Beijing or Shanghai
September 26, 2008 7:35 AM   Subscribe

This is something of a follow up to this question earlier this year. I've spent most of the last year working in China but haven't moved yet. Question is, Shanghai or Beijing? It's basically my option. I've spent a lot of time in both cities and both have qualities I can appreciate. What are your opinions, which city is more livable, and why.
posted by michswiss to Society & Culture (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

(In my opinion)

Better Food

Friendlier People

More History

More Chinese Culture (Muslim, Uighurs, Hui, Miao, they all come to Beijing)

Its on the Silk Road

It is more charming, there are still places in Beijing where you can see old folks taking their birds for walks in the evening!

If you speak Mandarin Beijing dialect is pretty close to standard

It just feels more substantial, Shanghai always struck me as transient and well fake I guess.

It really comes down to your perspective, I went to China as a Chinese History major, and the city I went to study in was Beijing, so for a number of reasons I am pretty predisposed towards it. Shanghai is the for better and worse the new China, it is an amazing place, but to me it will always be a poor man's Tokyo, others will disagree.

Also, Beijing Duck!
posted by BobbyDigital at 8:32 AM on September 26, 2008

Living in Shanghai for a year now and I really love it. When deciding between the two cities, think about what interests you most. City life? Culture? Family life? Learning Mandarin? Work? Will there be better future career opportunities in one city vs. the other. SH seems to be out pacing BJ as far as growth; as some multinationals are moving their China HQs from Hong Kong to Shanghai. SH is still a developing city and is changing right before my eyes and it's exciting to experience and be a part of it. Plus SH will be hosting the 2010 World Expo - very exciting now that the hum of the Olympics is fading. Always having lived in and loved big cities myself, I love the people and the excitement of SH. I'm always amazed how how compact SH is for such a large city - makes it really easy to get to know the city and get around.

Personally, I think I would have been just as happy living in Beijing as I am here in Shanghai if that's where we started, BUT there is no way I would want to move to Beijing after having lived in Shanghai. Hard to explain but Beijing seems a bit too governmental (as every capital city will be) and boring (to me) for everyday living. Amazing place to visit and study. I've traveled to Beijing quite a bit and I think you could be happy in either city with the right attitude, but I really have to disagree with a lot of BobbyDigitals well intentioned points. As you can see, we are each biased towards "our" cities.

Try trolling a few of the China expat websites to get the opinions of people that have lived in both cities.
posted by MuckWeh at 9:44 AM on September 26, 2008

I've never been to either but JG Ballard, who spent his childhood in Shanghai and has continued to return, refers to it (with a certain transgressive fondness) as the most corrupt city in the world.
posted by philip-random at 9:44 AM on September 26, 2008

I've lived in both, and am currently living in Shanghai.

I miss Beijing for all the things above mentioned by BobbyDigital, especially being able to understand everyone (I don't speak Shanghaiese). But Shanghai is far more cosmopolitan, tuned in to business, and tuned in to the world. You'll meet awesome people in both cities. The expats Beijing tend to barbell -- lots of young 'uns and old 'uns, fewer in the middle. Shanghai has a lot more transient mercenaries.

Go to Beijing if you want an experience. Go to Shanghai if you want to live a life.

my opinion, god I hate this debate
posted by FuManchu at 10:35 AM on September 26, 2008

It depends on what you are looking for. Beijing still has an older more traditionally Chinese culture (some). Shanghai is more cosmopolitan. In Beijing they will still treat you as a Laowei in the respectful sense. In Shanghai its in the "fucking laowei" sense. In both you will be an outsider. So it's sort of a question of New York or (a really fucking big) combo of Houston and Washington, DC? Do you want to have really good shopping, variety of restaurants, and nightlife or do you want to have really good peasant food and go to the same crappy provincial bar night after night and have some mediocre international food? Do you want to be so looked up to that it gets annoying or do you want to be just another foreigner from day one? Beijing is also spread out and dirty while Shanghai is a tiny bit less sprawling. Both have greaming new buildings that will be crap in a few months.

This is a really good summary: Go to Beijing if you want an experience. Go to Shanghai if you want to live a life.

So is this: god I hate this debate
posted by Pollomacho at 11:51 AM on September 26, 2008

Everybody loves this debate deep down.

The funny thing is that it ALWAYS comes down to which cities sphere of influence did you fall under when you first arrived in China, and that will determine their answer. I am a north China guy, it pulls at my heart strings, and while I agree with most of the Shanghai arguments, I do take offense at the comparison to Houston/DC as those are horrible cities and Beijing isnt.

A nice thing about Beijing is that you can in the same day go to a new ginormous arcade (may not be your cup of tea just an example) see a bunch of girls in school uniforms doing DDR in perfect unison, haggle over knock off Adidas and porcelain vases at the Silk and Dirt Markets respectively and have dinner at a restaurant that has been open since 1416.

It is huge, it is dirty, and it can be unmanageable at times, but it just has so much character, and its my favorite city in the world.

You have gotten a lot of good advice in the thread, and you would be well advised by any of it in my opinion.
posted by BobbyDigital at 12:20 PM on September 26, 2008

I know it's a hard one. I like Boston over New York, Zurich over Geneva, Melbourne over Sydney, Tokyo over Osaka.

Work-wise, main clients are fairly evenly split with a slight edge to BJ, with my management mainly in SH. BJ has more culture, but it's so much easier to walk out the door and do stuff in SH.

I don't current speak any Mandarin other than pleasantries. The weather in BJ seems to be more extreme than SH, but SH has those fantastic thunderstorms. I don't tend to do much night-life. Hobbies are golf and photography.
posted by michswiss at 4:34 PM on September 26, 2008

Shanghai has better cake, and coffee. I felt cozy there because, after wandering around western China and Tibet for a few months, I was convinced it was Europe. Also, the challenge of learning a new dialect, or the stimulation of being exposed to one, is a feature, no?

Beijing is polluted, in a way that would seriously affect you if you spent a large amount of time there consecutively. I do not recall having eaten any delicious cake there, though the duck is good. Abundance of Korean food near the university, too.

Not overly difficult or expensive to fly around China, so pick whichever location suits you best with respect to daily life, atmosphere and convenience.
posted by xanthippe at 2:01 AM on September 27, 2008

I haven't found decent, convenient coffee in either city yet. Been to several good Korean restaurants in BJ, so agree with you on that one. But Korean food is all about the snacks, not the mains. BJ sucks in terms of my sinuses, but I have more locals as friends there, SH is all expat and that gets boring. Golf is better in SH. You're also right on the flights, it's cheap and I'll be commuting regularly between the two cities in any case.

I like dialects, I learned German in Switzerland and the locals needed to work to lose me in a conversation. I've contemplated picking a third city, maybe Chengdu.

Btw, my brother has been in Muscat for the last 4-5 years.
posted by michswiss at 5:22 AM on September 27, 2008

I do not recall having eaten any delicious cake there

I do take offense at the comparison to Houston/DC as those are horrible cities and Beijing isnt.

I happen to like DC and I now live here again. JFK supposedly described DC as having all the charm of a northern city with all the efficiency of a southern town. Houston is large, sprawling and has some pollution issues that I wouldn't wish on anyone, but there is a small town substance to it. That is also Beijing. It's got an almost provincial feel but it is sprawling and polluted.
posted by Pollomacho at 6:46 PM on September 27, 2008

Shanghai all the way. For the 小笼包, if nothing else.
posted by xiaolongbao at 6:39 AM on October 1, 2008

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