China Business

China’s Big Five Cities

China corporate lawyers

The most recent issue of Foreign Policy Magazine has a story The Global Cities Index, [link no longer exists] setting out the 60 cities “that shape our lives the most.”

Beijing (#12), Shanghai (#20), Guangzhou (#52), Shenzhen (#54) and Chongqing (#59) made the list and in a sidebar, FP provides the following information on these cities:

Beijing (#12)

Population: 11.1 million
Population in 2025: 14.5 million
Claim to Fame: China’s cultural, educational, and political capital. Host of the 2008 Summer Olympics and now home to the world’s largest airport.
Major Industries: Government, tourism, chemicals, electronics, textiles
GDP per capita: $9,237
No. of Days to Start a Business: 37
Roadblocks to Growth: Pollution, dust storms, avoiding a post-Olympic slowdown, overcrowding.

Shanghai (#20)

Population: 15 million
Population in 2025: 19.4 million
Claim to Fame: The country’s economic capital
Major Industries: Banking, finance, fashion, electronics, shipbuilding
GDP per capita: $9,584
No. of Days to Start a Business: 35
Roadblocks to Development: Danger of a bursting economic bubble, replenishing energy supplies, a slowdown in the global economy, traffic.

Guangzhou (#52)

Population: 8.4 million
Population in 2025: 11.8 million
Claim to Fame: The largest and wealthiest city in the south. An important seaport and connection to the rest of the world.
Major Industries: Automobiles, petrochemicals, electronics, telecom, shipbuilding
GDP per capita: $9,970
No. of Days to Start a Business: 28
Roadblocks to Development: Crime, traffic, wide gaps between the rich and the poor, clashes between migrants and locals.

Shenzhen (#54)

Population: 7.2 million
Population in 2025: 10.2 million
Claim to Fame: Shenzhen has seen the most rapid growth among all China’s cities. At some points in the past 30 years, it grew at 40 percent a year.
Major Industries: IT, software, construction, food processing, medical supplies
GDP per capita: $11,445
No. of Days to Start a Business: Around 30
Roadblocks to Development: Traffic, high rates of HIV/AIDS, labor unrest.

Chongqing (#59)

Population: 6.4 million
Population in 2025: 7.3 million (2015)
Claim to Fame: Often called the “Chinese Chicago,” the city is an industrial center and gateway to China’s western regions.
Major Industries: Mining, automobiles, textiles, chemicals, manufacturing
GDP per capita: $5,500
No. of Days to Start a Business: 39
Roadblocks to Development: Air pollution, potential of landslides, drought.

I am always both intrigued and skeptical of statistics on how quickly one can start a business in various places and particularly so when dealing with Chinese cities. My law firm has overseen registering countless Wholly Foreign Owned Entities (WFOEs), Joint Ventures (JVs), and Representative Offices in countless Chinese cities, including all those set forth above and, until now, it never occurred to me to distinguish the time it took to register a China WFOE based on the city. Rather, what our China corporate lawyers have seen is that companies planning to do “routine” business in China get their WFOEs quickly and companies with unusual WFOE plans go more slowly.

What do you think of the “Roadblocks to Development” the FP article sets out for the above China cities? What do you think of the rankings overall?

7 responses to “China’s Big Five Cities”

  1. “What do you think of the “Roadblocks to Devolpment” the article sets out for these cities?”
    Incredibly superficial. “Overcrowding” is cited for Beijing. Is the same not true of just about every major city in East Asia? Last I heard, the UK and the Netherlands had higher population densities than China- is ‘overcrowding’ cited as a ‘roadblock to development’ in London or Amsterdam? I don’t think it would be difficult to quibble similar quibbles with the ‘roadblocks to development’ of the other Chinese cities mentioned (or, in Shenzhen’s case, “Claim to Fame: Shenzhen has seen the most rapid growth among all China’s cities. At some points in the past 30 years, it grew at 40 percent a year.”- that may well be all true, but given Shenzhen’s unique history, so what?).

  2. It is a said comment on China that it takes so much time and effort just to register a business. If the government would get out of the way China would be much better off.

  3. How does hassling people who want to open a small business protect a country from financial collapse? Right now, opening a small business in China can often be nightmarish. Opening a small cafe, bookshop, convenience store, etc. at least requires you to register a sole proprietorship (个体户), get a national tax registration, get a local tax registration, have your lease approved by the local street committee, and other licenses such as a sanitation certificate. Getting these is not easy like it is in the US. You have to deal with bureaucrats that are almost completely unaccountable. The process is slow, relatively expensive, uncertain, and entirely unnecessary.

  4. I don’t think the roadblocks to Shenzhen’s development are accurately stated. I would say, rather, that the roadblocks to development are:
    1. The uneven or haphazard application of provincial or national laws and regulations
    2. Inefficient, unprofessional and corrupt regulatory agencies and other bureaucracies
    3. Pollution
    4. Social problems caused by regional manufacturing sector still too dependent on low-skilled migrant labor
    These are most relevant to the manufacturing sector (mainly operating outside the SEZ), and they apply almost equally to the industrial sectors of Dongguan, next door.

  5. hmm, as someone who lived in Beijing for four years, Shanghai for two and Shenzhen for two, and who went through some bureaucratic hassles in each city, though none particularly business related,I found the list not even close to truth.
    Just to name a few:
    1)traffic, which is not on Beijing’s roadblock list, but Shanghai’s and Shenzhen’s. Gotta be kidding. I’ve used all transportation modes almost evenly often in all three cities, Beijing is the worst of all for all modes.
    2)population. While the Beijing figure looks like somewhere between the number of “Hukou” residents and non-Hukou ones, Shanghai’s looks closer to the real population, whatever status. and then, Shenzhen’s is smaller than even the registered Hukou holders. Doesn’t make sense at all, especially given Shenzhen’s bold reform towards equal social status for all residents (say hell to Hukou).
    3)Pollution.Again, Shenzhen is by no means more deserving to have it on its Roadblock than Shanghai or Guangzhou.
    I also strongly disagree with David Levy’s number 1 and 2 Roadblocks. I know how you could come to think that way. I worked inside the Shenzhen government for two years and hated that big bureaucracy with all its typical traits. But I have to say, compared with other Chinese cities on the list, Shenzhen is actually the better type.
    The true strength and weakness of Shenzhen, I’d say, is its youth, which means a lot of things. Lack of legacy problems, jump start to the latest urban planning ideas and public governance practices, an open-mind for learning (especially from the twin city Hong Kong). But also, lack of cozy old neighbourhoods and communities to bond newcomers and make them want to settle down. While its older neighborhoods were build by villagers of no taste (think Beijing and Shanghai for contrast!), its developments followed the then popular but wrong(in my eyes) planning guidelines, based on zoning and all, which give the new town center a very cold touch, few fun high streets and a very padestrian-hostile trasport system. So naturally, people like me find it hard to stay on and talent retention is an increasing problem for the city (wink)!
    Oh, wow, have babbled so much. But hey, comparing cities is my favorite. Beijing is my favorite, in case it’s not clear from this comment:-)

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