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Shanghai vs Beijing


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Hi all

Next year I will be studying Chinese in China but I still haven't figured out which city to choose: Beijing or Shanghai.

Can anyone give me some info on both cities about :

- the dialects (in Shanghai people speak Shanghaiese, is it very different from Standard Mandarin?)

- the cost of living

- going out : night life better in Shanghai?

- pollution : much worse in Beijing?

- people : in which city are they more friendly and open towards foreigners?

Thank you in advance

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The Beijing/Shanghai question tends to divide people. I've lived in both cities and I would say go to Beijing. The people are far friendlier. In fact I would go as far as to say that Shanghai is populated by the unfriendliest people in China. It's the Paris of the east in that respect.

To answer your other questions:

dialect: Shanghainese is very different to Mandarin. the two are not mutually intelligible. Beijing dialect is not standard Mandarin either, but it's closer, and in Beijing the people are proud to speak Mandarin, whereas in Shanghai people see it as a second choice language for communicating with outsiders.

Cost of living: probably about the same in both places

Going out: it depends what you like. In general, i found Beijing suited my tastes more. There are more laid-back, quirky bars where you can have a few beers. In Shanghai there is more of a cocktails scene and a bit more posing. That's in general though - you can find both types of place in both cities. I just find Beijing more charming with its hutongs and courtyards, as opposed to Shanghai's more colonial style.

Pollution: is probably worse in Beijing. At least, Beijing is dustier and drier. I would still rather live in Beijing than Shanghai despite this.

People: see above. Some people will tell you that Shanghainese people really like foreigners and are extra nice to them, but in my experience this isn't particularly true. I have always found Beijing people to be more laid-back, friendly and open to foreigners.

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Beijing is dryer and colder. Pollution in Shanghai can also get pretty bad, which surprised me what with me being on the coast. People in both places appeared friendly to me, and spoke Mandarin with me. Costs are quite similar.

I would pick Beijing. Why? It has more to do (touristy stuff), is a bit more laid back, the population seem happier and less stressed (probably because most of them work for the government, or are students/teachers). The weather for me is better; I prefer to be freezing cold and dry, than cool and wet. I think Shanghai would get boring after a few weeks (although you do have the lovely small "water towns" around to visit) and, the clincher, Beijing is very cycle friendly.

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Adrian makes a great point about the cycliing - I cannot tell you what a joy it is to cycle round Beijing, weaving in and out of hutongs, with the wind in your hair. It opens up the whole city and you see things you would never see on foot (because it would take to long to walk) or in a taxi (because you're going too fast).

Also, Shanghai is horrible in winter because there is no heating. I too prefer cold and dry to cold and wet.

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Totally agree with Yang Rui - cycling around was one of the best things I did in Beijing. I bought a semi-decent bike (800y from a Giant store) and it lasted me the 5 months I had it without any problems. Well, until I collided head-on with another cyclist coming the wrong way (but then that's normal) down a cycle lane. Ruined the front wheel. Very cheap to fix though.

I sold it when I left for 400y, but that included two locks worth 100y.

In Shanghai there weren't even places to hire bikes and I didn't really see many cyclists. Not surprising, as there's no space for them. I must add that I only spent a week in Shanghai, so my comparison between the two cities is a big one-sided.

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I think you should if possible try to visit both cities before making up your mind. I'm in Shanghai, and there seems to be quite a bit of Shanghai bashing going on in this thread, and to be honest, quite a lot of what has been said is true. Nevertheless, it's not all bad. Shanghai is considerably warmer than Beijing in the winter - it rarely snows here, so you won't end up trudging through snow and getting cold feet. From what I've seen, the pollution in Beijing is far worse than Shanghai. I also feel that Shanghai is more compact than Beijing - getting from one place to another is quicker here. I always felt tired going out in Beijing having to go so far from one place to another. Of course, this may differ for you, depending on where you go.

As for langauge, Shanghainese is spoken often by the locals, in particular amongst the older generation. But it's very unlikely you'll come across any people who don't speak Mandarin, and indeed many Chinese people in Shanghai are not locals, and so use Mandarin as standard. As the Beijing dialect is similar to Mandarin, locals there will speak in Beijing dialect - they will not make any effort to speak in more 'standard' Mandarin. On the other hand, since Shanghainese people learn Mandarin as a separate language, I'd actually say the Mandarin spoken in Shanghai is more 'standard' than that spoken in Beijing. (I know this brings us back to the old 'what is standard Mandarin' debate, and someone is going to jump on these comments. Well, this is just my personal feeling, and if you are a beginner learner, I don't think it'll make much difference to you either way.)

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in my extremely short stint in both cities, here's what i noticed:

beijing is definitely more polluted, only time i saw the blue sky was during the great wall trip.

beijing is as "china" as it gets, i felt shanghai was a bigger version of HK or somewhere there. when it comes to tourist spots, beijing wins hands down.

if you speak regular/southern mandarin, it is way easier to understand the folks in shanghai. almost everyone in beijing except maybe for the tourguide speaks with the northern accent where everything ends in "-er". i found it difficult to communicate with the old people like guards and taxi drivers. shanghainese sounded like japanese to me.

they say it's more fun to shop in shanghai but i enjoyed shopping in beijing nonetheless.

as for food, i still prefer cantonese cuisine but the peking duck was great.

shanghai vs beijing - might study in beijing next year, i really liked the city.

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I am in Shanghai and I haven't spent much time in Beijing but I like being here and i don't have any problems with the language. The younger generation can speak standard mandarin very well and I rarely need to speak with old people and btw I have got used to their accent. I live and study in Pudong which is very modern and cleaner than anywhere I have seen in Beijing. The people are also friendly in both cities. Usually the Chinese from other cities call the Shanghainese arrogant because they are jealous of the prosperity in Shanghai but all in all as a foreigner I am more comfortable with the original Shanghainese people but they seem to be a minority in Shanghai these days.:lol:

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I think you should if possible try to visit both cities before making up your mind.

I completely agree.

Even a short visit will help you get a feel for what the cities are like, and they are quite different.

Beijing is more laid-back, relaxed, and has an insane number of cultural sites to visit. It feels very Chinese, with loads of bicycles and palaces and hutongs. Shanghai is vibrant, exciting, imposing and it never sleeps. You also get the melting-pot aspects, a mix of 19th century European buildings and traditional Chinese gardens, overlooked by some of the most impressive skyscrapers in the world.

I really liked both of them. I think that choosing will depend on your preferences.

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