Shanghai Versus Beijing

They are both in the country of China and are only separated by about 600 miles. However, Beijing and Shanghai each have their own identity. Their similarities and differences are worth investigating in more detail.

I should warn you that I am going to have to base my opinions on limited data. Having only spent about a week in Beijing and about 4 days in Shanghai, I hardly spent enough time in either city to be able to tell you everything about daily life there. There are definitely some things about each city that were apparent however, even with my short time there.

The Similarities

Scam artists abound and love to target Westerners with offers of free art shows and cheap tours of the Great Wall of China. In actuality they are trying to take advantage of you and get you to pay fees for things you did not want – or worse. They can be quite aggressive, and they will follow you down the street until you talk to them. They will also get in your way to stop you – until you run them over that is (score one for me in Shanghai, FTW!). Shopkeepers are just as aggressive and shady. If you walk into a shop – even a supposedly reputable one – you will be pushed and prodded to look at all sorts of items and asked how you would like to pay for them (a common tactic to get you to buy it, since it is not a yes or no question) until you agree to get something or leave. If you do see something you like, you also have to be ready to negotiate. They don’t charge Westerners the actual price; you often have to negotiate down to half-price or less just to pay what it was worth to begin with. Although my negotiating skills are terrible, I was able to talk down most stuff we got to 60% asking price (probably still too much, but good enough).

The Differences

Beijing is a town built on industry and Shanghai is a town built on technology and finance. It shows. The biggest difference between the two cities is the air quality. Beijing has a horrible pollution problem (it is one of the most polluted cities in the world in fact) caused by the emissions of cars and factories there. Shanghai, however seems to have much better air quality. Perhaps the rain that Shanghai gets helps prevent smog, but there just doesn’t seem to be as much industry to pollute the air there.

Another difference is the architecture. Beijing is a very old-school China city. Although there are certainly skyscrapers there (it has a population in the many millions), Beijing has a number of historical sites and smaller buildings built in the style of old China. The architecture of the Forbidden City is prevalent there and many other smaller buildings share its architecture. Shanghai is more new-school. There are no old-style architecture buildings to be found there. In fact, other than some old crumbling apartment buildings scattered throughout the city, most of the skyscrapers standing now are big, bright, masses of shiny green glass and stainless steel. Citibank, TDK, Sony, and others all adorn the tops of these mammoths. Much of downtown Shanghai would look more appropriate in America than in China.

A big difference between Beijing and Shanghai would be lifestyle. In Beijing, the hotels are run down and there are few malls aside from the popular Oriental Plaza. There are some clothing stores to be found, but other than that there are just some scattered (very good) restaurants. Shanghai – now that is a city of nothing but stores! Everywhere you go, you are surrounded by jade dealers, jewelry stores, and high-end clothing stores. Don’t plan on visiting Shanghai for long if you don’t have lots of dough to spend.

Beijing and Shanghai: each has its own personality. Although there are a few similarities, the differences between the two cities are great enough where you cannot know what a city in China is like without a visit to both of them.

Comments (2)

TitanXSeptember 12th, 2011 at 7:17 AM

Well written sir. I am curious if our cities would degrade to the point (pollution) without the EPA or if culturally, we would self correct. Didn’t make it to Hong Kong?

JonathanSeptember 12th, 2011 at 7:21 AM

That’s a good question. My hope that we would not have allowed things to degrade to that point. Then again, when looking at old photos of U.S. cities during the height of the Industrial Revolution, you can clearly see that they look more polluted back then than they are now.