10 Chinese Megacities to See Before You Die

That is the title of my latest Bloomberg column; I love Chinese megacities, don’t you?  Here is the first and most general point:

Chinese megacities are associated with the greatest migration in human history, namely the movement of several hundred million people from the countryside into urban areas. This has created over 100 cities with a population of more than one million. And while Westerners tend to see only the harmful effects of that transformation, it’s gone fairly smoothly. Wages and living standards have risen to create the biggest rapid boost in prosperity the world has seen, ever. Surely it’s worth taking a closer look at that.

Here is the most important point:

If you spend a few days in these places, they will stand out as quite distinct. To suggest otherwise is actually to repeat a common Western imperialist meme about the Chinese, namely that they “are all the same” in some underlying manner. Observing and understanding diversity is a skill, and the Chinese megacities are one of the best places for cultivating this capacity.

By the way, the cameo appearance in the opening bit is Dan Wang.


Another latest column? I read one yesterday. They are all the same anyway the same, anyway. The Chinese, I mean, not the columns. They live under a nightmarishly totalitarian regime who homogenized its people through censorship and violence.

The Chinese also practiced spreading Han genes widely; some scientists say that's why all Chinese look the same, it's those Han genes. The exceptions are rural and undeveloped areas in China where they have too much inbreeding.

Bonus trivia: surely the strength of Brazil must be in their interracial mulattoes? But sadly you don't hear a lot about them, as Whitey still controls Repúbluca Federativa do Brasil.

There is no racism in Brazil, all races are treatrd with equal respect and love. It is sad to see the masses of America terrorized by their puppetmastera and dividned into scared racial groups.

The Iguassu falls site of Gershwin's staircase, lapses in significance, to the Chopin Mazurka 47 at the Lapa Steps. The marionette mascara that Cowan weaves his webs tells a tall story. Is this great migration a transmigration? Timujin the great khan also traversed the old land, travailed for travels, deviating from such norms, of an android dreaming of electric hydroids.

There is no racism in Brazil?

Yes this is true, Brazil is a beacon to all of the nations of the wordl, we are bigger than the Roman empire at its highest, we stand as a moral example for the rest of the world to folliw.

"surely the strength of Brazil must be in their interracial mulattoes? But sadly you don’t hear a lot about them, as Whitey still controls Repúbluca Federativa do Brasil."
No, they do not. Brazil is a color-blind society, we have the biggest affirmative action system in Brazil. One of our anthems says:
"We cannot believe that in another age
Slaves there were in so noble a country.
Now the rosey glow of dawn
greets brothers, and not hostile tyrants.
We are all equal! In the future, united,
We will know how to take up
Our august banner that, pure,
glows triumphant from the altar of the fatherland!"

And possibly there's corruption too , but then thats there everywhere......


To give one the scale of growth, Shenzhen (the Silicon Valley of China) had a population of 70,000 in 1980 (30,000 according to some estimates). Today the population exceeds 18 million (including migrant workers). It's located in the south (in Guangdong Province (near Hong Kong)) and, hence, has a hot and humid climate. My Godson spent the summer there two years ago (working at a university). His description of life there is fascinating. By the way, I'd be careful not to eat the "chicken" sold by street vendors, although most do.

Cowen doesn't include Shenzhen on his list, probably because it doesn't have the tourist appeal of the cities he lists, but by most accounts it is the most important city in China (next to Beijing). It is, after all, the Silicon Valley of China.

> "...chicken..."

I hear there are not many cats, dogs, or pigeons in Chinese cities. There are, however, many on the menu!

Early worm gets the bird!

Is the earthworm edible? I think it's bitter. Some biologists think it came to North America from China.

Check out the incredible protein offered by insects below. You're welcome. (Mealworms, yum yum what a meal)

Food source / Protein per 100 gr / Fat per 100 gr:
Beef / 26.1 g / 11.7 g
Chicken / 21 g / 3 g
Salmon / 19.8 g / 6.3 g
Crickets / 20.5 g / 6.8 g
Waxworms / 14.1g / 24.9 g
Mealworms / 23.7g / 5.4g
Solder fly larvae / 17.5g / 14 g
Houseflies / 19.7g/ 1.9 g
Earthworms / 10.5 g / 1.6 g

"Western imperialist meme"

Guilt is a horrible thing to carry around.

True, and it contradicts a certain trendy trend in economic history research, my endnotes below.

Also this part strikes me as Stockholm Syndrome / Trying To Hard To Be a Panda Hugger: (TC) "Chinese megacities are associated with the greatest migration in human history" - no, if you divide it by 'percent of population' arguably some migration like the Irish potato famine crisis might be greater.


[1] Niall Ferguson, an arguably right-wing leaning white married to an Arab, highlights the progressive sides to Britain's oversight of its colonies, such as the introduction of efficient civil services and rule of law, as well as the abolition of slavery, in "Empire: The Rise and the Demise of the British World Order and the Lessons for Global Power" (New York: Basic Books, 2003)

[2] Deepak Lal, an Indian name who's surely no Brit Uncle Tom, argues that established empires merit praise (even the Muslim Turco-Mongol dynasty of Chagatai origin from Central Asia, the Mughal empire of 1526-1857? I wonder) as they normally bought lower levels of conflict and decreased the costs of long-distance trade (trade is good! Econ 101. Genghus Khan was a free trade genius; not sure about Tamerlane, who slaughtered about 5% of the world's population around the 14th century), in "In Praise of Empires: Globalization and Order" (Macmillan, 2004)

[3] The expansion of free trade due to empires has been cited to justify the Persian empire of 6th-5th C, b.c.e., as well as the 4th C, bce empire of Alex the Great of Macedonia, not to mention G. Khan's empire.

[4] Lance Davis and Robert Huttenback argue Britain was not as exploitative with its colonies as it could have been (3% tea tax? please) and the home country did not benefit as much as people assume, in "Mammon and the Pursuit of Empire" (1986)

Note to my endnote: Ben Franklin estimated the total tax paid to the UK in 1766 in Pennsylvania, and historians say he must have been exaggerating, was 12.5%. The 3% tea tax is from memory, not sure if that was the nominal rate. Compare to today's 20% or so Federal US tax rate.

The North American colonies were the lowest taxed civilisation in history, according to someone or other I read once. He gave some details which did make his case sound plausible. I wouldn't take seriously the propaganda of a politician like BF.

3% tea tax: was that before or after the reduction in tax that provoked the Boston Tea Party?

Yes, large and stable empires generally did receive a "trade bonus" from internal customs union. They may have other endemic problems, but they get that for free.

Tariffs are more fiscally important in the pre-modern era, especially as transport costs are much higher.

AFAIK, the general econ literature is that Britain didn't make a lot of money out of its colonies, with a few exceptions and mostly early on (pre-1820). Most of the British Imperial wealth is built on manufactures and banking, not raw materials.

Is this an endorsement of the ability of an autocratic regime to successfully employ a centrally-planned top-down "build it and they will come" strategy?

Tyler needs to signal to the Chinese government that his time as a critic/China pessimist is over, so he has unfettered access to the best dumpling shops in all of these mega cities.

>...' "build it and they will come..." '

Yes, and if they don't, make them go.

If they can build Three Gorges Dam, with hardly a wimper, then they can move people and whole cities around like chess, er, I mean go pieces.

The Chinese are mere paws for their Communist master. Their lives and well-being do not matter except as means to an end: world domination!!

If the Chinese government were only bent on world domination they would not have grown their domestic economy to mammoth size, with (by global standards) middle-income paychecks. And your insistence that Brazil is heaven on earth is a little tiresome; it's a beautiful country with many pleasant features and many problems. (Yes, I've been there.)

I loved the food in Chongqing. Second only to the food in Yunnan.

Chinese megacities make for some of the best eating in the world.

Is it worth visiting these cities if you're not a foodie? Much of Tyler's (and many others) travel recommendations appear to be based majorly around eating.

Yunnan, definitely, if you're a nature lover. It's got one world famous hippie destination, Dali. And you'll go through Kunming anyway because of the airport; spending a few days in the city is great. There's a cable car to a mountain with ancient caves for instance, right on the edge of town.

Chongqing has a nearby world heritage site. All the world heritage sites in China are worth visiting.

Yunnan has gorgeous nature, as does most of China if you know where to look.

China is tough purely as independent tourist for various reasons. I would not go again. It is interesting to visit friends or for business though. If you are interested in seeing new infrastructure of an incredible scale, massive ports and stuff like that it is pretty fascinating.

An interesting part for me was Xinjiang and surprisingly easier in some ways to manage.

I demand a listacle!

I love Chinese megacities, don’t you?

Who doesn't?

You don't need to be Strauss to see this as middle finger trolling to the assholes in the comment section that are constantly ragging on Tyler. I've never been to China myself, so I was unable to predict the Great Chinese Recession of 2016.

For the most part, cooking is a low value added occupation, so it's not surprising to find greater competition and variety in the developing world. For what it's worth, I had a blast eating and touring Syria in 2009, much better than my experience in Chengdu in 2008. Once you get past the uniqueness of the peppercorns and fermented bean pastes, I realized most dishes arise from a combinatorial explosion of possible ingredients and cooking techniques. Not really "diversity" if you ask me, rather desperate signaling for value added or purported health benefits. I wouldn't compare Yunnan with NYC or London for the reasons I mentioned, maybe to Shanghai or HK. I haven't travelled extensively to India, but my experience of China says that the uniqueness of the cuisine adjust per capita is really no different than anywhere else. That said, given their populations, a new taste is only a train ride away, so it is a good bang for your buck. I don't agree with Fuschia Dunlop, I find the food in Jiangsu and Zhejiang repulsive, something about the sugar and vinegar combinations. To each her own. My travel companion didn't find Syrian cuisine appealing, but I thought it was simply delightful, unlike anything I have ever tasted. I agree with Tyler, one should randomize because you never know what you will enjoy, but I don't think there is anything objectively standoutish about the regional Chinese cuisine I've experienced. Update your priors according to your experience, not other's.

Are large cities bad for your health? Not your cardio according to this Stanford study that studied how far peopled walked every day.


China came first while countries like the US and Canada ranked near bottom. This is smartphone data so more apples-to-apples comparison than, say, hipsters versus farmers.

"If you spend a few days in these places, they will stand out as quite distinct."

I have my doubts as cities in the USA don't really stand out that much anymore either. If you want to see distinct local culture and customs, the best place to visit is the countryside and small towns that have been forgotten by globalization.

I was struck by this the last time I was in Tokyo and all the chain restaurants, starbucks, and steel and cement buildings gave it that blah "this could be anywhere" look you find in most major cities around the world. And Tokyo is routinely praised as one of the most interesting cities in the world.

Also, I have not visited China outside of Tianjin, Beijing and Datong, but mid-size cities in Japan certainly do look a lot alike, and are pretty dull, especially in the day time. Something tells me Chinese cities won't be that different.

Tokyo is considered interesting because it is opaque, most western visitors understand almost no Japanese and Japanese writing is impenetrable to the uninitiated. So westerners wander around completely out of it in a way that could never happen in aby other first world city they have ever been to. Also Tokyo like every other Japanese city is both close enough to European, American, or Australian experience for the differences to scream out. This is the interestingness of feeling both really safe and really lost while being a tourist. When you are tired just find a policeman. This is actually an awesome experience, I remember Mexico City feeling like that when I was a kid in the early '80s, it was great.

While Tokyo is not as unlovely as Seoul or Taipei, it is close and it is an endless and expensive foreign slog once you get used to it. But then reading the kanji might make me jaded.

Tokyo is fun to visit because it's as futuristic as one can get in today's world as a normal tourist. High speed trains can take you any nearby city in less than an hour; intra-city trains are fast and easy to use; many train stations have underground malls rivaling major U.S. shopping centers; toilets are different; and so on. Seeing Shibuya at night is worth the trip alone.

Chengdu is remarkably pleasant to walk around in, as well as a dynamite place to eat.

Terrific observation -- makes me want to go. Was in HK recently and thought about going Shenzhen but skipped it because it wasn't clear that there really was anything to see -- but maybe i was wrong

I was introduced recently to the concept of the Bartleby List. It's like a Bucket List of things to do before you die, except you just list all the things you don't want to do, like climb Mt. Everest or visit 10 Chinese megacities, things to which your response is: "I prefer not to."

What does this mean: "In my admittedly subjective opinion, China along with India is one of the two best countries for food in the world." Is there a comma missing somewhere? Does Professor Cowen consider China and India to be one country? Is China 1 and India 2? Are China and India interchangeable in terms of which is 1 and which is 2? Or if China is 1, it means that India has be be 3 or below (I think we can rule out the vice-versa of this.)

Professor Cowen wrote this too quickly. And all opinions are "admittedly subjective".

(Sorry, I am in a pesky mood today -- all lighthearted).

"China along with India is one of the two best countries for food in the world."....
You may be over-analyzing.
I think he may have just meant : "China is one of the two best countries for food in the world , the other being India."
Writing of food, one can become commatose.

>Observing and understanding diversity is a skill

No. No, it absolutely is not.

I've never been a fan of baseball scheduling. A team plays a home series against another team and then travels to the other team the following week for a series at that team's home field. It's confusing: are this week's games a continuation of last week's games, or are this week's games altogether different? I'd rather this week's games stand on their own. Does Cowen have anything to do with baseball scheduling?

That despite your age, you still haven't figured out how baseball scheduling works?

Tourists are a strange breed. I call them terrorists. Anyway, yesterday was my long cycle ride day. When I reached the top of the island I was stopped by a couple who asked for directions to the marina. I obliged, and instructed them to take the first right on the road named for a former VP and then the next left, which would take them past the ruins of the home of the owner of the plantation that was once located there and a signer of the constitution. Confused, the terrorists asked the name of the former VP. I told them, but it was no help since they didn't recognize the name. Well, I said, the former VP is best known for having killed a former secretary of the treasury, who then fled to the very spot we stood in order to avoid a possible lynching for his deed. The terrorists, still confused, thanked me for directions to the marina, where, they told me, they would catch a boat to the island just to the north. A fine place I told them, and now owned, ironically, by a former secretary of the treasury, who, I assured them, hadn't been accused of killing anyone. Cowen travels all the way around the world for an experience when the best are in his back yard.

OK, so we have 10 apparently distinctive provincial megacities in China of considerable historic and culinary diversity. Beijing and Shanghai get sort of dissed, at least their cores, for being on the road to becoming boring Tokyos, although i find Tokyo to be enormously fascinating and diverse. But somehow the largest of all urban areas in China did not get mentioned if you measure it broadly by including its surrounding metropoli. That would be Guangzhou, the former Canton, whose broader metro area is now about 30 million, making it easily second in the world to Tokyo. But then if Tokyo is boring, well, Guangzhou is presumably already too hyper-mega to make the list of cool megacities in China, already well beyond Beijing and Shanghai (at least their flashy interiors) on the Road to Sameness.

whose broader metro area is now about 30 million, making it easily second in the world to Tokyo

Except for it being third after Jakarta

Sorry, Careless, but you are wrong.

So, greater Jakarta is about 30,200,000. If you read what I wrote I had metro Guangzhou at about that number, so not obviously behind Jakarta. As it is, I have just double checked, and if you look at the "Greater Pearl River metro area," of which Guangzhou is the center, its population is 44 million, well ahead of Jakarta.

Ah well, some of you might now be saying, does that not put it ahead of mighty Tokyo? No. The largest published number you will find for greater Tokyo is about 37 million, but about a decade ago I sat next to the Housing Minister of Tokyo at a dinner (among my hats is urban and regional economist, and I even wrote a paper about the Guangzhou situation). This worthy gentleman informed that the true population of greater Tokyo from his perspective was at that time 45 million. Now, Japanese population has been declining since then, but I am reasonably certain that the population of greater Tokyo has continued to rise, if not too rapidly. So, Tokyo is almost certainly still Number One.

Man, you must have tenure to post such idiocy under your own name

Honestly, Tokyo is in my opinion the best city in the world. But its very success makes it boring to a certain sort of person. It caters resolutely, emphatically, to middle class sensibilities -- to people who like comfort and security and convenience. To a certain sort of person who wants to see life in clashing colours with shouting cabbies and lots of bling, the quiet and orderliness that prevails throughout most of the city is almost unsettling. They were promised the bright lights, bling, and hubbub of Shibuya, but they got a few blocks out and saw only vast / throngs of people who shuffle through / miles and miles of subway tubes / silently and very fast.

As it were (haha).

What makes Tokyo so fascinating? If you love Japanese culture, you can get more of the traditional stuff in other places. You can't call Tokyo beautiful either.

It is definitely interesting to observe a city of 30 million plus at work and have everything run so smoothly, and the shopping and restaurants are incredible, so I get that. But those are kind of cold comforts, aren't they?

The best part of Tokyo to me is the diversity of neighborhoods, I'm particularly fond of Asakusa in the daytime and Ebisu at night. But really, what I get out of those places I can find in many other Japanese towns.

Tokyo isn't a great city because it's "fascinating" or exotic at all -- it's a great city because it's orderly and liveable and pleasant. I have a condo in Tokyo, and it's like returning to civilisation every time I get back there from Washington DC.

Exactly, civilization is supposed to be boring. Stumbling around Changsha or Chengdu half drunk at night one can get pretty creeped out when onw starts thinking about why it is "interesting"

Hygeine differnce betwen Hong Kong and Mainland is stunning. Anyone who likes eating in mainland is a freak and liar based on normal expectations of a Westerner. Please stop lying.

That is just crap, plenty of people love it genuinely, but then they are not scared of poisoning themselves find terrible disinterested terrible service authentic and so forth.

It actually has a lot to recommend it, however I have now had kidney failure and am immunosuppressed, not to mention knowing way too much about water chemistry. So I'd rather not thank you, but I miss earlier days.

I think Western (or English-speaking) tourism to China is hampered by the fact that the spellings of the proper names all keep changing. Peking, Nanking, Hangchow, Soochow, Chungking, Tsingtao, Canton, Port Arthur, and Mukden are all names with some level of resonance for Western audiences. Beijing, Nanjing, Hangzhou, Suzhou, Chongqing, Qingdao, Guangzhou, Dalian, and Shenyang -- not so much. Fukien is more familiar than Fujian. Shantung than Shandong. Even Szechuan, despite its bizarre romanization, is probably still more familiar to English-speakers than Sichuan (thanks to generations of Chinese-American restaurants more than anything else). Assigning new names and romanizations cut off the sort of continuity that would have allowed Chinese cities to assume in the Western mind the kind of distinct presence that Paris or Calais or Berlin or Munich have. In 20 or 30 years, perhaps it will have caught up. But it didn't have to lie off in the future.

It's the same with the Indian cities -- Bombay, Calcutta, Benares, and Madras are familiar names to the West. Mumbai, Kolkata, Varanasi, and Chennai are just random collections of syllables to anyone who does not have a particular interst in India. Though I suppose they have one advantage over the Chinese -- English-speakers can make a decent go at pronouncing them without having to learn pinyin pronunciation rules. And there are no tones. I am surprised, though, that Lucknow has kept the old spelling. I would have thought that Lucknow, of all places, would be keen to obscure its history during the Mutiny, at least from Western view.

Hush. Paralexicographical inflexibility is probably the sign of complacency, or something. Remember to signal your virtue and cosmopolitanism by using the very latest place names!

Chinese city names have not changed in my lifetime, heck I was still in elementary when newspapers and such stopped using Peking, Soochow and Canton. This was around the time of Deng Xiaoping's first visit to the US 35+ years ago. As to India, Bombay was stupid but the rest all make sense and I can't see them changing again.

Of course Lvov will always be Lemburg to some, and if I start talking about Pressburg, very few people, especially its inhabitants, will not be confused. And what about Leopoldville or Philippeville? I bet Annaba which was Bona before the French and Hippo before the Vandals.

I grew up with a lot of old books. As a young child, it was a minor revelation to me to discover that all the old places hadn't actually disappeared from modern maps -- they'd just been renamed.

Lemberg - lion mountain, not lion city. Since it is Leopolis in Greek, I'm not sure why -berg, but that is how it was spelled when some of my ancestors lived in that area.

I agree. Why is it that we're allowed to say "Rome" and "Munich" but we're required to say "Mumbai," "Kolkata," and "Beijing"? People interested in Chinese food, for example, might be more interested in visiting "Guangzhou" if they realized that it was actually "Canton." The Pinyin romanizations--adopted by Mao fiat during the 1950s as a way to suppress Chinese regionalism--are the nominal equivalent of the Mao tunic uniform that all Chinese of both sexes were required to wear during the Chairman's heyday. Why are we Westerners required to go along with them?

It's mostly political correctness, plus the desire to sound hip and current.

" I love Chinese megacities, don’t you? "

I really like Tyler's blog and respect his , but sometimes the virtue signalling cosmopolitanism becomes really, really, grating.

I'm comfortable, in my way with my own family. Better off than most, certainly. We work 9 to 6, pay the mortgage, save for rainy days, eat out once a month and go on holiday once a year. But the world of high 6-figure salaries, high academe, international conference circuits, the urban foodie lifestyle and the Cathedral of elite opinion formers.... it is as remote from me as my lifestyle is from an unemployed bricklayer in Merseyside.

When Tyler posts like this, a little bit of me suddenly feels utter sympathy with the "deplorables"; the exclusion, the condescension, the failing asabiyyah: the sense of being cheated somehow-somewhere by people perhaps only a little smarter or more advantaged. And following that an unfocused rage to just smash the entire life support system with the nearest tool to hand.

A little bit of me feels utter sympathy with black and brown people: the exclusion, the condescension, and the failing asabiyyah: the sense of being cheated somehow-somewhere by people perhaps only a little smarter or more advantaged. And following that an unfocused rage to just smash the entire life support system with the nearest tool to hand.

Can you understand your own injustice through other's injustice to you?

Hangzhou really should be on that list - so much beauty combined with so many things to do.

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