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Dongguan and Zhengzhou become first-tier cities

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On May 25, China’s financial news group Yicai released its 2017 ranking of Chinese cities (in Chinese) according to their appeal to business.

Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen stayed in their top four positions as “first-tier cities.” Following them are 15 “new first-tier cities,” listed in the following order: Chengdu, Hangzhou, Wuhan, Chongqing, Nanjing, Tianjin, Suzhou, Xi’an, Changsha, Shenyang, Qingdao, Zhengzhou, Dalian, Dongguan, and Ningbo.

The ranking was based on sales data collected from 160 brands and user data from 17 internet companies. Five dimensions were considered in terms of calculating each city’s attractiveness to business, including concentration of commercial resources, suitability as a transport hub, diversity of lifestyle, and future potential.

Although it is common in Chinese business and political circles to classify cities according to tiers, there is no official ranking from the government — the South China Morning Post has a good explainer on the conventional thinking behind the tier concept. In Yicai’s ranking, two notable new entrants to first-tier status are Dongguan and Zhengzhou — two cities that are often the subject of derision in Beijing and Shanghai.

Dongguan is a manufacturing hub that has been in the news in the last few years for its economic slowdown after decades of booming, and for the 2014 crackdown on its notorious sex industry. The Yicai report says the city’s rise in rank is largely due to the city’s excellence in drawing investment: Last year, Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei moved its data center from Shenzhen to Dongguan, sparking rumors that the company is planning to relocate its headquarters there, too. Huawei already has a large office building spread over 1,900 acres that was constructed in 2012.

Meanwhile, Zhengzhou is the provincial capital of Henan, whose people are sometimes openly discriminated against — even by the police — or mocked by bloggers. Zhengzhou’s surge in ranking in the Yicai list was due to the opening of the Zhengzhou-Xuzhou high-speed railway last year. As a key project of the country’s 12th Five-Year Plan, the railway greatly reduced travel time from central and western China to the east coast.

Online, not everyone was delighted to see their city’s name appear in the ranking. For Zhengzhou residents, the city’s rise triggered their concerns about living costs: “Zhengzhou’s property price is first tier, but my income is still third tier,” wrote (in Chinese) one commenter from the city. Others complained that the new first-tier cities entered the ranking unfairly: “Almost all the resources in Sichuan were invested in Chengdu. It’s unfair to other second-tier and third-tier cities in the province,” said (in Chinese) one resident of another city in the province.


Jiayun Feng

Jiayun was born in Shanghai, where she spent her first 20 years and earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism at Fudan University. Interested in writing for a global audience, she attended the NYU Graduate School of Journalism for its Global & Joint Program Studies, which allowed her to pursue a journalism career along with her interest in international relations. She has previously interned for Sixth Tone and Shanghai Daily.