Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Battle Royale: Beijing v. Shanghai

I cross-post this from my other blog, the Barstool.


Since I'm going away for a few weeks - and am likely to post little or not at all in that time - I thought I would leave you by trying to kick off an online debate on the relative merits (or failings) of China's two greatests cities, Beijing and Shanghai. (Yes, for the sake of simplicity, I'm going to leave Hong Kong, Chongqing, et al out of the discussion for now, if you don't mind.)

I have touched on this great controversy here on the Barstool a couple of times before (here and here), but I somehow failed to trigger the expected torrent of pugnacious opinions. Oh, well, third time lucky?

So, which do you prefer, and why?

Beijing, the seat of government, or Shanghai, the centre of commerce?

Shanghai is commonly said to have more of a 'European' feel to it, but is that necessarily a good thing? And does that make Beijing 'more Chinese' by comparison?

I love Shanghai as an occasional weekend getaway. I love the narrow little streets of the old foreign concessions. I love the fact that it's on a huge river, close to the sea. I love the fact that its taxi drivers mostly know where they're going. I love the fact that the grass is actually green there.

However, it is expensive, pretentious, and it rains all the time. It doesn't seem to have such a lively cultural scene as the capital, with a particularly notable deficiency in live music venues. The city has two of the worst airports in the world. Shanghai natives are notoriously snooty and exclusionary towards outsiders - even (especially!) other Chinese. And did I mention how bloody expensive it is??

On other issues - such as the purported superiority of Shanghai's women and of its cooking - I'm not really experienced enough to comment. I suspect these views have a lot of truth in them, but it's not enough to save the city for me. Good for a holiday, terrible place to live!

Most people I know share this overall assessment. But then, I live in Beijing; and most of the people I know who have a strong opinion on this topic are people (both Chinese and foreigners) who have moved from Shanghai to Beijing and have found that they prefer it here.

What about the great blog-reading public out there? Let's hear your views - but on the Barstool post, if you please.

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