The vast majority of foreigners living in China choose one of the big three cities: Shanghai, Beijing and Hong Kong. These cities are the most international and cosmopolitan. The
y offer the most opportunities for working
and studying abroad and they provide the greatest number of amenities that foreigners want, like imported foods, top-notch education for kids, and western-standard hospitals and medical care. Not to mention the vibrant night life, rich entertainment and culture venues, and active social scene that can make life in China quite exciting.
Each of the three have their own pros and cons. If you have your choice between the three, which one should you go for? They all offer a wide variety of opportunities in business. They all have a lot to do both in daylight hours and when the sun goes down. They all offer great shopping, both upscale boutiques and dirt-cheap markets. Here are a few of their differences for you to consider:HONG KONG:
Hong Kong is the best choice if you
don't speak any Chinese and would prefer not to have to learn it, because Hong Kong is fully functional in English. Hong Kong has the weirdest food (Cantonese--they eat everything with four legs except the table, and quite a few things that have more than four legs! Is this a pro or a con? You decide!). Hong Kong's weather is much warmer year-round than the other two, though it also suffers through intense typhoons in July and August. If you plan to travel around other parts of Asia while living abroad, Hong Kong offers inexpensive flights to just about anywhere. And if you expect to have frequent visitors from home, Hong Kong does not require visas for stays less than 30 to 90 days for citizens of many different nations (Shanghai or Beijing, however, will require a Chinese visa with all the fees and paperwork that go with it.)SHANGHAI:
Shanghai, like Hong Kong, has that cosmopolitan vibe, that urban energy that comes with having so many modernistic skyscrapers piercing the sky. Like Hong Kong, its quite international, perhaps more so in many ways, and much of the focus of the city is on fashion. Shanghai likes to be on the cutting edge. The cost of living is much lower here than in Hong Kong. The weather lies somewhere in the middle between the other two: winters can get chilly but you'll very rarely see any snow, summers are hot and wet but typhoons don't shut down the city like they can in Hong Kong. Being more centrally located than the other two, Shanghai makes a better jumping off point for domestic travel, if you plan to go by train (depending, of course, on the part of the country you are most interested in touring). Shanghai's mandarin is not too far from standard and not too heavily accented, though you'll also have to deal with discerning when the locals are using the local Shanghai Hua dialect, which is quite different from Mandarin.BEIJING:
Beijing is the most "Chinese" of the big three. While the histories of Hong Kong and Shanghai focus on their European beginnings, Beijing is rich with thoroughly Chinese history. Beijing has also been the cheapest of the three, though in recent years it has started
to overtake Shanghai in some cost of living studies. Beijing is, of course, the place to be if you like politics or if your job involves government work (or if you just like the interesting parties that Embassies throw). On the other hand, the heavy hand of the communist government is most strongly felt here. Winters are harsh in Beijing, as are the spring-time dust storms. Pollution is still quite bad. And there seems to be quite a few locals here who line their pockets by ripping off foreigners. Not that you won't experience that in other cities as well, but it is just more prevalent here than in Shanghai or Hong Kong. Beijing also tends to have more traditional values, which may be important if you have a lifestyle that goes beyond the Chinese norms (i.e., homosexuality, or living with an unmarried partner, etc.). Of course, Beijing mandarin is quite standard, other than the extra nasal "r" sounds that they add unnecessarily to every other word. Typically, less English is spoken here than in the other two.
I hope this has got you thinking about which city might fit you best. If you have experience in one or more of these cities and have something to add that I didn't include, all comments are welcome and appreciated!