In Your Face, Beijing

The People have spoken through their partner, The China Daily, that unrivaled bastion of integrity on a never-ending quest for Truth. There has been a new survey on the top 10 most livable cities in China.

I am compelled to make a few statements.

1. What number is Beijing? Oh, I see… it’s not on the list. It’s at a distant #15. (Take that, Roddy, Brendan, and Eden!)

2. Hangzhou is #6. True, it’s not number one, but modesty is a very Chinese virtue, you know. (Plus with weather and transportation like Hangzhou’s, it really doesn’t deserve to be #1.)

3. Continuing with the modesty trend, Shanghai is sitting pretty at #8. Also, 8 is a lucky number in China. (Score!)

4. Speaking of lucky numbers, there’s an unlucky number too, and it’s 4. Due to unstoppable homophonal forces, 4 is the Chinese number of death. Which city got the place of death? Chengdu. (Take that, Chengdu!)

5. Tianjin is not on the list at all. What a shame. (Take that, Micah!)

6. Xi’an is not on the list either! (Take that, Matt!)

7. So #3 on the list is… Mianyang? Mianyang? Huh?

8. The #1 city is Dalian. I have a friend who used to trumpet Dalian’s wonders to me nonstop, until he forsook it for Hong Kong. I guess a lot of people agree with you, buddy. (Take that, Derrick!)

Thanks to chinochano for discovering this story before me and writing about it in a post with more CSS image floats than you can shake a stick at.


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. Isn’t Dalian really cold? Doesn’t that hurt the most livable designation? I am happy that the Venice of China, Suzhou, didn’t make the list. I prefer to call it the East St. Louis of China.

    Hangzhou better than Shanghai? Mmmm, maybe I should change my travel plans.

  2. Doom,

    Haha, “the East St. Louis of China”… nice.

    Yeah, I’m not much of a fan of Suzhou either. I hear Dalian really isn’t that cold, though. Northerners agree that winters in the south are worse because of the humidity and crappy heating.

  3. Hmm, no surprise that Xiamen was way up there, that place is awesome. I’m a little more surprised about Chongqing, though. Fun to experience? Sure. Liveable? Well, only if your definition of the good life includes a need for a gas mask, or your idea of nice scenery involves heavy industry. I’m a bit surprised that a place like Kunming is nowhere to be seen on the list. As for Chengdu, well I didn’t exactly experience its charms when I was there- it seemed like your average northern Chinese industrial monstrosity, only actually kind of in the south.

    It’s funny that the list of most liveable cities in China seems suspiciously close to the favoured “nationally promoted” cities in gov’t macro-planning. But we all know the China Daily would never compromise their journalistic integrity or editorial independence like that. 😉

    Shameless plugging for propaganda purposes is the only possible way that Chongqing and Wuhan would make it on that list.

    And John, I certainly agree with you that Hangzhou had some issues with traffic. It had some of the worse congestion I can remember in China at rush hour, that elevated expressway through the middle of the city somehow made things worse, dumping hundreds of cars into already packed intersections. It would have been amusing if I wasn’t stuck in the midst of it smashed up again someone in a bus. : )

    I will also concede to you that although I much prefer Beijing as a casual urban observer, Shanghai is…yes…ugh…hmmm…probably a much better place to live. There I said it.

  4. Seriously. I’ve never been to Chengdu (or Dalian), but whoever prefers Chongqing or Wuhan over Hangzhou must either really love arteries-choking, spicy food or broiling under smog-filled summer days while looking at brown water. Same applies to Nanjing, minus the spicy food.

    Beijing does deserve it’s place (though it probably should be lower). BTW, I don’t know if they’re too small, but Shaoxing and Dinghai (on Zhoushan) deserve some mention.

  5. well, where the bloody f is shaoxing? we finally got a zunbao pizza you know, and the dead fish and sewage in the canals are quite a picture any time of year. lu xun, hellloooooo……..?

  6. Beijing is #15 on the list? Hmmm…still seems too high, in my opinion.

  7. Hong Kong by a country mile. Everywhere else in China by comparison is a shithole. It’s been nearly a decade since HK returned to the fold, China needs to come to terms with the fact that the former colony is still light-years beyond the rest of the country in most respects. A good first way to start would be to begin including the city in its silly little polls.

  8. Forget traffic and weather. No one has yet mentioned the most important criterion: a given city’s ability to bestow beauty on its female residents due to some distinct quality of that city. For my money, Hangzhou’s got the hottest women in China, and it’s because of the water supply. I don’t presume to understand how it all works, but that’s why I’m a linguist and not some kind of water scientist.

  9. Thanks for the quote! The list is quite strange, but we have to think that is made by Chinese and for Chinese: issues like jobs, housing, etc, are not the same for Chinese and foreigners in a lot of these cities. And the Chinese they don’t pay as much attention as we do to things like climate: (¿where are Hainan cities?) In Spain, cities in Canary Islands are always in the first places.

  10. I can agree about the weather point. I’m further south than any of you guys, and month or so of winter here is miserable. Without central heating, you just end up wearing a jacket indoors and freezing anyway. I’d much rather be in a nice, cozy, well-heated appartment in Harbin than freezing here in Guishan, where it’s “not cold enough that we need central heating”.

  11. Sichuan takes 3 of the top ten! With all the lame potshots I see here, it’s obvious you non-chili eating girlie men can’t handle the truth! But honestly, I’ve been through Mianyang before; does it even qualify as a ‘city’ the way the others do? I would’ve placed Qingdao higher. Right below Chengdu. Yeah John, Chengdu is ‘unlucky’, by all means keep believing that, and tell everybody else too. More space for the rest of us…

  12. Prince Roy,

    “Us”? Aren’t you in India, and Taiwan after that?

    I certainly do intend to visit that area of the country when I get a chance, but I’m pretty much committed to Shanghai for a while now.

  13. Spicygirl Says: January 4, 2006 at 9:58 pm

    Well. I saw people giving red envelope with RMB40, RMB400. It means “four seasons prosperity” 四季发财. Where can you find a better place than Chengdu? In the heart of the land of heavenly bounty

  14. Shhhh don’t tell anybody about Hainan. Plus cities in Hainan don’t have as much “culture” … kind of like cities in Florida.

    I judge a city based on two things: Musical Theater and the Monster Truck scene, which is why Ningbo is my pick for best city in China.

  15. What a disgrace! I’ve submitted all the necessary secession papers on behalf of Xi’an.

  16. Right on about Qingdao, Prince Roy. The city is overrun with tourists during the summer but pleasantly quiet the rest of the year. Located by the sea and with a mountain nearby, Qingdao has good fengshui. Downtown is clean and uncrowded. The expat scene is really starting to open up and get international, thanks in part to Red Star monthly magazine. There are daily flights to Korea and Japan, saving time for North Americans returning home. The weather isn’t bad either, a dry climate most of the year with lots of blue skies.

  17. doom,

    florida? no culture?? hello little cuba! we got culture! we got cigars! we got a social scene reminiscent of a puerto rican rap song. we got greeks diving for crosses. hell, we even got a friggin pirate ship WITH cannons. wtf? and monster trucks? hell, i went to a monster truck show in orlando one time, the only place you see african americans commingly peacefully with the kkk. only in south florida baby!

  18. you may not know mianyang.
    but you do see Changhong TV, right? the partner of the infamous Apex.

    where is qingdao, should be close to Dalian?

  19. Until I can walk around >15 minutes and not come home with a mouth full of soot, Beijing deserves less than #15. Welcome Olympians!

    I’m still its decadent man-bitch though.

  20. Dalian is nice. Not very cold were it not for THE WIND. Living on a peninsula a little south from Siberia makes it quite hellish, in a cold way, sometimes. Being on top of a hill doesn’t help. And the street food here sucks compared to HK.

    But it does have some pretty girls, as Derek would say! And tree lined streets and virtually no visable poverty. But a big problem for the locals are housing costs, as it tends to be city of choice for the wealthy in the northeast for a second home. So a little surprising it made #1.

  21. Dalian is pretty nice and not nearly as cold as Shenyang was. I think the seafood is kind of over-rated though, I got sick eating some oysters there I think. Although everything else about the city is pretty good. What really surprised me about Dalian though were the barbershops. After getting off from the train station and wandering around, I ran across three barbershops in close proximity to one another. No what is unusual in this is that these appeared to be actual barbershops where people were getting their hair cut, and not the brothels I expected.

    Ditto on the Dalian streetfood, I can’t even remember running across a single street vendor in Dalian. Then again, I mainly spent my time around downtime Dalian near renmin Lu and those roundabouts.

    p.s. Mianyang is also the home to China’s academy of nuclear physics.

  22. Having lived in Dalian for two years, I can attest to the fact that, yes, Dalian IS just as beautiful as it’s reported to be. Of course, you deal with the “typical” little inconveniences that are cultural related, but hey, it’s very livable! No, it’s not THAT cold… I mean, it’s cold, granted, but not that bad.

    I’ve “forsaken” China for a more normal existence (although I sincerely miss the China life – expendable income, etc!) as a writer in Florida… but my kuddos to whoever ranked Dalian as number 1!

  23. “Dalian is pretty nice and not nearly as cold as Shenyang was”

    And not nearly as polluted!

  24. Hong Kong without a doubt is a world-class city. I don’t think even New York City can be compared with, but Hong Kong’s sauna-like summer weather can be annoying to deal with. From what I remember, the humidity during summer in HK is either 99% or 100%.

  25. […] Wondering which cities in China are the most livable? The China Daily has a list. Chinochano proudly lists them online (ES); the number 1 city is where his significant other hails from. Sinosplice has his own reaction. […]

  26. Shenyang has improved vastly since I last visitied it in 1999. Still not as good as Dalian though. But its significantly better than the second/third tier cities throughout the rest of the area, Jinzhou, Liaoyang, Panjin, Anshan, etc.

    Any sinosplicers live in Shenyang?

  27. How awesome! Dalian is my fiance’s hometown and I spent two months this past summer there where I met the family! I’m not surprised that it did so well, given my impression is one of an absolute China-novice. We were able to travel around and see a face of Shanghai, Wuhan, and Xi’an as well. Wuhan was okay, but Xi’an was so polluted and congested I would definitely rethink plans to go back for its historical and cultural significance. Shanghai, I was only there for one night, and we were swamped with people wanting to sell me something or trying to get me to give my money to their dirty homeless children. I always tell everybody that it was only one night in Shanghai, and I’m sure I just had an isolated bad evening. But, yeah! Dalian! Woo-hoo! 吕克庆,杜秀梅,and 吕雯 represent!!

  28. Anti-Carl Says: January 6, 2006 at 6:53 am

    Hong Kong is total shit. Who cares about it? It’s so small and its economy is just plain bad. And who cares if it’s “British-ized” it is in no way ahead of the rest of China in anyway. There’s no culture and that means it has nothing of its own. And they’re all acting like it’s a separate country. Without the rest of China the city will fall on its own ass just like Carl will.

  29. If Shenyang’s improved, I’d hate to see what it was like before. I was there last winter, and my travel buddy and I were so turned off by sight of pea soup-thick sooty gray air hanging over the endless housing blocks, we stayed in our hotel.

    Hong is more world-class than New York? I think NOT! How many museums does HK have? How many different kinds of cuisines can be sampled? How many different periods of architecture can be appreciated by strolling the various neighborhoods? Where else can you go from the airport to a cab to your hotel to a restaurant or a shop without conversing with a native speaker of English?

  30. Dalian Dragon Says: January 6, 2006 at 12:09 pm

    Kickass!!! I live in the most livable city in China!!!

    I brought some friends over here recently. I took them to Bejing first, and then brought them back to my home in Dalian.

    While they were “touristly” awed by the spectacles in Bejing, they ALL said that they would rather choose Dalian for a long-term stay.

    Also, all of my chinese friends tell me that Dalian is the cleanest city in China. That kind of makes me a little afraid to live anywhere else.

  31. “Where else can you go from the airport to a cab to your hotel to a restaurant or a shop without conversing with a native speaker of English?”

    Uh, Moscow, Beijing, Paris, Sao Paulo, Cairo, and a few other places in the world.

  32. Hong Kong is better than New York in terms of its cleanliness, orderliness, and convenience. It is also safe to assume Hong Kong has at least as many restaurants as NY. Most of the restaurants in Hong Kong serve Chinese food which is not the case in NY, so it can be difficult to compare the quality of cuisines in the two cities. Hong Kong also has 235 so-called outlying islands. I think some these little islands are the closest thing to heaven on earth. New York definitely has more culture than Hong Kong. Even Hong Kongers themselves sometimes call the city Culture Desert.

  33. Okay, let me rephrase that: where else can you go… without conversing with a native speaker of the local language.

  34. Shenzhen.

  35. […] Yeah, baby. It’s a “nutrition carrier”. Anybody wanna stick up for this one? Battle Panda? Mr. John “I live in the 8th nicest (and therefore extra lucky) city in China, and the rest of you can ‘take that’” Pasden? Anyone? […]

  36. I have been to visit my in-laws in Mianyang many times and I still haven’t found anything special about the place.

    As for Chongqing? Are they for real?

  37. Very interesting list
    I shall visit dalian one day …
    as for hkg and nyc …
    New york has better museum, more cosmopolitan, more financially, politically important and culturally and architecturally much richer than hkg … hkg is cleaner, a lot safer, warmer, just as spectacular experience wise, more energetic, much better transport and infrastructure and in my case much better food since I am not so rich to try the 3 star michelin 3 course meal and lastly of course hk has a nicer skyline … so in the end for me its a tie …
    btw london and tokyo are far better cities in general than new york
    in terms of top three …

  38. I’ve been in Huizhou, G’Dong for years. Ours is a cosy little hamlet and the de-facto residence for the HK and G’Dong mob, hence its absurd affluence. Nice climate, few criminals (they all live here) lots of Mercs and five star hotels. An hour from HK.

    Highly recommended!

  39. I’m living and teaching in beijing.It’s a great place to stay. So i would highly recommend beijing to anyone who would like to appreciate its culture,history,intersts of places. By the way, personally i want to own a cultural club which provides English language courses to Chinese students aged from 12 to 15. One group will be 3 students only. If anyone is interested, please mail to or Many thanks!

  40. I’ll arrive in Dalian in August on a one-year university teaching contract. It’s very encouraging to see Dalian rated number 1. I would be glad to hear from anyone who has good or bad things to say about Dalian. Write:

  41. hei long Says: June 14, 2006 at 2:29 am

    Shen Yang is alot cleaner now, a lot of factorys have closed and dont forget it also hosted the world flower show this year, the city was covered in them. Shen Yang used to be the capital city of the Manchurian empire and was also were the Japanese started its war of terror over asia, google ‘the manchurian incident’ if your intrested. There is a large Korean population so there is a good variaty of spicy foods too. I like Shen Yang and the girls are good looking and dont just think about your wallet when they meet you(the total opposit to Shang Hai). I have alot of friends from DaLian and they are always telling how clean and cool everything is, maybe Ill visit next month.

  42. […] Update: John O’ Sinosplice reminds me of a relevant podcast here. He also refers me to some discussions on the topic here, and here. […]

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