May 2018

China City Tiers - An Overview

If you've ever visited China or researched the Chinese market, you will probably have heard of the concept of "China city tiers".

Brought about by the rapid growth of Chinese cities over the last 20 years, labelling a city as "1st Tier" or "2nd Tier" became a convenient way to quickly describe its relative level of development.

This article introduces and provides maps for each of the China city tiers and identifies which tier 338 different Mainland China cities are ranked under.

What are China City Tiers?

So common is the use of "China city tiers" terminology that you could be easily mistaken into believing that the rankings are an official government ranking system.

This is not the case though, the city tiers ranking system has come about in a more organic way than that.

As beautifully illustrated in this South China Morning Post piece, Chinese cities were originally grouped into 4 tiers, however a 2017 report from YiCai Global introduced a new methodology for ranking which caught many people's attention.

In this report 6 different tiers were defined, including for the first time "New 1st Tier Cities" - a tier created to reflect the rapid urban development of 15 "up and coming" cities.

We have used the tiers defined, and cities listed, in YiCai's study as the basis for creating this article.

Map of China City Tiers

This map shows where each of the cities listed in the China city tiers system are located.

  • It illustrates a clear difference between the highly-populated fairly-developed east of the country and the relatively sparsely-populated underdeveloped west
  • This is similar to the Heihe-Tengchong line which identifies 94% of China's population living in the east

Each point represents a Chinese city with darker shades representing larger cities. You can identify the different ranks based on the below color code:

1st Tier Cities  |   New 1st Tier Cities  |   2nd Tier Cities  |   3rd Tier Cities  |   4th Tier Cities  |   5th Tier Cities


Which Chinese Cities are in Which City Tiers?

Now we've explained a little about the China city tiers system you probably want to find out which cities are categorized as which tiers, but before we dive in here are a few things to take note of:

County-level Cities 

One thing to be aware of is that not all Chinese cities are included in this list and this is mainly because there are many "county-level cities" in China which although named "cities" are in fact usually under the administration of a nearby "prefecture-level" city.

Some more well-known examples include Yiwu (part of Jinhua), Rui'an (part of Wenzhou) and Kunshan (part of Suzhou).

Provincial Capitals

Each province of China has a capital city, so to make these easier to identify we have marked them with this logo:

Searching for a City?

There are a lot of cities listed here, so to search for a specific city try hitting CTRL-F.


1st Tier China Cities

China's premier cities, these 4 stand heads above the competition and include some of the country's most famous districts.

"New" 1st Tier China Cities

In 2017 Yicai Global's report concluded that 15 Chinese cities are now emerging as new 1st tier cities and created this new label to identify them.

  • These cities are located in 10 different provinces in addition to the 2 municipalities of Tianjin & Chongqing
  • Of the 15 "New" 1st Tier Cities, 10 are provincial capitals
  • Includes a cluster of 5 cities each located near to Shanghai (Hangzhou, Nanjing, Ningbo, Suzhou and Wuxi)
  • The inclusion of Dongguan in this tier raised some eyebrows!
  1. Changsha (长沙, Hunan )
  2. Chengdu (成都, Sichuan )
  3. Chongqing (重庆, Chongqing Municipality )
  4. Dongguan (东莞, Guangdong)
  5. Hangzhou (杭州, Zhejiang )
  6. Nanjing (南京, Jiangsu )
  7. Ningbo (宁波, Zhejiang)
  8. Qingdao (青岛, Shandong)
  9. Shenyang (沈阳, Liaoning )
  10. Suzhou (苏州, Jiangsu)
  11. Tianjin (天津, Tianjin Municipality )
  12. Wuhan (武汉, Hubei )
  13. Wuxi (无锡, Jiangsu)
  14. Xi'an (西安, Shaanxi )
  15. Zhengzhou (郑州, Henan )

2nd Tier China Cities

  • There are thirty 2nd Tier China cities located in 18 different provinces
  • Includes 13 provincial capitals from Harbin in the north to Nanning in the south
  • Urumqi, provincial capital of Xinjiang province, is the only city above Tier 5 level in China's far west
  1. Baoding (保定, Hebei)
  2. Changchun (长春, Jilin )
  3. Changzhou (常州, Jiangsu)
  4. Dalian (大连, Liaoning)
  5. Foshan (佛山, Guangdong)
  6. Fuzhou (福州, Fujian )
  7. Guiyang (贵阳, Guizhou )
  8. Harbin (哈尔滨, Heilongjiang )
  9. Hefei (合肥, Anhui)
  10. Huizhou (惠州, Guangdong)
  11. Jiaxing (嘉兴, Zhejiang)
  12. Jinan (济南, Shandong )
  13. Jinhua (金华, Zhejiang)
  14. Kunming (昆明, Yunnan )
  15. Lanzhou (兰州, Gansu )
  16. Nanchang (南昌, Jiangxi )
  17. Nanning (南宁, Guangxi )
  18. Nantong (南通, Jiangsu)
  19. Quanzhou (泉州, Fujian)
  20. Shaoxing (绍兴, Zhejiang)
  21. Shijiazhuang (石家庄, Hebei )
  22. Taiyuan (太原, Shanxi )
  23. Taizhou (台州, Zhejiang)
  24. Urumqi (乌鲁木齐, Xinjiang )
  25. Weifang (潍坊, Shandong)
  26. Wenzhou (温州, Zhejiang)
  27. Xiamen (厦门, Fujian)
  28. Xuzhou (徐州, Jiangsu)
  29. Yantai (烟台, Shandong)
  30. Zhongshan (中山, Guangdong)

3rd Tier China Cities

  • There are 70 cities in 23 provinces categorized as 3rd Tier
  • Includes the provincial capitals of Inner Mongolia (Hohhot), Ningxia (Yinchuan) and Qinghai (Xining)
  • An increasing number of cities at this tier are located in the inland provinces such as Anhui, Henan, Hubei, Hunan and Jiangxi

Anhui (1-5)

Fujian (6-8)

Guangdong (9-15)

Guangxi (16-17)

Hainan (19-20)

Hebei (21-26)

Heilongjiang (27)

Henan (28-34)

Hubei (35-38)

Hunan (39-43)

Inner Mongolia (44-45)

Jiangsu (46-52)

Jiangxi (53-56)

Jilin (57)

Liaoning (58)

Ningxia (59)

Qinghai (60)

Shaanxi (61)

Shandong (62-66)

Sichuan (67-68)

Yunnan (69)

Zhejiang (70)

4th Tier China Cities

  • 4th Tier cities can be found in different 20 provinces and there are 90 in total
  • Interestingly, there are two 4th tier cities which share the same English name "Yulin" - they are 玉林 in Guangxi province and 榆林 in Shaanxi province
  • The only tier without a provincial capital

Anhui (1-8)

Fujian (9-11)

Guangdong (12-18)

Guangxi (19-20)

Guizhou (21-25)

Hebei (26-28)

Heilongjiang (29-31)

Henan (32-38)

Hubei (39-42)

Hunan (43-48)

Inner Mongolia (49-52)

Jiangxi (53-54)

Jilin (55-57)

Liaoning (58-62)

Shaanxi (63-65)

Shandong (66-72)

Shanxi (73-76)

Sichuan (77-83)

Yunnan (84-87)

  • Dali (大理)
  • Honghe (红河)
  • Lijiang (丽江)
  • Yuxi (玉溪)

Zhejiang (88-90)

5th Tier China Cities

  • There are 129 5th Tier China cities located in 23 different provinces
  • Includes the provincial capital of Tibet, Lhasa
  • Also included is the distinctly political "prefecture-level city" of Sansha which has a tiny population of <2000 and administers islands of the South China Sea
  • Note that the city of Laiwu in Shandong province was re-classified as a district of Jinan in 2019

Anhui (1-2)

Gansu (3-15)

Guangdong (16)

Guangxi (17-25)

Guizhou (26-27)

Hainan (28-29)

Heilongjiang (30-37)

Henan (38-39)

Hubei (40-43)

Hunan (44-45)

Inner Mongolia (46-51)

  • Alxa (阿拉善)
  • Bayan Nur (巴彦淖尔)
  • Hinggan (兴安)
  • Ulanqab (乌兰察布)
  • Wuhai (乌海)
  • Xilin Gol (锡林郭勒)

Jiangxi (52-55)

Jilin (56-59)

Liaoning (60-65)

Ningxia (66-69)

Qinghai (70-76)

  • Golog (果洛)
  • Haibei (海北)
  • Haidong (海东)
  • Hainan (海南)
  • Haixi (海西)
  • Huangnan (黄南)
  • Yushu (玉树)

Shaanxi (77-81)

Shandong (82)

  • Laiwu (莱芜) [now a district of Jinan]

Shanxi (83-88)

Sichuan (89-99)

Tibet (100-106)

Xinjiang (107-119)

  • Aksu (阿克苏)
  • Altay (阿勒泰)
  • Bayingol (巴音郭楞)
  • Bortala (博尔塔拉)
  • Changji (昌吉)
  • Hotan (和田)
  • Ili (伊犁)
  • Karamay (克拉玛依)
  • Kaxgar (喀什)
  • Kizilsu (克孜勒苏)
  • Kumul (哈密)
  • Tacheng (塔城)
  • Turpan (吐鲁番)

Yunnan (120-129)

  • Baoshan (保山)
  • Chuxiong (楚雄)
  • Dehong (德宏)
  • Deqen (迪庆)
  • Lincang (临沧)
  • Nujiang (怒江)
  • Pu'er (普洱)
  • Wenshan (文山)
  • Xishuangbanna (西双版纳)
  • Zhaotong (昭通)

China City Tiers Heatmap

Based on the location and rank of each city included in China's tier system we have created this heatmap.

It clearly illustrates how the majority of major China cities are located in the Eastern coastal areas.

This heatmap was created by using the following weightings to cities from each rank:

  • 32 points - 1st Tier Cities
  • 16 points - New 1st Tier Cities
  • 8 points - 2nd Tier Cities
  • 4 points - 3rd Tier Cities
  • 2 points - 4th Tier Cities
  • 1 point - 5th Tier Cities


Verify a China Company.

✔ Order online today & get peace of mind

Further reading