Beijing vs. Shanghai vs. Taiwan

We have only been in Taipei for about a year and have been offered the opportunity to possibly go to either Beijing or Shanghai. I know nothing of either of these cities and have not been to them before. I am wondering what other expats thoughts are on these cities, if anyone has lived or worked there before. I had a bit of culture shock coming to Taiwan from the US, but overall, I’ve enjoyed our stay here. There have definitely been some :noway: moments, but for the most part, it’s been good. Which city would be best for a family? and for some cultural learning/experiences? I appreciate any input!


is your company paying you to move? if they are, they should also be offering you and your family the opportunity to go visit the 2 cities before you make a decision.

shanghai is probably closer to taipei than beijing in terms of experience. i have found beijing people to be more guarded and less open than in shanghai. plus i think shanghai is more dynamic. 2c

We will probably get a chance to visit the cities before we would move. But I would find out more useful information from people who have lived there before than I would going to visit it for a week. I had a very different view of Taipei after I’d lived here for a few months than after the short 2 week visit we had to determine whether we’d move here. It’s all very preliminary, but I’d still like others thoughts.

The difference between the Taiwan and China and even the cities themselves is as cheese & chalk.

If your a single professional, there are few places more vibrant of fun than Shangahi. Beijing really has its charm - I actually like the poeple there better since they tend to be more straight forward. Taiwan - well Taiwan is a nice compfrtable relaxing place to live relative the Shanghai or Beijing

Remember that a lot of Taiwanese businessmen who can well afford to live lavishly in China choose to keep their families in Taipei while they travel to and from Beijing and Shanghai. Taipei is A LOT safer, cleaner and easier than both of those places…depends on your learning goals. Shanghai is more liveable and an overal nicer place to be compared to Beijing…but…if your kids or you are trying to learn Mandarin, go for Bejing. They speak Shanghaihua in Shanghai.

Actually there are so many wiadiren in Shanghai that it is no longer true to say the majority of people in Shanghai speak Shanghainese.

There is more Mandarin spoken in Shanghai than in Taipei. I have never been able to work out what anyone is saying in Beijing as they all appear to have some sort of speech defect. Luckily there are quite a few waidiren there too, so I can usually find someone reasonably comprehensible from Guangdong, or Sichuan, or Liverpool or somewhere.

Taipei is by far the most modern and westernized city out of the 3. I would stay here unless your company is offering you significantly more money to go to China. Or, if your position in China has a lot of business potential beause of the bigger Chinese market, then yeah move to Shanghai.

Taipei still has a higher standard of living than Beijing or shanghai. In china, esp shanghai, nowadays you have plenty of foreigners and also tall buildings, etc. So on the surface it looks relatively modern. However, if you want to get anything western in China, it’s pretty difficult. (I’m talking things like tv shows, magazines and media, accessing certain websites, movies, certain foods, basically day-to-day type stuff) You can get all of that here in Taiwan pretty easily. You can also get plenty of Chinesey cultural stuff right here in Taiwan, just like you can in China. Authentic chinese food, taichi, chinese medicine, arts, mandarin classes, etc. You can basically experience Chinese culture right here in Taiwan.

Also, Taiwan has much better healthcare, better quality products and services, don’t have to be worried about getting ripped off, don’t have to worry about beggars and bums on the streets,etc.

In conclusion, you should stay in Taiwan unless you’re getting significantly more money in China. Or if your business or career has better potential in China.

One obvious bonus re: living in Beijing or Shanghai is that you can get a full time nanny for a very low price.// Overall, Taipei is the place you want to live, though. Your kids can run around on their own once they are a little older and you don’t have to worry like you would in Beijing.

I really am surpised to see that the majority of people would rather live in Taipei. Of course, I haven’t been over to either of those cities yet, so what do I know :wink:
I don’t know that we’ll have the option of staying here in Taipei. I do feel safe here and am concerned about not feeling that way in the mainland. We get stared at a lot, our kids get touched, coddled, pictures and video taken constantly wihout asking us, etc. I’m assuming it will be the same over there.
I have heard that the foreign community is much larger in both of those cities - is this true? It seems easier to find English information - I’ve been able to do apartment and housing searches from here with no problem - whereas it took MONTHS to find housing here in Taipei and had to go through several different companies to get it done.
Thanks for all your replies, I appreciate the info and perspective.

The sheer weight of people in Shanghai is quite a drag. However, I think if I got a good job there I’d consider going back.

It’s very expensive. It’s worth spending as much as you can on rent, as if you have a nice oasis to come back to it makes all the difference.

[quote=“Elegua”]The difference between the Taiwan and China and even the cities themselves is as cheese & chalk.

If your a single professional, there are few places more vibrant of fun than Shangahi. Beijing really has its charm - I actually like the poeple there better since they tend to be more straight forward. Taiwan - well Taiwan is a nice compfrtable relaxing place to live relative the Shanghai or Beijing[/quote]

I’m slightly confused by this–the structure of the analogy suggests that Taiwan is the cheese and China the chalk, but the rest of your statement suggests the opposite. Could you please say more about your comparison of the two places and why you feel that way?

Expat Newbie–as I haven’t been in Taiwan, I cannot help you by comparing the two countries. But I have visited both Shanghai and Beijing numbers of times, so if there’s any information you’d like about them, or just a general description, I’d be happy to try to provide it.

If you have to go to China definitely choose Shanghai over Beijing. The weather is infinitely better although Shanghai weather is not as pleasant as Taipei’s, Beijing’s is awful. Whatever you do, do not stay in China for more than a couple of years. The pollution is unhealthy for you and your family and it is much worse than offical Communist government’s statistics say it is and they don’t even paint a healthy picture. Kudos to Shanghai for not allowing delivery trucks inside the city limits during work hours, but then as an authoritarian regime, you can do anything you want not have to worry about getting reelected. You don’t have to follow any laws either.

I’ve lived in all three places (OK Beijing was only for about six months total, but Taipei was for four years, and Shanghai for 2 years so far).

I would say Taipei beats Beijing or Shanghai in overall quality of life. The people in Taipei are a million times nicer. The place is also cleaner, with better access to nature, less pollution, a relaxed vibe, some excellent food, and plenty more.

That said, Beijing and Shanghai do have their charms. I live in Shanghai, but funnily enough I would probably say I prefer Beijing.

Shanghai is probably easier to get used to comming from Taipei, since in some ways it is similar to Taipei (crowded, dense, convenient, somewhat similar way of speaking Mandarin, and hundreds of thousands of Taiwanese living here too!).

Beijing is very different from Taipei. People behave totally differently, they talk differently (they always sound sort of like they are permanently chewing a couple of dumplings), the place is incredibly dry, cold and dusty.

Mix of good and bad for both places. . .

Good points of Shanghai:

  • Convenient (i.e. convenience stores all over the place, well set up for doing business, lots of amenities like gyms etc.)
  • Tons of decent western food, much of it quite reasonably priced
  • Very dense (you can literally walk around the more interesting and foreigner friendly parts of town)
  • Exciting vibe, with lots of changes going on etc (wears thin after a while though)
  • Plenty of interesting spots to explore nearby (Suzhou, Hangzhou, Nanjing are all within a couple of hours travel)
  • The nice old architecture is something you appreciate immediately comming from Taipei, but after a few months it just kind of fades into the background.

Bad points of Shanghai:

  • The locals are arseholes. They have all the bad features of Taiwanese (i.e. obsessive focus on work and money) without any of the nice features (i.e. friendliness). The guys are rather wimpy (many of them work a full time job and then go home to cook and clean while the wife gambles their savings away with her majong buddies). Meanwhile, the women tend to be useless gold digging types intent on hooking up with some poor sap and leeching off him until death ends his misery.
  • Local Shanghainese food isn’t the greatest. Fortunately you have a great choice of restaurants with food from other countries and other parts of China. Unfortunately, the quality of the regional Chinese food is probably a little lower in Shanghai than in Beijing.
  • The crowds, the noise, the general filth, and the air pollution can all get to you. However, Pudong (the newly developed area east of the river) is infinitely better in this regard than Puxi (the old town on the west of the river). But then Puxi is where 90% of the good restaurants etc. are.
  • For me the place is just lacking in any soul.

Good points of Beijing:

  • Interesting and friendly people. They can really get on your tits at time, and I hate the way they speak, but underneath it all they are far more interesting than the Shanghainese. More likely to have lives outside of work.
  • Space! The roads are massively wide and you won’t feel at all crowded in most parts of town. The parks are also huge and lovely. Of course the downside to so much space is that you can forget about walking anywhere much.
  • Tons of cultural stuff to see and do. . . Lots of museums, exhibitions, historical sites, galleries etc. You shouldn’t get too bored.
  • Great food. The local Beijing food is a bit heavy on the MSG, but it is tasty and portions are MASSIVE. The regional Chinese food is better quality than in Shanghai. Sichuan and Xinjiang food are particularly good. Cantonese is less good but still very adequate. Non-Chinese food situation is similar to Shanghai. At any rate you shouldn’t go hungry here.
  • Plenty of interesting bars, coffee shops, etc to hang around in.
  • Nightlife is a little more ‘genuine’ than in Shanghai. Shanghai is all about going out to the most expensive spot you can find and posing. Beijing is more about actually socializing with people.
  • Relatively easy access to countryside compared to Shanghai. Good hiking spots around the Great Wall and other places.

Bad points of Beijing:

  • The weather can get to you I guess. I’ve mostly been there over winter. It gets very cold with freezing winds. Apartments are well heated though. In April there are dust storms with a very inconvenient. You might want to use some moistereiser or something on your skin because the air is incredibly dry.
  • The distances involved in getting around the city can be daunting, meaning you might get out less than you should.
  • People can be a little ‘political’. You may end up having awkward conversations about Taiwan.
  • The ‘northern culture’ might not be your thing. I appreciate alot of things about northerners, but I feel a bit more distance when dealing with them than I do with southerners. Just an individual thing I guess.

And in both Beijing and Shanghai you get the normal Mainland China nuisances: beggars, filth, dishonest shopkeepers, prostitutes accosting you and chasing you down the street as you leave a five star hotel late at night, screaming at you “Hey Cowboy! Hey Sailor!”, prostitutes who want to learn English so they can broaden their client base accosting you in the street and asking for English lessons, idiots screaming ‘hello’ at you in the street, etc.

[quote=“expat newbie”]Which city would be best for a family? and for some cultural learning/experiences?

Beijing or Shanghai, seemed to be your question, but Taipei seems to be the standard fr discussion. I’ve not been to Shanghai, but I

Whoops, one important point I left out, political discussions. It’s a lot easier for me to handle them here, due to my ‘skewed’ thinking on a lot of hot topics. :slight_smile:


  • More western
  • Better Health Care
  • Freedom of the press (access to adundance of news and internet, whereas a lot of that is censored in China)
  • More diverse western products available
  • Western Media available in bookstores if you get homesick (magazines, books, etc)
  • Real stuff available, like real DVDs, Music CDs, etc. Sometimes you just want the real stuff! But in china you can only get the pirated crap, you don’t have a choice.
  • Movies! In Taiwan you can go to the movies just like any western country. In China you can forget about it, since ppl always watch pirated dvd’s at home. There are very few theaters and they are extremely crappy, show very few movies, dubbed in Chinese, etc. You just can’t get the movie watching experience you get in Taiwan. Same with DVD rentals. In Taiwan you get make it a blockbuster night, you can forget about that in China. Pirated dvd’s only, bad selection, bad quality is what you’re gonna get.
  • TV! As much as ppl complain about TV in Taiwan, the programs available are waaaayyy better than what’s on TV in China. In Taiwan you get a ton of channels, many western shows and movies, a lot of international channels, etc, and of course the local stuff can be interesting too. In China you can forget about TV cuz there’s nothing on.
  • Quality of the service industry. Taiwan is a lot better than China in that aspect.