Beijing vs Shanghai

We compared Beijing and Shanghai to find out which is China's greatest city

Beijing has more history, more culture, more landmarks and more DJ Mag-certified top 100 nightclubs. So why does Shanghai have a population at all? We engaged in highly cerebral debate royale with our brothers and sisters at Time Out Shanghai to find out, once and for all, which is China’s greatest city.


They have...big-name international tours


Yes, yes, Beijing is China’s indie-rock epicentre, but what’s come out of it lately? Let’s be honest, it’s been a while since we heard anything truly exciting from the capital. And even your most prominent indie label has two Shanghai bands among its first wave of slated album releases for 2017, with both Dream Can and Dirty Fingers on the Maybe Mars books. The Shelter might have closed down, but we’ve still got a more vibrant electronic music scene – and that’s before we even begin to talk about how Shanghai is the city of choice for any big international touring acts. The Rolling Stones (twice)? Taylor Swift (four shows)? Queen? All Shanghai only.

We have...a thriving local music scene

Rock Against Jams

Typical Shanghai, calculating its cultural significance in Taylor Swift stubs again. Touché. Sure, The Rolling Stones continue to strafe the grave like geriatric crustaceans, and that’s super cool they came to see you, but we’ll take The Prodigy’s first-ever Mainland show any day. Dream Can and Dirty Fingers are both excellent, but the frequency with which new acts are hatching in the capital is genuinely exhilarating, and thanks to innovative projects like Temple’s incubatory Rock Against Jams, so is the variety. From the 2016 breakout of rough AF hardcore force Dress Code, to the maturation of postpunkers Lonely Leary, the battered adage of Beijing as an indie-only scene is done. Oh, and electronic wise, Do Hits are pushing it harder than anyone in the Kingdom.
Read more about Beijing music and Beijing nightlife.


We have...The Great Wall of China, dammit!


The Great Wall is the best wall of all, of all time, ever. An especially old wall, it is long and it is strong, and while not as visible from space as some claim, it is sometimes visible from ‘low Earth orbit’ – and that’s a bona fide Nasa fact. It is an architectural marvel and a Wonder of the World. Shanghai doesn’t even have a Good Wall of China. The Great Wall is also, according to decorated filmmaker Zhang Yimou, where Willem Dafoe taught Tian Jing to speak English, and where Matt Damon saved the imperial palace from rabid CGI beasts using his Western intuition and off-the-cuff one-liners. That’s The Wall. The Bund is but a squelchy riverbank with a bar called The Fellas on it.

They have...The Bund

Shanghai_-_Bund_at_Night (1)

If it’s a sight you’re after, then The Bund offers up one of the planet’s truly iconic skylines, as well as many a quality drink to go with it. Not only that, it’s one of the few places in the city where you can actually enjoy some space. While the popular stretches can be overwhelmingly busy at peak times, an early morning run or a late night stroll can be magical. If we’re not patronising one of the many top restaurants and bars on the stretch, lots of us will only pay The Bund a visit when we have guests in town, but we’ll admit that we always enjoy it when we do. Plus, it’s home to the best way to get to Pudong: the Bund Sightseeing Tunnel.


They have...cocktail bars


In Shanghai, some of the finest bartenders will make you drinks that’ll change what you think a cocktail should be. Urbane, sophisticated and serving some fancy-ass (and seriously impressive) drinks, our watering holes are next level, including China’s only entry on the World’s 50 Best Bars. Meanwhile, bearded men in flannel bro-ing down about hops, malts and Sichuan peppercorns is your average night out in the capital. Beijing has the craft brewing scene on lock, we won’t argue with that. But listen, there are only so many IPAs with Chinese characteristics one can drink.

We have...brewpubs


Back when Shanghai was ‘The Paris of the East’ foreigners would swill fancy hooch in districts where local law had limited jurisdiction. In 2017, not much has changed, and monolingual laowai continue to debauch the cocktail bars of the French Concession. Jokes aside, cocktails down south are, admittedly, a quality proposition, but you better believe you’ll need the budget of a sell-out Shanghai square to enjoy them. And we agree, Sichuan peppercorns are a cheap trick, but at the end of the day, our money’s buying three world-class pints to every one glass of your mixolo-bollocks.
Read more about Beijing bars.


They have...some pretty manageable pollution

shanghai pollution

You northerners might be smug about your warm houses through winter, but at least we can leave ours. While Beijingers spend days at a time cooped inside, air filters at full whack, watching ‘red alert’ warnings and thick smog blankets roll on in as the AQI soars well over 300, life in Shanghai (for the most part, anyway) continues as normal. Sure, Shanghai still has polluted days, and there are times when the weather runs amok and the AQI goes above 200, but it’s a rarity. Anyway, we’re not saying Shanghai is perfect, but the point is we've still got it better than Beijing.

We have...well yeah, we have lots of pollution

beijing pollution

Wow, the pollution card, thanks Shanghai. Real sensitive, you guys are awesome. Must be great to be able to leave the house all the time and soak up all of that ‘European’ café culture, swilling 50RMB longlife lattes like ‘damn, I heart Milano.’ Beijing pollution is bad, but when we do have good weather the entire city dances. And when it’s 400 outside we rock a sweet mask and get on with it because we’re stoic Dongbei ren. Your average AQI might be 50-100, but you complain about it like it’s 500, and also you suck.


They have...the French Concession

french concession

We’ve heard it all before: Beijing’s (remaining) hutongs have almost-800 years of history and are home to some of the city’s most famous tourist sites (and traps – looking at you, Nanluoguxiang). But why go dodging traffic through the narrow hutongs, when you could wander the green, leafy avenues of the Former French Concession. Ah! La vie est belle in the old Paris of the East. The heritage of a different kind of imperial history, the FFC is an Instaworthy combo of European and Chinese architecture, with all manner of treasures to stumble upon – charming lane houses, relaxed park life and chic boutiques. Plus, we never have to walk far to find a truly great cocktail or a good cup of coffee.

We have...the hutongs

beijing hutong

Eugh, just move to Paris already, sheesh.

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