There’s virtually no one left on earth who doesn’t realize it by now, but the 21st century belongs to China. After centuries of economic and military domination, the western nations of North America and Europe now have to settle into a new, slightly uncomfortable reality where they are no longer in the driver’s seat, at least not in the same manner as they once were.
The economic rise of China – which ironically stems from the western world outsourcing virtually the entire world's manufacturing operations to the Middle Kingdom – has made its domestic matters global ones. If things go bad in China, economically speaking, those effects will be reverberated across the entire world within days. We’re living in an era were our global economies are so inexorably linked that the traditional political boundaries drawn up post-WW2, those based on ideology and sociocultural differences, have taken a backseat to the pursuit of profit. Hey, you can knock capitalism all you want, but thus far it seems to be the only thing that keeps humans from slashing each other to pieces.
As a consequence of China’s unprecedented rise, an entire new middle-class has emerged from a nation that just 3 generations ago was mostly rural farmers. As massive factories began to open up in cities a few decades back, at the beginning of the boom, people from rural areas left their homes to go work in these factories and make a better living wage. This urbanization created cities with extremely large populations, including some of the most populous cities on Earth. As time progressed and the general economic conditions across China improved, these cities became wealthier than anyone had ever anticipated. Sure, Hong Kong’s always been rich and Macau quickly became a billionaire’s paradise – but those cities operated under special economic conditions. Few expected mainland Chinese cities to become quite as prosperous as they have. Forget New York City, London, or Paris; if you want to visit the cities where the money that runs the world rests, look no further than these ones.
10 #10 Chengdu – 89.85 billion Yuan ($14.7 billion USD)
Chengdu is the capital of China’s Sichuan province in the southwest of the country. Established in 311 BC, Chengdu is an ancient city that has lived through multiple eras in Chinese history, from the Mongol invasion and subsequent empire to the establishment of the Ming, then Qing dynasty. With approximately 14,047,265 inhabitants Chengdu is – like many of China’s major cities – one of the most populous cities on Earth. Chengdu has become western China’s center for logistics and transportation, finance, as well as tech and IT. With a regional economy valued at 89.85 billion Yuan (approximately $14.7 billion USD), Chengdu is one of China’s most important cities.
9 #9 Hangzhou – 94.5 billion Yuan ($15.45 billion USD)
At the opposite end of the country, Hangzhou looms large with a population of 21.02 million people living in its metropolitan area. Since being opened up to trade in 1992, the city’s economy has exploded. The agricultural and textile industry are important to the economy of Hangzhou, but it’s largely known as a commercial and transportation hub for huge swaths of eastern China. The manufacturing industry, like in many of China’s large cities, plays a large role as well. Hangzhou is also renowned for its cultural attractions, including many ancient buildings and monuments and the West Lake, largely considered one of the most beautiful lakes in Asia. Hangzhou has a regional economy valued at 94.5 billion Yuan (approximately $15.45 billion USD).
8 #8 Wuhan – 97.852 billion Yuan ($16 billion USD)
Traditionally China’s powerful urban centers were along the borders or the coast, but Wuhan has risen up in recent years from central China to become an extremely important city in its own right. First settled in 1,500 BC, Wuhan is one of the oldest cities in China. Wuhan’s population of 10,220,000 is relatively small by Chinese standards, but the city punches well above its weight economically. Regarded as the key to central China, Wuhan’s economy is based primarily on finance, transportation, and information technology with a regional economy valued at 97.852 billion Yuan (approximately $16 billion USD). Wuhan has also attracted some of the most foreign investment in China, notably from the western world and from France in particular, where it is the source of 1/3 of all French investment into China.
7 #7 Guangzhou – 114.05 billion Yuan ($18.6 billion USD)
Guangzhou is the capital and largest city in China’s southern Guangdong province. With a regional economy valued at 114.05 billion Yuan (approximately $18.6 billion USD), Guangzhou has quickly developed as one of China’s key cities following the opening up of the economy in the 80s and 90s. Guangzhou is one of the biggest manufacturing hubs in China, which by default makes it one of the biggest manufacturing hubs in the world. Guangzhou has a population of 12.78 million, and, like many of China’s urban centers, is constantly growing due to an influx of rural citizens migrating to urban hubs.
6 #6 Suzhou – 133.103 billion Yuan ($21.75 billion USD)
Suzhou is a city in China’s southeastern Jiangsu province that is over 2,500 years old and has been a key part of Chinese history for just as long. At times Suzhou was one of the largest and most populous cities in history, and indeed was the largest non-capital city in the world prior to the Taiping Rebellion in 1860. Today, Suzhou has a population of 10,578,700 and a regional economy valued at 133.103 billion Yuan (approximately $21.75 billion USD). The economy is based primarily on the manufacturing industry, particularly electronics and textiles.
5 #5 Chongqing – 169.29 billion Yuan ($27.66 billion USD)
Chongqing is a city in southwest China, and is one of the five national central cities of China, a title designated by the controlling PRC party to indicate Chinese cities that lead the way for the rest of the nation. Under direct control of the PRC, Chongqing proper hosts a population of 4,513,137, but a much larger municipal population of 28,846,170. With an economy valued at 169.29 billion Yuan (approximately $27.66 billion USD), Chongqing is of strategic importance to the future of China’s growth. Chongqing is one of the largest production centers for automobiles in the world, and has been for years one of China’s fastest growing cities. At one point it’s believed 1,300 people were migrating to the city daily. Chongqing is also notable for producing more goods for domestic consumption compared to some if its peers, rather than for international buyers as is the norm.
4 #4 Shenzhen – 173.1 billion Yuan ($28.29 billion USD)
Shenzhen is one of China’s key cities located just north of Hong Kong in the southern province of Guangdong. With evidence of settlement going back 7,000 years, and with a population of 15 million, Shenzhen is an essential component of the Chinese economy. Its role as southern China’s most important financial industry, as well as key port activities and the home of many tech companies makes it indispensable for the overall future of the Chinese economy. Shenzhen is also one of the biggest destinations for foreign investment, with more than $30 billion USD being pumped into the city since 1979. The regional economy is valued at 173.1 billion Yuan (approximately $28.29 billion USD).
3 #3 Tianjin – 207.8 billion Yuan ($34 billion USD)
Another one of China’s 5 national central cities, Tianjin is situated in Northern China, where it is the coastal city. Tianjin has emerged in recent years as one of the hottest destinations of foreign investment in the country, thanks in large part to its exploding finance, international shipping and logistics, and information technology. With a population of 14,131,500, and an economy valued at an absolutely massive 207.8 billion Yuan (approximately $34 billion USD), Tianjin is setting itself up to be not only one of China’s key cities, but one of the most important cities on Earth.
2 #2 Beijing – 366.11 billion Yuan ($59.88 billion USD)
The national capital of the People’s Republic of China, Beijing is one of China’s cities that the entire world is familiar with. Beijing is China’s political and cultural center, and home to virtually all of China’s largest state-owned companies. With a population of 21,150,000, Beijing is home to many of the ruling government’s key leaders and operations, both past and present - the renowned Forbidden City, that housed the Chinese emperors of old, is situated in Beijing. Beijing’s economy is valued at an absolutely astounding 366.11 billion Yuan (approximately $59.88 billion USD). It is by a large margin one of the global economy’s most important hubs, and one of the most prosperous and developed cities in China.
1 #1 Shanghai – 410.95 billion Yuan ($67.16 billion USD)
Although it might be tempting to assume Beijing is the Chinese economy’s most important city, since it also doubles as the national capital, that would be a mistake. The specter of Shanghai looms large not only over all of China, but also over the entire world. Shanghai proper has a population of 24,000,000 (which doesn’t account for those living just outside the city) making it the most populous city in the entire world. It’s also the world’s busiest port city, and boasts an urban economy valued at an absolutely astounding 410.95 billion Yuan (approximately $67.16 billion USD). Shanghai has emerged in post-reform China as the nation’s economic leader, and its policies and practices have served as an example for China’s other rising cities since the influx of foreign investment into China began. Where Shanghai goes, the Chinese economy will follow.