Opinions, knowledge and resources from China Checkup's expert contributors

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 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.

  

 


Related Articles

List of Countries with Freight Trains from China
List of Countries with Freight Trains from China
In recent years freight trains from China have been capturing newspaper headlines by arriving in more and more countries. Perhaps there is no more striking example of this then when the first China to Spain cargo train returned to Yiwu having covered a world record 16,156-mile round trip in 2015. Re
Read More
China Phone Codes - An Introduction
China Phone Codes - An Introduction
With multiple international codes, hundreds of area codes and numbers of different lengths, making sense of China phone codes can be challenging. Determining if a Chinese phone number is a mobile or a landline, and knowing where in the country it is located can be a useful way to better understand w
Read More
Which Bodies Manage Chinese Lab Accreditation?
Which Bodies Manage Chinese Lab Accreditation?
Chinese lab accreditation is managed by different accreditation bodies depending on whether the laboratory is located in Mainland China, Hong Kong or Taiwan. When you are importing products from China, requesting test reports to demonstrate that the product meets necessary standards can often be cri
Read More


Also in Safer, Better Business in China

China ISO 45001 Certificate - An Introduction
China ISO 45001 Certificate - An Introduction

by Matt Slater June 14, 2019

Have you received a China ISO 45001 certificate and wondered what it is, if it is real and how to check it?

Replacing the previous standard OHSAS 18001 in 2018, this new international standard specifies the requirements for occupational health and safety.

The uptake of certification to this standard in China has been quick and many Chinese organizations are providing their clients with copies of their China ISO 45001 certificate. Learn more about it here.

Continue Reading

8 Most Useful China Map Websites
8 Most Useful China Map Websites

by Matt Slater May 21, 2019

Whether you are planning a trip to China, researching a specific location, or trying to figure out how bad the Beijing rush hour is, there are plenty of good reasons to use China map websites.

Although most international map websites cover China, these websites face various restrictions which mean they can't provide a service as in-depth as their Chinese counterparts, so it is a good idea to know your options.

In this article we introduce the 8 most useful China map websites, including both international services available in your language, and some impressive domestic websites only available in Chinese.

Continue Reading

Top 5 Cities for China to Europe Freight Trains
Top 5 Cities for China to Europe Freight Trains

by Matt Slater May 07, 2019

With the high cost of sending freight by air, and the slow speed of sea freight, Chinese exporters are increasingly utilizing China to Europe freight trains as a means of sending their produce west.

As might be expected, the majority of these trains depart from cities located far from China's coastline and her seaports, but which Chinese cities have the most rail shipments?

We took a look at the data and found that the top 5 cities for China to Europe freight trains are each provincial capitals with huge populations - with Chengdu in Sichuan province leading the way. 

Continue Reading