Seven Reasons to Choose a First Tier City in China

Seven Reasons to Choose a First Tier City in China
Mar 22, 2010 By

When I first moved to Beijing I was sure that I wanted to move back to Kunming, to the point that I almost did it. Something changed though, around the one year mark here, and the advantages of living in the big city started to add up and suddenly returning to a 2nd tier city didn’t seem like such an attractive option. What made me and my family change our minds? Here are seven reasons why a 1st tier city is the place to be.


1) Opportunity
It should go almost without saying that there are more jobs up for grabs in the big cities. Not only are there opportunities outside of English teaching to be had in abundance, even teaching jobs pay better in the big cities. Even taking into account the relatively higher cost of living of places like Beijing and Shanghai, it is still, when all is said and done, easier to enjoy a higher standard of living on 10,000RMB a month in Beijing than it is on 4000RMB a month in Chengdu or Xi’an.

2) Cheese
Well, not just cheese, but Western good in general. Living in Beijing, long gone are the days when I’d pine over a slice of cheddar or a bowl of cold cereal, when finding a copy of an English language book other than Pride and Prejudice or The Old Man and The Sea was cause for celebration, and when a good cup of coffee was more elusive than the Holy Grail. In the big cities all of the creature comforts of home are at your fingertips. For some, who pride themselves on living like the locals do, this may be a drawback, but if you’ve been roughing it in a smaller Chinese city for several years arriving in a big city where it is possible to obtain the stuff from home that you crave, and having the salary to afford it, can be very satisfying.

3) Education
If you have a family in China, or plan on having one, eventually you’ll have to decide what to do about your children’s education. Luckily in 1st tier cities the options are numerous and varied, with a wide array of both excellent local Chinese schools that accept foreign students to international schools with outstanding reputations, to well established homeschooling groups, you’re sure to find something that suits your needs. And even if you don’t have a family, and want to educate yourself, you’ll find that the 1st tier cities are teeming with Chinese schools, Kung Fu academies, calligraphy, and so much more. You name it, you can study it. One friend recently discovered a mixed martial arts group in Beijing and another was able to enroll her four year old in gymnastics lessons – all taught in English.

4) First class medical facilities
Let’s face it. China is not known for its outstanding healthcare system, and nowhere is this more true than in second tier and lower cities, where visiting the hospital can be like rolling the dice – will you get good treatment, will you be charged fairly, and are the doctors even qualified? However, in 1st tier cities there are international standard hospitals, clinics, and dentists, some of which even employ not just foreign trained doctors, but actual foreigners. Visiting the hospital can be a nerve wracking experience in general, and most of us are much more comfortable with doctors who speak our language and a system that is not confusing. Of course, the tip top hospitals in 1st tier cities are pricey if you’re uninsured, so if you can’t afford one, you can at least rest assured that if you’re visiting a well known hospital in the big city you are in good hands. These are the hospitals that local officials and even celebrities head to. Wang Fei, the world famous Chinese pop singer, gave birth to her baby in Xiehe hospital in Beijing’s Wanfujing.

5) The people
While people in small towns can be friendly and, if you speak the language and really get to know them, you can make really rewarding relationships with the local people, it is also true that you’ll have to put up with a lot more “hellos,” more staring, more pushing, and more spitting. I can’t remember the last time someone in Beijing yelled out “hellooooo” at me, but it happened at least once a week in Kunming. This is due to the fact that big cities have a lot of foreigners, so no one is really interested enough in us to take special notice. Bigger cities, especially Beijing in the lead-up to the Olympics, have been subject to much more aggressive campaigns for locals to treat each other and their city more courteously. People line up more – even taxis at the train station are queued, along with the passengers, so that everyone gets their taxi in due turn. These are little things, but they add up and can contribute to an overall sense of positivity (or negativity) towards a place.

6) Foreign friends
If you want to surround yourself with people just like you, then a big city is the place to do it. It is quite possible in 1st tier cities to seclude yourself in an expat compound and never see Chinese people outside of your ayi and your driver. While I wouldn’t recommend this approach, it is easier in a big city to have a wide range of fellow foreigners to choose from for friends, and to make friendships based on actual mutual interests and having things in common besides simply being the only two foreign faces around town. In Kunming I often found myself thrown into friendships and associations with people who I might have even particularly liked, simply because there were only so many of us, and beggars couldn’t really be choosers. In a big city, you can be pickier about which foreigners, if any, you choose to associate with.

7) Being at the center of it all
While it is technically true that the world does not revolve around Beijing or Shanghai, it certainly feels sometimes as if it does. The feeling of being in a world class city surrounded by people who are always on the move, who are doing things that are changing the world. Not only are 1st tier cities economic centers, they are also cultural hubs. In 1st tier cities you can be assured that there’s something to do on the weekends, whether you’re into live music, theater, art galleries, traditional culture or modern, there is always something going on and you’ll never be at a loss for something to do on a Friday night.  

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Keywords: City in China First Tier City


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ABC, I am Australian, and Aussies are way more tolerant than Chinese people. If you happen to live in a place like Sunnybank in Brisbane ( a Chinese enclave ) you will generate a bit of hostility. That is what is wrong with Chinese people, too insular, and have a bad attitude to interracial relationships. Like Chaching I have also been verbally abused in China. Just 10 days ago I was with a 22 year old Chinese woman ( a student of mine ) and an old Chinese guy yelled, "Foreign man very bad" to us.

Chinese men should take a look at their own behaviour instead!

Mar 16, 2011 00:18 Report Abuse



I do fear the rise of nationalism in China. There were anti-japanese demriots in Shanghai a few years ago (2005/6). The tendency to mob behaviour is also very evident.

If you look what happened in Japan in the 1920s, regarding nationalism, it would be possible here as well.

Mar 15, 2011 22:50 Report Abuse



Wow, you guys complain about locals saying hello and trying to be friendly? I have lived here in Australia nearly all my life and am of Asian origin and I would rather have people greet me than see graffiti of "Asians Out" plasted all over the walls of buildings. I wonder how you guys would feel if you saw graffitti of "whites Go Home" plastered all over Chinese cities?

Mar 15, 2011 18:03 Report Abuse



I've been told to go home by Chinese people. I've been told that I am hated. I've been told that I am no good for Chinese women. I've been told that my country is evil. All of these things, I was told by Chinese people that knew nothing about me.

Mar 15, 2011 20:17 Report Abuse



I would never work in a place like Shanghai or Beijing. Too hard to find a GF or wife for starters ( although hard in some secondary cities also )

Unless you are a rich laowai you will be out of luck in regard to women in Shanghai, Beijing. Cities like Wuhan, Changsha, Nanning, have most of the things a foriegner wants or needs.

And it is still possible to find a woman in these places who is not some golddigging money hungry bitch!

Feb 24, 2011 20:46 Report Abuse



Cities with no MacDonalds= Qingyang "City", Gansu (specifically Xifeng, where I lived 1st year here)- no MacDonalds OR KFC, or any Western foods that you would dream of. The town is about an 8 hour bus ride to the closest city of Xian, though it does have a small airport now.

Ganzhou, Jiangxi- has 1 or 2 KFC's, no MacDonalds. Shoddy coffee shops and so-called pizza, all typically Chinese style.

None of these cities have anything like a Carrefour, and certainly no Walmarts or Metros. You take a weekend long trip to a large city to stock up, and ration what you have til the next time!

Both these cities are the largest cities outside the provincial capitals.

Feb 23, 2011 18:04 Report Abuse



I like the comment 'not to live in a city with McDonlads' I have yet to find a city without McD or KFC. LOL

May 22, 2010 16:46 Report Abuse



That's a good question. Believe it or not the Chinese government actually decides which cities belong to which tiers. Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou/Shenzhen are the only 1st tier cities at the moment and cities are classified into tiers based on their local economies and populations. You are right, these days many second tier cities offer plenty of what was once exclusive to 1st tier cities. This wasn't so a few years back, but is more and more true in recent years.

May 22, 2010 06:15 Report Abuse



i'm interested in what classes as what tier cities like suzhou and hangzhou have no shortage of stuff to do/first class stuff/international things etc even in my really lame little city in jiangsu i can get american and french cheese at da ron fa i would say a good rule is unless you really want to 'go chinese' not to live in a city without a mcdonalds

May 22, 2010 02:32 Report Abuse



Wow, I never imagined people would get some defensive at this article! I've been in China for over seven years, and I certainly don't live on an expat package or have a driver. I live in a very Chinese apartment complex in Beijing and I have a Chinese husband who was once one of those farmers you people seem to think I despise. The idea that I'm some too good for China expat is pretty laughable. However, after living in a 2nd tier city for 5 years and in Beijing for almost 2, there are some undeniable advantages to living in Beijing, and I don't see anything wrong with outlining them. I don't mean to put down 2nd tier cities, obviously I myself loved living in one, so much that I stayed there for 5 years. I think calling me uninformed or short sighted is missing the big picture a bit. As our Chinese friends love to say, every coin has two sides, and presenting the good sides of 1st tier cities doesn't mean that there's nothing redeeming about 2nd or even 3rd tier cities. I could just as easily write (and in fact, have written, if you go back a bit) an article titled "Seven reasons to choose a second tier city" and then people would be coming out saying "well I live in Beijing (or Shanghai or wherever) and I'd never live in a hole like Chengdu (or wherever). How could you put your kids at risk like that?" And so on. People did, in fact, say those sorts of things. So in some ways you just can't win. As for Chengdu, well this article wasn't written as a comparison of Chengdu to 1st tier cities. It is great that Chengdu has all of those things, really, but Chengdu is but one city. I lived in Kunming, which is also a bit of an anomaly among Chinese cities, but I would say that cities like Chengdu and Kunming are the exceptions to the rule. There are far far more 2nd tier Chinese cities out there that lack good medical facilities, where the schools are second rate at best, where your English reading material is limited to The China Daily (if you're lucky!), bread is sweet and cheese is something you only dream of, and as for coffee, well Nescafe it is. And as for salaries, well Chengdu might be different again, but in Beijing I make a good 3x what the average foreigner can expect to make in Kunming. I have a friend who lived in Zhengzhou and was trying to support her family on 3700RMB a month and her boss though her request for a raise was unreasonable. Just look at the classifieds on eChinacities if you have any doubt about where the real high paying jobs in China. Certainly there is a point about there being a glut of foreigners in places like Shanghai, but the same actually applied to Kunming. The fact that it is such an attractive place to live has kept the salaries down for years. Also, I suppose it really depends on what sort of foreigners we're talking about here. I'll concede that perhaps a foreigner with few qualifications and little experience might not be much better off in Beijing or Shanghai than in Chengdu or Xi'an, but for people whose qualifications are above average I don't think there's any doubt one can make more in a 1st tier city. Also, I feel sort of ridiculous having to even justify my tongue in cheek remarks about people saying hello, but lets not be disingenuous here. There's a vast difference between 5 year olds saying hello to you on the street because their parents want them to practice their English and fully grown men yelling it out to you in the grocery store, snickering with their buddies. I stepped off the bus once in Kunming and a guy out of absolutely nowhere yelled "f*ck you!" at me. Friendly greetings? Hardly. So lets not confuse the issue. When all is said and done I'd STILL like to move back to a 2nd tier city at some point when I don't have to worry about where my kids will go to school, or about making enough money to send them to college. I have nothing against small town living, I love it in fact. But the big city has advantages too, and for us, and probably for many who are at a similar place in life, it is the right choice. Pointing out some positives to big city living in hopes of helping others who might be thinking about making the same move isn't making a negative statement on 2nd tier cities.

Apr 19, 2010 02:44 Report Abuse


Dvaid Burt

Well said David from another David[Kiwi}I have lived in China for eight years and your comments would be the same as my own,and who wants to live in Beijing!! If i want my own culture etc. I would have stayed in my own country!! I have stayed in hospital in China,Nanchang No2 to be exact. I have thrown away my glasses thanks to the doctors there.In Tian jin I had a new set of false teeth, the dental clinic there was as good as any where else in the world.and my teeth, a complete upper set fit perfectly after three years.

Mar 29, 2010 17:31 Report Abuse



It is interesting the author debates herself over the course of a year. First Tier II or III cities have so many pluses and now, her recent article sings the praises of Beijing and Tier I cities. I would respond that many of her assertations are uninformed and shortsighted. I have lived and worked in China for 3 years. I initially lived in Guangzhou for six months, Shenzhen over one year and presently in Chengdu for over one year. Chengdu has a population of 12 million and is not some back-woods place. I have worked in the ESL industry to include Corporate Language Training (CLT) since my arrival. I take exception with the writer concerning jobs and salaries. I can make as much, or more, money in ESL in Chengdu than in Beijing or Shanghai AND enjoy a higher standard of living. Why? Too many foreigners flock to the Tier I cities because this is all they know. The market is saturated with teachers. Companies and schools can pay less now with too many candidates to choose from. Then these, mostly young teachers, are relegated to high prices for rent, transportation, food, entertainment, etc. I will not even get into the pollution factor. Chengdu has the Sichuan University Huaxi Hospital which is the best in Southwest China AND has a new International wing with many English speaking doctors and staff. They accept most domestic and international insurance plans. There are numerous international Doc-in-the-Box medical care offices also. Chengdu is slated to have a second international airport in 2012. Shanghai is the only other city to have this. Chengdu has many multinational companies and is the National Software Industry Base. There are numerous large and small local stores with international food. We have not one, but multiple Wal-Marts, Carrefour’s, Isetan, Metro, etc. all over the city. I can get Doritos, Kraft Mac and Cheese, Planters nuts, Ritz Crackers, etc. in a small local store in just a short 5 minute walk from my home. YES, we have international cheese! Not just the sliced processed imitation cheese food. There are numerous excellent NEW and old international schools for those with children. There are seven Consulates in Chengdu. There are 4,000 years of culture here and numerous events all year. So be assured, if you have the time, there are always things to do in or in close proximity to Chengdu. More importantly, unlike cities like Shenzhen, Chengdu has a Heart. Life is not all about money, politics or impressing each other. Most of my friends are Chinese. If I wanted to surround myself with foreigners, I would have stayed in the USA or gone to Shanghai which is not even like being in China. I have never taken offense to, or felt bothered by the almost daily “Hello” from some child or adult. Would it be better to be ignored and frowned at?

Mar 28, 2010 14:23 Report Abuse



Who said living like a Chinese is roughing it? The article said that not being able to read books in your language or eat food from your own country is roughing it. Chinese people can do both, in China. And as for the hello's, if you actually enjoy those, kudos to you, but don't kid yourselves into thinking that Chinese people are just doing it to be friendly. I think some people here are either missing the point or haven't been living in China very long.

Mar 27, 2010 19:57 Report Abuse



Come on guys, really! They like us! They are afraid of losing face, so thy giggle. If this wasn't happening, we wouldn't be getting our salaries in China. Who cares what some people say to each other. It's only "hello', not an insult. However, I must admit, I often feel the same as you guys. But I don't think it's wise to show and tell them what you really think. We are in their country and are paid quite adequately to be the center of attention. Just do your jobs, spend a few weeks in Sanya, relax, that's enough . Why are you getting angry over such insignificant things))))))

Mar 25, 2010 07:53 Report Abuse



Right on frank!, those idiots have NO education. Which is the main reason most of the population will stare, say trying to be funny 'hello's' , or spit loudly anywhere. Children ok, but others are just Trying to be funny in front of their also idiotic friends when saying hello to a foreigner. This is not always the case but if a foreigner gets mad at somebody for saying hello its usually an annoying guy or girl being an idiot .So if they wanna get my attention I just start insulting them in Chinese. Thats how to put language skills to practice jaja

Mar 25, 2010 04:25 Report Abuse



so living like a Chinese person is 'roughing it?' when i go home to america, i truly and wholly miss the comforts of my very Chinese life, and whats wrong with being hello'ed 15 times a day, i have to say, that a lot more pleasant greetings than i get at home. and sure, sometimes western comforts are necessary, like a good hospital and a cup of coffee, and a school for your kids, but to imply life as a westerner is superior to Chinese life is flat out wrong. maybe you should ditch your driver and buy a bicycle.

Mar 24, 2010 21:26 Report Abuse



Come on stu, give the author a break. He wasn't saying that Western life is superior. He's just talking about his comfort zone and giving advice on how to find things that Westerners are use to having. I know a lot of people that, after living in China for years, get a little annoyed with constantly having to say hello to everyone in an attempt to not come across as rude. However, another reader was right when he/she concluded that the obsessive "hellos" coming from Chinese people are sometimes poking-fun. I'm not an exhibit at the zoo! You know? Having a private life is virtually impossible for a foreigner in China. It was charming at first, but dude, put your freakin camera away! I miss the serenity of the West.

Feb 23, 2011 21:26 Report Abuse



Stu, It's funny but you should try giving them a taste of their own medicine sometime. Another foreigner and myself were having fun with my camera going around asking all of these Chinese people if we could take our picture with them. And we did it to young couples who were trying to have a private moment, or to really busy working people. Haha! They get mad. They looked at us like, "why are you bothering me?" Try the role reversal sometime. It's awesome!

Feb 23, 2011 21:35 Report Abuse



Frank, you're being rude. If you don't like that they say hello (which I also don't really like) just ignore them. Pretend you didn't hear. I don't think they want to insult you. It's just their way of expressing admiration or surprise.

Mar 24, 2010 07:57 Report Abuse



hey simpleton -- Frank is being sarcastic. Sucked in completely you were.

Feb 24, 2011 22:56 Report Abuse



Yes, because if there's one thing that China needs more of, it's foreigners who live in Beijing and don't mix with Chinese. Congratulations! And screw those Hello-ing peasants!

Mar 23, 2010 20:25 Report Abuse