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China City Tiers - An Overview

by Matt Slater May 31, 2018

China City Tiers

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's "The Rising Lab" 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.

 

  1. Beijing (北京, Beijing Municipality , National Capital )
  2. Guangzhou (广州, Guangdong )
  3. Shanghai (上海, Shanghai Municipality )
  4. Shenzhen (深圳, Guangdong)

 

"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!

 


 

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

 


 

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

 


 

 

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

 


 

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

 


 

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

 




Matt Slater
Matt Slater

Author

Hi there, I'm Matt, the founder of China Checkup. Originally from the UK, I am now based in Brisbane, Australia.

Frustrated by the scarcity of concise, high-quality and timely information about Chinese companies, I setup China Checkup whilst living in Shanghai in 2013.

My team are proud that China Checkup's company verification reports have now helped thousands of clients from all corners of the world to do business in China more safely.

  

 


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