Small town draws

While many for­eign­ers choose to live in larger cities in China, sec­ond- and third-tier lo­ca­tions are be­com­ing pop­u­lar with ex­pats look­ing for the sim­plic­ity of life

Global Times – Metro Beijing - - FRONT PAGE - By Wei Xi

Go­ing back and forth from China and his home coun­try of France since 2010, Thomas Claret has only lived in small cities: Lanzhou in Gansu Province for two years, Huai’an in Jiangsu

Province for three years and Yancheng in Jiangsu since Septem­ber 2017.

In ad­di­tion, 21-year-old Daniel Ma­gunje from South Africa gave up on his idea of mov­ing from Hangzhou in Zhe­jiang Province to Shang­hai after try­ing to adapt to the lifestyle of the big city.

How­ever, Bri­tish videog­ra­pher and graphic de­signer Jor­dan Wil­liams thinks Bei­jing is more at­trac­tive to him after liv­ing in Shenyang in Liaon­ing Province for a year.

The ques­tion of what city to choose is com­mon for many for­eign­ers who plan to live and work in China. While Bei­jing, Shang­hai and Guangzhou or Shenzhen in Guang­dong Province are the top four gen­er­ally rec­og­nized first­tier Chi­nese cities, a ris­ing num­ber of sec­ond- and third-tier cities are be­com­ing more at­trac­tive to for­eign­ers as well.

Ac­cord­ing to the an­nual Amaz­ing China – The Most At­trac­tive Chi­nese Cities for For­eign­ers sur­vey that has been car­ried out by the State Ad­min­is­tra­tion of For­eign Ex­perts Af­fairs since 2010, while the four gen­er­ally rec­og­nized first-tier Chi­nese cities have re­mained among the top 10, Guangzhou and Shenzhen have been con­stantly chal­lenged by smaller cities such as Hangzhou, Qing­dao in Shan­dong Province and Suzhou in Jiangsu Province. In ad­di­tion to these, more and more sec­ond- and third-tier cities con­tinue to pop up on the list.

While defin­ing which tier a city is in can be gen­er­ally vague as the de­vel­op­ment of econ­omy and pop­u­la­tion growth are con­stantly chang­ing, a com­mon recog­ni­tion is that Bei­jing, Shang­hai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen be­long to the first tier, while a few east­ern coastal cities such as Hangzhou and Nan­jing in Jiangsu Province are placed into the sec­ond tier.

Small city ap­peal

“As a univer­sity teacher, the main draw is that the salary is more or less the same in smaller cities as it is in big­ger ones,” Claret said. “But the costs are a lot lower, so I can live with­out wor­ry­ing about too much about money I earn and spend.”

Claret re­ceived a mas­ter’s de­gree in eco­nom­ics back in France and after work­ing for an NGO in Malaysia, he came to China.

Claret is now teach­ing French at a univer­sity in Yancheng where there was a recorded per­ma­nent res­i­dent pop­u­la­tion of about 7.24 mil­lion at the end of 2017, ac­cord­ing to the sta­tis­tics on the city govern­ment’s of­fi­cial web­site.

Liv­ing even fur­ther away from the more eco­nom­i­cally de­vel­oped ar­eas of China is Miriam Follin from Swe­den, who after study­ing and liv­ing at Fu­dan Univer­sity in Shang­hai for one and a half years, moved to Qing­hai Province a year ago.

Hav­ing also vis­ited cities like Bei­jing, Chengdu in Sichuan Province and Xi’an in Shaanxi Province, Follin said that she felt like ru­ral ar­eas are more suit­able for her, and even if she has to live in a city, how close it is to the coun­try­side is an im­por­tant fac­tor.

“Life in the city is of­ten stress­ful, loud and im­per­sonal,” she told Met­ro­pol­i­tan, ad­ding that she prefers a life where she can grow her own veg­eta­bles and have time to read, think and walk around.

“It’s also eas­ier to see more tra­di­tional life­styles and hand­i­crafts in the coun­try­side,” she said.

A place to call home

Be­sides a more re­laxed lifestyle, a feel­ing of be­ing at home also in­flu­ences many for­eign­ers when mak­ing the de­ci­sion.

“I have called Hangzhou home for the past four years now,” 21-year-old Ma­gunje told Met­ro­pol­i­tan.

Im­pressed by the Chi­nese busi­ness boom, the young man moved to China to gain his bach­e­lor’s de­gree in ac­count man­age­ment at Zhe­jiang Gong­shang Univer­sity.

“In most movies and even on the news, you see Chi­nese peo­ple talking about busi­ness, so that re­ally gave me the boost to come,” he said.

While liv­ing in Hangzhou, the cap­i­tal city of Zhe­jiang, was by chance, it was Ma­gunje’s own de­ci­sion to con­tinue liv­ing there after grad­u­a­tion.

“There was this re­sem­blance of the small city I come from called Nel­spruit,” he ex­plained.

As a per­son who loves trav­el­ing, Ma­gunje has vis­ited a few other places in China in­clud­ing Shang­hai. Even though he re­al­ized he might have more op­por­tu­ni­ties in Shang­hai, Ma­gunje found it was hard for him to feel at home when he tried to re­lo­cate there, even though it was only an hour away.

Fa­bien Scouarnec has worked both in Shang­hai and in smaller cities. Among all the places he has lived, Kunming, the “city of eter­nal spring” in Yun­nan Province, at­tracted him the most.

“I pre­fer rel­a­tively small cities in the moun­tains or close to the sea,” said Scouarnec who is from the French vil­lage of Bre­ton, at­tribut­ing his pref­er­ence to where he was brought up.

“Chi­nese ‘small cities’ are some­times big­ger than the big­gest French city,” he added.

Tal­ent needed

Re­cently, lo­cal gov­ern­ments have been com­pet­ing with each other to at­tract for­eign tal­ent by cre­at­ing fa­vor­able poli­cies, sim­pli­fy­ing the process of get­ting a visa and pro­vid­ing eco­nomic

sup­port and English­language friendly en­vi­ron­ments.

Ear­lier this month, the Bei­jing govern­ment in­tro­duced poli­cies that en­cour­age for­eign in­vest­ments and al­low qual­i­fied ex­pats to pur­chase houses and cars.

Two months ago, ac­cord­ing to a re­port from the Hangzhou-based Qian­jiang Evening News, the Hangzhou govern­ment launched a se­ries of new poli­cies to at­tract for­eign tal­ent.

Also, in March 2017, the Sichuan pro­vin­cial govern­ment im­ple­mented the “Thou­sand Peo­ple Plan” that in­cludes 12 fa­vored poli­cies to in­tro­duce for­eign tal­ent. And such poli­cies do take ef­fect. Šar nas Nastys, 26, comes from Lithua­nia and cur­rently works in a busi­ness con­sult­ing com­pany in Hangzhou.

He told Met­ro­pol­i­tan that as Hangzhou is quickly de­vel­op­ing into an in­ter­na­tional hub, for­eign­ers can re­ceive a lot more sup­port from the lo­cal govern­ment than many other Chi­nese cities.

“Us­ing the new poli­cies, we have re­ceived sub­si­dies to move into a big­ger, bet­ter of­fice. Also, as our com­pany’s strength lies in com­bin­ing the best traits of both Chi­nese and Western cul­tures, we need a lot of high-qual­ity tal­ent. The new poli­cies al­low us to re­cruit with more ef­fi­ciency and ease,” Nastys said.

“China is be­com­ing more and more open in both pol­icy at the na­tional level and in the need for de­vel­op­ment,” Eric Liu, a for­eign HR worker at Re­cruit­ment Con­sul­tant, told Met­ro­pol­i­tan.

How­ever, he added that while the en­vi­ron­ment for all for­eign­ers is be­com­ing friend­lier, it is the top tal­ent who are most cov­eted by all lo­cal gov­ern­ments.

Room for im­prove­ment

Nastys is sat­is­fied with his cur­rent life in Hangzhou.

As a per­son who is con­cerned most about qual­ity of life and op­por­tu­ni­ties for work, he thinks Hangzhou is able to pro­vide all of that and more. Yet, he still hopes the city can bet­ter the traf­fic sit­u­a­tion.

Wil­liams plans to move to Bei­jing be­cause he thinks the cap­i­tal has a big­ger cre­ative com­mu­nity, mak­ing it a bet­ter place for him to fit in.

Claret said he is not against the idea of liv­ing in a big­ger city ei­ther as long as he is of­fered a job with a good univer­sity and pro­vided ease in daily ser­vices.

“For me, the most im­por­tant thing is to have English-speak­ing doc­tors be­cause I con­sider health im­por­tant, and Chi­nese med­i­cal vo­cab­u­lary is dif­fi­cult,” he told Met­ro­pol­i­tan.

Hav­ing worked as re­cruiter for for­eign­ers as well as a ca­reer con­sul­tant for for­eign­ers for 10 years, Liu said that en­vi­ron­ment, salary and cul­ture are the three most im­por­tant fac­tors for for­eign­ers when choos­ing which city in China to live in.

“Bei­jing, Shang­hai and Guangzhou have their ob­vi­ous mer­its such as govern­ment pol­icy, busi­ness op­por­tu­nity, in­ter­na­tional trans­porta­tion, life, schools, etc. How­ever, sec­ond-tier cities have be­come more at­trac­tive over the past few years, es­pe­cially cities with large tech com­pany groups, like Hangzhou with Alibaba and Qing­dao with Haier,” he ex­plained.

Li Yi­wen, who is in charge of Amaz­ing China – The Most At­trac­tive Chi­nese Cities for For­eign­ers, has a sim­i­lar opin­ion.

She said, ac­cord­ing to their sur­vey, job op­por­tu­ni­ties, prospects of eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment and the open­ing up of poli­cies are the three fac­tors ex­pats are most con­cerned about in China, while en­vi­ron­men­tal fac­tors are also re­lated to how ap­peal­ing a city is to for­eign­ers.

“Convenience in life, his­tor­i­cal cul­ture and an eco-friendly en­vi­ron­ment all play a role when for­eign­ers choose which city to live in,” she said.

Photo: Cour­tesy of Daniel Ma­gunje

Daniel Ma­gunje from South Africa on a street in Hangzhou, Zhe­jiang Province.

Page Ed­i­tor: li­u­meng@glob­al­times.com.cn

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