-by Ernie Diaz
A list of China’s wealthiest cities recently came out, with hardly a place recognizable to the average westerner. Many Chinese themselves were surprised to notice Beijing and Shanghai nowhere on the list, mistaking GDP, a more abstract yet more publicized form of wealth, for a more personal, tangible form – per capita income. Here are the top ten: why they’re making so much money, and why you might want to know more about them.
Why It’s Rich: What, you’ve never heard of the southern Chinese, and how tricky they are at business? Besides stereotypes, Changzhou, “The Dragon Town”, has levels of industrialization and infrastructure approaching Shanghai’s, without the associated costs (or associated snootiness). A well balanced portfolio of old business (agricultural processing, especially cotton) and new (engineering, hi tech) means Changzhou should keep prospering long after the last China bears have stopped growling.
Why You Should Visit: How about twenty-five hundred years of history – no? There’s a pretty groovy dinosaur theme park.
Should You Live There? Not without getting sick of Shanghai first.
Why It’s Rich: Here live the southern Chinese other southern Chinese stereotype as godawful slick at business. At the dawn of the Cultural Revolution, Chairman Mao’s wife singled them out for punishment first, irredeemable capitalists that they were and are. Despite a good century’s brain drain, renowned for its citizens leaving town and striking it rich abroad, Wenzhou enjoys early economic reform and inexhaustible supply of entrepreneurs, who turn out all and sundry varieties of electrical, plastic, textile, and leather products. They also turn gladly to illegal loans when the banks tighten up, and tend to use the window exit when they can’t pay back.
Why You Should Visit: Wenzhou claims fame as the Home of Swimming, City of Chess, and City of Poetry, so odds are you won’t.
Should You Live There? You think Mandarin is hard? Try the local Wu dialect. Winters are mild, though.
Why It’s Rich: This city built on an archipelago was for centuries a pirate haven, so that’s a start, and then an important commercial entrepot, third only to Amoy and Canton during the Qing Dynasty. Today Zhoushan relies on boring old shipping and real estate development, but that’s enough to keep the income per capita of barely a million Chinese quite high.
Why You Should Visit: Because you’re a good Buddhist, who wants to join the millions of others there three times a year, the nineteenth of February, June, and September, to celebrate the birth of the Guan Yin. She’s a Bodhisattva – she can have as many birthdays as she wants.
Should You Live There? If you’re a fan of mid-grade Chinese sand and surf, sure.
Why It’s Rich: We’re in the Pearl River Delta part of the list now, Guangzhou’s necklace to grace the diamond that is Hong Kong. Then too, Zhongshan is one of the Four Little Tigers, Guangdong cities famed for clawing their way to preeminence in the manufacturing jungle. Each of the many towns that comprise Zhongshan specializes in its own pillar industry, tying product to patriotism.
Why You Should Visit: Wide, leafy boulevards, hot springs, eco-parks. And don’t forget the lamp museum!
Should You Live There? If China outsourcing is your game, you may as well.
Why It’s Rich: Another pearl, shining brighter than Zhongshan next to it on the string. A deep port and great infrastructure have attracted more than its share of foreign investment, from Exxon to Matsushita. The government has made special plans for Zhuhai to grow into a science and education hub, which will soon make it what Venice was to renaissance Italy, minus the tights and swordplay.
Why You Should Visit: For now, though, Zhuhai is the “Chinese Riviera”: warm and breezy, palm leaves waving at the growing number of private craft gleaming in the bay.
Should You Live There? You could do far worse in China than its Riviera, plus you’re a walk away from Macau. Winner winner chicken dinner.
Why It’s Rich: You knew it was coming – Forbes called it the third best city for business in China back in 2008, even though many expat freebooters have never heard of it. A long time breadwinner in textiles and light industry, Wuxi is now going 21st century in a big way, with plenty of growth in software and solar tech.
Why You Should Visit: We gave you the whole shpiel years ago. Think of it as the closest place to Shanghai to make you forget that there’s a Shanghai.
Should You Live There? Wuxi has ever been a retreat for the wealthy from the turbulence of life elsewhere in China. Definitely a place for the wise and mellowed to retire, and write their memoirs.
Why It’s Rich: And we’re back in the Delta. Food is the one business in China you’ll never go broke with, and Foshan made it early on as the largest base for agricultural processing in southern China. Of course, manufacturing gives Foshan the bulk of its fortune nowadays, which gives it right back to the many Hong Kong and Taiwanese folk who build businesses there.
Why You Should Visit: It’s shouting distance from Guangzhou, only without quite so much shouting.
Should You Live There? Pick it over Guangzhou to preserve your sanity, and to polish your kung fu skills. Their Wing Chun style is much better than your Shao Lin, hahahaha!
Why It’s Rich: We were kidding about Zhuhai; Suzhou is your Chinese Venice. Not just for the canals and bridges, but for its transport hub inclinations, and the uncanny ability of those who dwell there to strike it rich. Being the second biggest industrial city in China next to Shanghai helps.
Why You Should Visit: Because every China tour planner expressly bids you to. Nowhere else will you be more inclined to buy the old ‘Five thousand years of civilization’ line.
Should You Live There? This is the classic Chinese water town with sushi buffets and 3D cinemas. Nice blend.
Why It’s Rich: The last pearl on the Ten Richest Cities list, Dongguan is behind only Shenzhen, Suzhou, and Shanghai in sheer volumes of cheap crap shipped abroad. As long as there are semi-employable Americans mumbling “Welcome to Walmart,” Dongguan will be making bank.
Why You Should Visit: Because you spent enough dough in Hong Kong without getting fleeced on a hotel room with no windows.
Should You Live There? If you’re one of those frequent “visa run” expats, you couldn’t pick a more convenient spot.
Why It’s Rich: With nary an old foreign port nor a sizeable sweatshop, and way out on the ass-end of the great chicken that is China, what could an obsolete Silk Road stop like Karamay offer in order to be the country’s richest city? Oil, in such abundance the cats can’t do their business without digging up a pool of black gold.
Why You Should Visit: You’re a geologist, or naïve enough to be sold on a trip to see a petrified forest.
Should You Live There? Heavens no. Not for any but noble reasons, at least.