Travelling Welshman
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Asia,  Beijing,  Blog,  China,  Shanghai

Beijing or Shanghai?

With the offer accepted and the contract signed for the spectacular opportunity of being able to live and work in China, I find myself with a pleasant problem. The company I applied for has schools in multiple cities, so I didn’t know where they’d put me. Turns out they’re leaving the decision up to me; Beijing or Shanghai?

Thankfully I have time to consider this important decision, time that I’ll need. How exactly do you decide where you want to live for a whole year? Especially when you know NOTHING about the places! I have to judge my potential new home from the other side of the world. All I have to rely on are guides, blogs, first hand stories, youtube videos and rumours.

There appears to be many similarities between both the world-famous cities. First off, they’re both enormous modern city, as well-equipped as any other major city. Both also have extensive expatriate communities within the cities, many who’ll be doing a similar job to me, so I’ll never be a complete stranger.

But of course, each will have their own charms which separates them, making them unique. Such as each region of China has their own unique cuisine and taste, something difficult to judge from here. Ultimately it will be these quirks which make my decision.


Of the very little information that I have, here’s a basic summation of both




Located on the North-Eastern corner sits China’s capital, which holds a more authentic representation of real China. Think of any prime tourist photo op in China. You’re probably thinking of places like:

  • The Forbidden City (The world’s biggest palace)
  • The Great Wall (The world’s wall…possibly)
  • Tiananmen square (Big-balled guy standing up to a tank)

All these are found in Beijing. It’s a city with an incredible history unlike any other. If there’s one place you HAD to visit in China, it has to be this. It is also widely recognised as the cultural centre of China, far surpassing that of Shanghai. Everything worth regarding in the arts and culture will be held right here.

“What’s the weather going to be like?” is the hottest question on my grandmother’s mind. Turns out, quite bi-polar. It can go as ball-chillingly low as -27°C, and a heatstroke high of 42°C. Difficult again to get any real idea of life there.


Seeing as Beijing holds the biggest tourist traps in China, it’s not surprising to learn that naïve tourists are lambs to the slaughter for scammers. “Friendly” natives looking for a chat inviting you to a harmless coffee in the café they happen to work at. Let’s be fair, it’s to be expected. Hopefully after spending an extended period of time there, I’d be wiser.

It’s also important to consider, as fascinating as all the sight-seeing would be at first, the novelty would quickly fade away. Is it really worth living somewhere just to be close to the tourist traps?

Another possible point against Beijing would be the pollution. There ARE smog warnings, and certain days you can’t even go outside, these are unarguable fact. How severe that really is though is debated, with some travellers simply being a little overdramatic.




Summing up Shanghai is quite easy, big city life. London, New York, Shanghai. Sitting in the South-Eastern corner or China it boasts the title of the biggest city in the world. Enormous modern super malls with all the top named brands (and rip offs) that can be found in China is right here! China is, we always hear, an up-and-coming superpower, and Shanghai is the proof. Bear in mind, this city is BIGGER than its capital. Huge enormous shopping malls with all that one would expect in a booming mega city. Enough Michelin star restaurants and nightclubs to start competing with the likes of London.


As is the cost of big city life, word is that the more “authentic” China is kept in the shadows of high-rise buildings and your designer malls. And with a booming city comes the inflation, making Shanghai THE most expensive city in China.

Beijing is able to offer the likes of the Great Wall and the Forbidden City, but Shanghai doesn’t seem to have anything as well recognised. Unless of course you’d like to visit Disneyland Shanghai…




So, with that limited information, which do I chose?

I took my backpacking trip a year earlier, and tried to learn from the experiences that I had. What I found is that I just was not a big city boy. Living in bumfuck nowhere in a forgotten part of the UK for 20 years makes the hedge mazes of skyscrapers quite claustrophobic. Travelling from one part of the city to another becomes a quest which can devour the entire day. Sadly, with enough development, eventually any booming city becomes indistinguishable from another, losing the authenticity of the country it’s in. Of course, both are enormous cities, however there’s a big difference between the vast lands of the Forbidden city to the sunlight strangling sky scrapers. The whole reason for this adventure would be to experience a different culture and world. Why would I want to live in a city indistinguishable to any other big city? It’s a point against Shanghai.


When it came to my travels, the experiences I valued were the exposure to different culture, to nature, and historical landmarks, all found in Beijing. The things I disliked the most were the mega cities, which would be Shanghai. That should answer the question for me right there. As far as I know, I don’t have to make my decision until I arrive in China, but it’s pretty much made.

One Comment

  • Ben Zabulis

    It’s a difficult one that, I like them both. I think you’ve got both places sussed to be honest. The only thing that would put me off Beijing is the air quality and the cold winters. Air quality is only a problem in winter however when the old power stations crank up to cope with the city’s heating demands. We went up on the train last April and the air/weather were great. I like Shanghai for the architecture, 17 styles they reckon but most are hidden in the background as you suggest, great if you are an architecture buff. Also the air quality is better and the winters less harsh. Another nice thing about Shanghai is the Huang Pu river flowing through and the historical Bund, also the many quaint water towns which are nearby, even the bigger cities such as Suzhou and Hangzhou are easily accessible by train or bus. I think I’d opt for Shanghai but it’s a close call. A year will pass so quickly, of course you could always do one year in Beijing followed by another year in Shanghai…

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