Everyone knows about Beijing, Shanghai, and Shenzhen. If you know a little more you have probably heard about Xian, Chengdu, Guangzhou, and Lhasa. Often times I find that foreigners in China don’t know about the smaller cities.
A few things to know- There are 34 administrative level units “provinces” in China. All have provincial level capitals and they all have millions of people in them. China also divides its cities into tiers. The first tier are pretty well known and generally include- Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Chongqing, and Tianjin. Its less likely that you know about the last two.
This city is often over looked to much because it is in the Beijing metro area. Even Chinese people tend to ignore it. One of my friends from Tianjin described it as a small city outside of Beijing. It has 15 million people! and its definitely worth it. It has its own cuisine, guobuli baozi anyone? and a ton of cool architecture and history because it was invaded by the British in 1856. A lot of the original architecture is still there. It is also a less well known business hub, with lots of factories a huge port.
In the 1990’s Chongqing became its own municipality off of Sichuan as a part of China’s western development strategy. In 2012, it was called one of China’s 13 emerging mega cities. It has many things to see like The Three Gorges Dam and a ton of industry. Its home to many foreign companies that you’ve probably heard of- Ford, Walmart, Carrefour, HSBC, Citibank and Deutsche Bank. In terms of government the Chongqing is famous for Bo Xilai, former rising CCP star and for having sidewalks exclusively for texting.
The second tier includes- Changchun, Changsha, Chengdu, Dalian, Fuzhou, Guiyang, Haikou, Hangzhou, Harbin, Hefei, Hohhot, Jinan, Kunming, Lanzhou, Lhasa, Nanchang, Nanjing, Nanning, Ningbo, Qingdao, Sanya, Shantou, Shenyang, Suzhou, Taiyuan, Urumqi, Wuhan, Wuxi, Xiamen, Xian, Zhengzhou, and Zhuhai.
In this list you have probably heard of Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, Hangzhou, of Alibaba fame, Nanjing, famous for the Nanking massacre, and being the capital of China for much of its 5,000 year history. Sanya, the Hawaii of China. Xian, known as the birthplace of China and for the famous terracotta warriors, and Harbin, because of the winter lights festival.
A not so successful original special economic zone, Xiamen is still a beautiful place to visit. It has tons of islands, beautiful beaches, and is actually a boat ride away from Taiwan. It is also the home and hub of Chinese oil painting, with a port and lower taxes for business. Also the clean beaches don’t hurt either.
Another one of China’s emerging megacities, Shenyang is in northeastern China. The city is heavily focused on industry including- aerospace, machine tools, heavy equipment, software, and electronics. This is because Shenyang has a large pool of skilled technical labor. Companies that call Shenyang home are: Tyco International, General Motors, and Michelin Shenyang Tyre Corporation. Shenyang has at times been a really smoggy cities, but activist groups are trying to clean it up. The Mukden Palace is also a cool Qing Dynasty palace to see outside of Beijing.
Most of the time the special autonomous region with tense government relations that gets the most headlines is Tibet, and that’s for a good reason. Xinjiang’s relations with the government are even shakier. The culture is closer to central Asian than Chinese and the food is closer to India and Pakistan than bao and dumplings. Interest from Eastern China has grown so there are Chinese tourists and Urumqi hosts the China-Eurasia Expo.
Yunnan is home to the most minorities in China and Kunming is the center of the hub. Kunming is well situated because it has significant natural resources, a large consumer market and a mild climate. Its a nice mix of culture and engineering. It is also one of China’s leading cities in sustainable development. That makes it a nice quiet place for foreign enterprises.
If you recognize Qingdao its because everyone in China drinks (Tsingtao) Qingdao beer. It was settled by the Germans in late 1800’s and so half of the architecture looks like a German village and half is a mid-size Chinese city. There are also several other German based influences and industries there. Like Xiamen, it also has pretty nice beaches to visit.
For hundreds of years Ningbo was the only port open in China open to the West. Now it has the second largest port in China. There is also a large dyeing industry because of the Si Lan Nong Xiang flower. Something cool to see is the Tianyi Pavilion, its the oldest surviving library in China and has handwritten Confucian texts. In China there are a lot of really old buildings but Ningbo’s are some of the oldest.
Hohhot, Inner Mongolia
Probably the smallest city on the list, Hohhot only has 1.7 million people. It is also one of the most ethnically diverse cities in China with both Mongol and Islamic elements. Its also a developing center point for industry. Inner Mongolia is also full of mineral wealth. It has only been the capital of Inner Mongolia since 1949, but there are still several temples worth checking out, and Hohhot is connected to the Mongolian grasslands.
Up and coming city to check out: Kashgar, Xinjiang.
Kashgar is the westernmost city in China. It has the largest mosque in China and the best preserved example of a traditional Islamic city to be found anywhere in Central Asia. In terms of its economy, Kashgar is well located on the China- Pakistan corridor, and in 2010 it was made China’s sixth special economic zone.