala Palace, Sera Monastery, and Jokhang Temple… that's about all it has going for it. Unlike the surrounding countryside, the city is not overtly beautiful or memorable outside of the big attractions. The city suffers from the same problem as Wulumuqi for being transformed into a city from the east coast of China.
Also, like Wulumuqi, Lhasa suffers from various political tensions that can make life significantly more difficult for foreigners. In addition to your normal passport, you will need special permits just to travel there, making living there a nigh-Herculean task. The extra headaches (or is it the altitude sickness?) on top of the already painful process of acquiring visas in China make Lhasa simply not worth the effort.
It is well-known that Daqing and the rest of Heilongjiang Province have some of the most soul-crushing winters in all of China. Depending on how far away your home country is away from the equator, this may or may not be an issue. Daqing regularly faces upwards of -30 degrees Celsius during the coldest months in winter. During the summer months, Daqing becomes slightly more tolerable, which is a little like saying a hangover is more tolerable than the preceding night of vomiting.
Unlike its more famous cousin, Harbin, Daqing doesn't offer the same amenities that foreigners can expect to find in China's first and second tier cities. Also, Harbin has more famous attractions and holidays, most notably the Harbin International Ice and Snow Festival. Daqing does have its own ice festivities, but if you're going to suffer through sub-zero temperatures, you may as well do it seeing the biggest and best the region has to offer.
When I stepped outside of the Fuzhou train station last year, I felt an overwhelming sense of apathy. In China, I had seen cities like Fuzhou a hundred times. It's not that Fuzhou is a bad city per se. In fact, it's just your typical middle-of-the-road second tier city. But if you're going to move halfway across the world to live in China, you'll want to do a little bit better than "meh, it's okay".
In addition, because Fuzhou decided to specialise in inconvenience, the city is both not quite big enough for a well-developed public transportation system and simultaneously not quite small enough to get everywhere on a bicycle. With no metro system, you'll have to depend on the overcrowded buses or taxis to ferry you to and from various points in the city.
Finally, Fuzhou suffers from what you might call "location issues." The problem with Fuzhou lies in the fact that it is upstaged by its popular and more relaxing coastal cousin, Xiamen. The two cities may be only a couple hours apart physically, but they're leagues apart in terms of lifestyle. So, if you're planning to move all the way to Fujian Province, skip right past boring Fuzhou and head to the beautiful beaches of Xiamen instead.
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Keywords: worst cities in China where not to live in China Chinese cities to avoid bad places to live in china
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I beg to add Shenyang to that list. Three years ago, I was assigned to study over there for a master degree. That place is a complete shithole. Here are my 5 main reasons: 1) Weather This place is dusty as hell. Due to its location in the Songliao plains, it creates a wind corridor that blows from Mongolia to Japan. Needless to say, during the winter time, you have to face a solid -20 degrees with pollution/sand scratching your face. Not exactly cool. 2) Cleanliness Totally lacking. People vomit, piss, spit and blow their noses everywhere. Not hard to describe, the street facing our university is littered of human mucus 11 months per year (except during the month of July, because the rain washes it). Just don't forget to put on your slippers when you come back to your place. 3) Language As mentioned before in the comments, Shandong People have this idiosyncratic dialect / language that makes impossible to understand If your not a local. Cool thing guys, Dongbei people (except Harbin) are all from Shandong immigrants background. Needless to say, Shenyang has the thickest accent of them all. To give you an idea how strong it is, despite having a HSK5, I just cant order a bowl of rice at the university kitchen. We dont understand each other. 4) Historic heritage. Except the old Manchu imperial palace and the Northern Tombs, there is nothing to see nor do. The city has been razed 3 times and the CR took care Of the rest. But the soulless communist buildings are legion. 5) People Despite being among the friendliest people in China, local people don't want to mingle with foreigners in general for two main reasons. First, they are overzealously conservative/nationalist. Second, they know that foreigners don't stay in the city for long. Sad to say, but It makes a self-fulfilling prophecy. All the best guys and avoid Shenyang for you mental health.
Jan 22, 2019 14:21 Report Abuse
Nicely written article. It's interesting to note how China expats respond to certain cities. Robk hated Zhengzhou, but I loved it. I concur that Fuzhou reeks of apathy, but I know other expats who love it so much they have bought apartments there. I guess how we respond to any given city in China is based on our personality, experiences and expectations.
Jun 04, 2017 07:24 Report Abuse
this writer is quite presumptuous and only a bit less clueless. i mean, really, first of all, how do you know why many of us choose to work in china? putting down cities because they do not have amenities you care about and assuming others share that view is an insulting and irritating way of writing. never forget that you likely spend time with like-minded people who then spin yarns of how and why they choose to live and do x, y, and z and the somehow assume that all other non-chinese share those perspectives which, clearly, we do not! then you detail the desire for a great chinese experience, the real china, etc... just after equating 'doing better 'with having access to non-chinese food. really? anyway, many of us actually learn to cook and prepare the food we want and therefore do not need to limit our living choices based on what foods are available in restaurants. finally, the way you describe the cities of western china makes you seem particularly clueless. did it ever occur to you that beneath what you see as dirty and drab there may be some very rich and beautiful people and places and that is the way you see it and not the way it is which paints a sad picture? your comments about urumqi display a remarkable lack of sensitivity and insight, enough that i'd plead with you to stop writing about things you have no clue about.
Jun 02, 2017 13:13 Report Abuse
China is a big country. I found some of the real China in cities like Yibin and Mianyang in Sichuan. or Luizhou in Guangxi. These aren't the most polluted cities, nor the cleanest. You will find Walmarts, Carrefours, and RT marts is these cities along with efficient transportation systems. China is pretty diverse these days. I haven't been to the cities mentioned above.
Jun 02, 2017 02:29 Report Abuse
My own least favorite city is Rizhao. From its towering, obese, and hairy inhabitants (both men and women), to its sidewalks littered with human feces, to its idiosyncratic dialect, it's a very unenjoyable place to live and work. Perhaps its worst feature is realized only when one looks at its history: where there is now a polluted city of scum and possibly genetically modified inhabitants, there was but ten years ago a lovely and quiet seaside city that could brag about having some of the most breathable air in mainland China. Let me share with you one of my most vivid memories of this place: perhaps one or two months ago while riding an escalator in an up-scale mall, I was shocked to see a grandmother direct her approximately five year-old grandson to urinate ON the escalator as they rode it. The sight of a child pissing on some modernized architecture succinctly describes the nature of Rizhao, Shandong.
Aug 27, 2014 20:38 Report Abuse
it's better you change the title, actually worst or not it's depend on someone perception and you can't say only from your perception unless you've already do research for it.
And I believe people like you who do and work as :
"Founder and Head Instructor at Language Acquisition Tutoring Services "
know which words are great to use in an article; especially to put on this ECC website...
Jul 01, 2012 07:04 Report Abuse
Personally, I love Fuzhou. This is the end of my second year in Fuzhou and my tenth year in China. Fuzhou is relatively inexpensive. The school I teach at has modern facilities and a genuinely beautiful campus. I live on the University Island and the views from my apartment on our campus are stunning. The XiShan mountains are always beautiful to my North and West. The City-scape is; also beautifu, l is to my East and the Campus to my south. Modern facilites are located in the city along with plenty of foreign places to shop and eat food. Recently I had to have surgery and I was treated at the Air Force hospital in Fuzhou. They were also wonderful. Our school treats us well and our students are hard-working, kind, and considerate. I think the public transportation is quite good but let's face it - teachers are paid a good enough salary that we can afford taxis or private drivers and I also enjoy riding my e-bike here. I love this city. Please do not let this article keep you from coming here. As to the writer of this article - what you give is what you get. I am sure their general apathy shows else where!
Jun 28, 2012 05:21 Report Abuse
I have lived and worked all over the world. I don't really give a rats behind where you are or what you are doing with your life but I will say this. If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. I have never seen so many complainers as what I have found here on this site. I have been to and visited, lived in, for anywhere from a week to 3 months and if I didn't care for a place, I grabbed my hat and coat and left. I would suggest you all do the same. Meanwhile, keep your cake holes shut, and let the newcomers make up there own minds. It is never so bad if you put a smile on your face and in your heart.
Jun 28, 2012 02:08 Report Abuse
I lived in Fuzhou my first year in China and found it quite lovely. It had a big enough foreigner base that I know who the above "Cody Klassen" is, but I hardly saw him/hung out with him (only because my social circle wasn't in the same places as his).
Fuzhou is developing at a more rapid pace than other 2nd tier cities because of Taiwanese investments, and the the change it's already gone through (comparing what I was told it was like before I arrived, what it was like when I was there, and what it was like when I visited again) is astounding.
Jun 26, 2012 01:21 Report Abuse
Completely agree about Urumqi. Lived there for seven months and absolutely hated the place. The Han there are unbelievably racist toward the Uyghur population and very ignorant of the culture/language of these (very friendly) people. So many times I was told: 'You can't trust the Uyghurs, they steal and are violent'. Absolute nonsense. Rather, I was lied to, taken advantage of and generally treated like a thrird rate human being by the Chinese there, whereas, the Uyghurs I met were without failing hospitable and welcoming to foreigners.
Free East Turkestan!
Jun 22, 2012 21:19 Report Abuse
anywhere up north in China is bloody freezing in winter so why anyone would want to live there is not easy to comprehend, sure the houses have central heating which seems to be the argue for it. Personally I am not too keen on getting frostbite if i want to pop out to Family Mart on an evening in December in Hohot. Nice name for a city that though - I wonder if the girls do the name justice?
Writer forgot to mention Shanghai, which after a couple of years living in the city it is soon apparent that as a foreigner all there is to do there is watch dvd's, bang the shanghai women - even that gets boring eventually - and go to naff bars that are full of other expat tossers. Went to a job fair here once - completely inundated with expat tossers in suits.
Jun 22, 2012 02:35 Report Abuse
I lived in Shanghai for 4 years and grew to hate part of it. In reality I think I became oversensitised to certain aspects of city life.
I have lived in other Chinese cities since then and really appreciate Shaghai when I return on visits. You don't appreciate what you have until it is gone.
Jun 22, 2012 09:00 Report Abuse
Y'know, at this point I would LOVE to visit Shanghai!! I just spent a really cold winter in Daqing. I've already spent some really cold winters overseas. But OMG, I'm sooooooo ready to leave. I used to live down south and liked it soooooo much better. Here in Daqing, it's hicksville. Family Mart? You've gotta be kidding. I wish!! The Chinese here are ARROGANT,OBNOXIOUS,TYPICALLY ANNOYING/CHILDISH IDIOTS!!!!!!!!!! Just like in So. Korea!! :( I do not like the local store MORONS here and won't go to them!!! :( I might as well be from planet Mars. WANKERS!!!!!!!!!!!!
Not all the Chinese here, but you get my meaning. Cultural wasteland..yes!..that's Daqing!!!!!!!! Oil rich city...WOOOOOOOOOWWWWWW!!!! Doesn't impress me at all!!!!!!!!!!!!!! :(
Jun 23, 2012 08:57 Report Abuse
I have been living in Fuzhou for the past nine years and I have to say the writers comments on the city are quite far off base. Fuzhou is an excellent place to live offering many of the conveniences that larger cities have, with many of the charms of smaller, less developed regions. True, it is far less developed than Xiamen; however, it is also much less Western. Who wants to travel around the world simply to be in another Western city? Many of us have ventured to China in order to experience the culture here. While Fuzhou sites may not be as famous as those of Beijing or Xi'an, there are amazing places to see here.
The public transportation system can be quite good, though I will admit that buses can be quite crowded during rush hour, but you will find this in any city in Asia.Fuzhou currently has a metro system under construction which should help the city as it grows in the future.
Fuzhou was recently cited as having the 5th best air quality of all capital cities in China, a factor that can make life here more pleasant than in many places.
It is too bad that the author has chosen such strong language to use in this article. I very much doubt that they spent much time in Fuzhou, or the other cities listed. I hope that in the future they will spend a little more time researching their stories.
Jun 22, 2012 00:29 Report Abuse