Beijing v. Shanghai

Way back in 2010, we did a post comparing Beijing and Shanghai. That post took the rivalry pretty seriously:

The Beijing-Shanghai rivalry fascinates me. Not because it is so unusual, but because it is so pronounced and because it matters.

Beijing is the seat of government, yet it is also China’s art, media and tech city. Shanghai is the city of business and finance, yet it is both historically, and today, generally the most open to foreigners. Food-wise, most would give Beijing the nod, but I love Shanghai food and consider it a very sophisticated, subtle, and underrated cuisine. One of the biggest differences between Beijing and Shanghai is language. “Shanghai people” have their own dialect that is pretty much incomprehensible to outsiders and they do seem to love using it for that very reason. Shanghai is considered snobbier.

The Los Angeles Times has a fun and interesting story on this long-time rivalry. The article is entitled, A tale of China’s two great cities: The rivalry between Beijing, the national capital, and Shanghai, the financial capital, has been going on for decades. The dynamic is a powerful undercurrent in Chinese politics and culture. It deems Shanghai more fashionable, more for women and more cosmopolitan than Beijing. But Beijing holds the power. These paragraphs sum up the stereotypes I must often hear from the Chinese themselves:

Shanghai men are reputed to be vicious in business — hence the term shanghaied — but wimps at home. “At home, they do the dishes, take out the trash and give their wife/mistress a neck rub after the hard day she put in shopping,” wrote one blogger on a site called China Forum.

To the Shanghainese, the Beijingers — and all northerners, for that matter — are peasants.

“They smell like garlic,” said restaurateur Xu, voicing a popular refrain. “We Shanghai people keep ourselves and our homes very clean. We are more refined. We drink coffee. They only drink tea.”

In the legal arena, Shanghai stands somewhat alone in that Shanghai lawyers generally do not play well outside Shanghai, and vice-versa. This is less true of Beijing.

Back then, it seemed anyone who was anyone was either in one or the other city, or at least contemplating moving to one or the other. That was right at the height of when so many foreign companies believed they had to “get into China” or at the bare minimum, “start doing business with China,” even if they knew little to nothing about how to navigate China.

I thought back to this old post today when reading, Despite Shallow Reputation, Expats Love Shanghai More Than Beijing, [link no longer exists] which has this to say about Shanghai:

Yes it’s shallow, the expats don’t speak Chinese, and it’s not the “real China”, but expats in a new poll say it’s the best place in the country to live.

Nearly nine out of every 10 expats already there say they like the city, which is the highest satisfaction rating pollsters found. Eighty-six percent of the 237 expats interviewed said they liked the city, with 46 percent saying they’d even like to settle down there.

So what makes Shanghai so special? Expats say job availability and the “diverse cultural environment” are the main attractions. On the other hand, the respondents said traffic congestion and bad-mannered locals were the things they had problems with.

So which do you prefer to visit? Which is better for business? For Tech? For Media? What about the people makes them different? Most importantly, where would you rather live and why? Someone who lives in Shanghai and frequently travels to Beijing told me the other day that “way more” expats are leaving Beijing than are leaving Shanghai. Is that true?

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