Tianjin rated #1 Most Livable City in China; Beijing & Shanghai exposed as overrated

“Big rural village” indeed. Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to Tianjin: China’s #1 most livable city! I can’t believe it. Our very own Tianjin, which is so beautiful that you can look at the sun and it doesn’t hurt your eyes, took top honours among Mainland cities this month in a study by the Economist Intelligence Unit.

First place in China makes Tianjin 72nd in the world according to the Economist’s Liveability ranking, which

quantifies the challenges that might be presented to an individual’s lifestyle in 140 cities worldwide. Each city is assigned a score for over 30 qualitative and quantitative factors across five broad categories: stability, health care, culture and environment, education, and infrastructure.

So our Canadian home is the most livable city in the world, and our Chinese home is the most livable city in China. If anyone has more info, please pass it along. I’d love to know how Tianjin scored this.

Below is the intro I never used for the “Tianjin-friendly New Year’s Resolutions for Laowais” magazine article last December, followed by links to some of our best Tianjin stuff.

Yeah yeah, in Tianjin we know how in Beijing you look down us for being old school and undistinguished, and how in Shanghai you think you’re better than, well, everybody, but the intro below from an upcoming local expat magazine article explains why Tianjin kicks all your butts!

Tianjin Rocks!

If you disregard your first impressions and look at it from the proper angle, it’s not hard to see that Tianjin is a romantic city with some exciting nightlife. Stop sniggering; I’m serious: romantic, with exciting nightlife. I’ll also add – traffic and public transit aside – warmhearted. I’m glad it’s not Shanghai or Beijing, and I’ve got good reasons.

Tianjin is a big city with a small town feel. Beijingers might say it’s unsophisticated and really just a big rural village (大农村), but they don’t know what they’re missing. Tianjin’s the kind of city where your neighbourhood bike repairman and his buddies will call you over to sit on those little stools, share some báijiǔ (白酒;white lightning) and play Chinese chess, even though you can barely ask for the bathroom in Chinese. It’s the kind of city where, when you’re reading your Chinese homework on a bench in the park, someone will eventually come sit next to you and make polite conversation. It’s the kind of place where you open your door to find the new neighbours you haven’t met yet standing there with a plate full of steaming dumplings for you and your wife. Or it’s a place where a stranger might join your picnic lunch, where people sing out loud biking down the road, where your taxi driver will talk your ear off if you let him, where couples tango in public, and where the parks are bustling with happy activity from after dinner until late.

Language barriers and vast cultural distances won’t stop the local lǎobǎixìng (老百姓;regular folks) from giving a warm welcome to the foreigners in their midst. Foreigners are still a little special here, but we’re not so unusual that people can’t relate to us normally-enough. Sometimes the biggest problem is the foreigners themselves; we miss out on many of the best aspects of Tianjin because we inadvertently make ourselves unavailable by living lifestyles that are incompatible with the main streams of local Tianjin life.

I’ll go out on a limb and say that pretty much none of Tianjin’s foreigners want to completely abandon all of their foreigner ways and living habits. Thankfully, that’s not necessary. Even just partially adjusting to the rhythms of local life can yield some meaningful relationships and experiences. Making ourselves available to the more meaningful aspects of local Tianjin life will greatly increase our enjoyment of this city and its people, and New Year’s resolutions are as good an excuse as any to get after it.

Selected Tianjin fun:
(You can browse the Tianjin or Regular Zhou categories for more.)

Tianjin is a fine place to be a China-loving lǎowài. (Never mind that Business Week rated it the 13th hardest “hardship post” (2nd worst in China) for foreign workers on account of the pollution, disease & sanitation, medical facilities, physical remoteness, and culture & recreation. Sissies!)

9 thoughts on “Tianjin rated #1 Most Livable City in China; Beijing & Shanghai exposed as overrated”

  1. “If you disregard your first impressions and look at it from the proper angle,”

    Actually, my first impressions were quite positive. I arrived late on the last bus from Beijing airport and was most impressed with the number of people still sitting out in those impromptu beer gardens that spring up in Tianjin neighbourhoods in the summer time. Once I’d deposited my luggage in the crappy little dorm my school provided, I promptly went out and joined them.

    “but they don’t know what they’re missing.”

    Actually, I do, and that’s why I’m in Beijing.

    But you’re right, Tianjin is quite a liveable city and I understand why so many people like it. I just prefer Beijing.

  2. The good classic joke about Tianjin:

    The US and China are at war. A squadron of USAF bombers was sent to carpet-bomb Tianjian. But the bombers returned to the base without having dropped one single bomb.

    The general was furious and demanded an explanation from the pilot commander. The commander looked at the general and said, “Are you kidding me? The place has already been bombed thoroughly before we got there.”

  3. oiasunset — ha! I’ve heard that one! There’s another joke along the same lines my language teachers told me, about Osama bin Laden sending suicide bombers to China, but they turn back from Tianjin for the same reason. I should have remembered to put those in the post.

    chriswaugh_bj — As I’m sure you noticed, this post is a little tongue-in-cheek, like cheering for your home team even though you know they won’t make the playoffs. ;) I have yet to meet a foreigner or Chinese national who seriously thinks TJ even begins to rival BJ. Our first impression of Tianjin was taking the bus from the Beijing airport during Spring Festival. Everything was gray, the roads surface and the wind was littered with piles of firecracker debris, and we had to stop the bus because there was a fistfight between taxi drivers in the middle of the road (with the ensuing crowd, of course). We’d just arrived from Taipei via two weeks in Chiangmai, and we were a little shocked by the contrast.

    I like having Beijing close enough to visit, but it’s louder, faster, dirtier, and has worse traffic than TJ… Tianjin feels a little more relaxed to me (as giant cities go). But I really don’t know Beijing; we’ve only made the occasional short trips over there.

  4. Make no mistake. I’m actually quite fond of Tianjin, having lived there for a while in Tiyuanbei.

    The restaurants are very nice and dirty-cheap. The wet markets are stocked with the freshest vegetables and fruits. Not to mention jianbinguozi – I once ate four (two eggs for each) one morning.

  5. Oh, I noticed, I’m just adding my support. Although I vastly prefer Beijing, for my own reasons, I recognise Tianjin as a decent city in its own right. Actually, my first experience of Tianjin, as you can probably tell, was mid-summer. I can understand how arriving mid-winter would create quite a different first impression.

    I do have to say, though, that while I was in Tianjin, fully half the foreigners I met loved Tianjin, while the other half constantly whinged about how much they prefer Beijing. So far as I can tell, I was the only one who actually did anything about that preference. Also, the Tianjinren I’ve met who prefer Beijing I’ve met in Beijing, while those I met in Tianjin were quite happy where they were. It’s not a question of rivalry, it’s a question of personal taste.

  6. Shenyang also needs to be mentioned as a large city with a small city feel. Of course, that might have something to do with the fact that we’re so close to Tianjin.

  7. After visiting locals 5or6 times and enjoying many weeks in Tianjin, I’d like to add that this “most livable” award is overdue.Tianjin is a wonderful city, with warmth and character.

  8. Tianjin might even be a little safer than the following city, check out this link:

  9. good blog!
    nice meeting you by the way.
    Except traditional hospital and firecups, Shenyang Dao Antique Market, I almost hate the city. It might caused that I am coming for business and spend my time in industrial area pretty much. I did not even watch my face for days because I got an idea the water is polluted. never mind, waiting for your new experiences. ıf you have time take a look at my posts, some of them has English version:))


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