There’s no denying Shanghai’s status as an international city; however, people within China and abroad have a tendency to overhype the concrete expanse of the cosmopolitan metropolis. We get it – there’s some sweet bars and a unique skyline, but there’s a lot missing in the city that you can easily find in Guangdong’s capital, Guangzhou. Known as the ‘City of Five Goats,’ legend has it that ancient Guangzhou received the help of five gods, who rode down from the South China skies on different colored goats, and rescued the city from an ongoing drought. Pretty badass, right?
Below, we make our case for why Canton reigns supreme in comparison with the eastern municipality of Shanghai.
1. Dim Sum (Yum Cha)
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Putting xiaolongbao aside, Shanghai eats are best summed up with one word: meh. Meanwhile, Guangzhou’s dim sum game is as good as it gets, with the city recognized around the globe as the home of Cantonese cuisine. Whether you’re looking for juicy seafood and pork dumplings, flavorful buns, stuffed rice noodle rolls, or – our personal favorite – delicious hongmichang, Guangzhou has you covered, with dim sum restaurants located on virtually every major street in the city.
But the bill doesn’t stop there, though. With a sizeable proportion of the city’s residents coming from other parts of Guangdong, Chaoshan (Teochew) and Hakka restaurants are abundant in Guangzhou, offering mouthwatering regional specialties that are more than worthy of a try.
2. Cost of Living
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There’s something to be said for saving some kuai. An annual report by consulting firm Mercer ranked Shanghai as the sixth most expensive city in the world for expats while Guangzhou was listed No. 17. Cheaper rent, lower food costs and less expensive taxi fares can all be enjoyed in the Pearl River Delta’s main city.
3. Proximity to Hong Kong and Macao (and Shenzhen)
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Shanghai to Hong Kong: eight and a half hours by train. Guangzhou to Hong Kong: under an hour. Guangzhou is incredibly close to the vibrant cities of Hong Kong and Macao, each offering their own unique experiences as special administrative regions in China. We’ll take these two hot spots over Suzhou and Hangzhou, thank you very much. Also, a quick train ride from Guangzhou to Shenzhen can have you relaxing on the beach by midday.
4. Less Air Pollution
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Although nowhere near as severe as that in Beijing and neighboring Hebei province, air pollution in Shanghai is relatively worse, on average, than Guangzhou, according to data collected by the China National Environmental Monitoring Center. During the colder months, Shanghai is prone to issue pollution alerts from time to time. While Guangzhou is by no means unpolluted, it generally fares better than the eastern municipality.
5. ‘Little Africa’
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Yes, Shanghai has a significant expat population, but one thing Guangzhou has that you won’t find in the municipality – ‘Little Africa’ (also known as Xiaobei). A popular neighborhood among African traders, the area boasts an eclectic mix of shops and malls offering good value merchandise as well as some truly delicious halal food. It’s arguably unlike any other place in China, as you can hear an array of languages freely spoken in this migrant community. It’s worth noting that Xiaobei’s allure has faded to some degree over the years, as an economic slowdown and tough enforcement of immigration laws have affected the area.
6. Football Dominance
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When it comes to football, Guangzhou Evergrande has been dominant in China. Although Shanghai SIPG secured their first Chinese Super League title last season, the Guangzhou squad have won the league title in seven of the last eight years. According to transfermarkt, the South China team boasts 16 national team players, including Paulinho for Brazil and Ji-su Park for the South Korea. Guangzhou Evergrande players arguably show more love for the Middle Kingdom as well, with Brazilian striker Elkeson and England-born defender Tyias Browning becoming Chinese citizens, with the former already making appearances for the national team, while helping Evergrande in pursuit of their eighth Chinese Super League title.
7. Baiyun Mountain
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Shanghai has an unrivaled skyline (we’ll give them that), but it can be difficult to get a great view of the whole city unless you’re looking at drone shots on the ’gram. Guangzhou’s Baiyun Mountain, standing 427 meters tall and just a few miles north of the city center, provides some epic views of the cityscape that you won’t find anywhere else. Plus, the fresh air and greenery provide a nice break when you’re sick of the city, and the mountain is easy to reach via bus and metro. Oh, and we almost forgot to mention: Baiyun Mountain is home to China’s longest zip line!
8. Canton Fair
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This biannual trade fair (also known as the China Import and Export Fair) was established in 1957, and has been referred to as a “barometer of China’s foreign trade” by state-run media outlet Xinhua. Every spring and fall, people of all nationalities arrive in town to purchase new products from a wide range of sectors. While Shanghai has its fair share of fairs (no pun intended), Guangzhou hosts the ‘big kahuna’ of trade fairs in China, which helps provide a big economic boost to the city.
9. Hiking Trails
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Guangzhou is a prime location for those seeking an outdoor adventure. Unlike the embarrassingly flat terrain in which Shanghai is located, Guangzhou’s nearby mountains are typically a metro or bus ride away, and ripe with hiking trails perfect for breaking up your monotonous work-life routine. Before you argue that Guangzhou is too hot for hiking, the city’s outer areas boast some picture-perfect swimming holes to cool down under the bright South China sun. Nice, right?
10. Greater Bay Area
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While Shanghai is a municipality, a distinction given only to the biggest of Chinese cities, Guangzhou is considered a key player in China’s Greater Bay Area (GBA). This strategic project by the Central Government plans to turn nine Chinese cities and two special administrative regions into a ‘world-class city cluster,’ which rivals the likes of Silicon Valley and the Greater Tokyo Area. Guangzhou’s role as an international commerce and industrial powerhouse is expected to help the region gain greater influence and increase international competitiveness. While we certainly won’t discredit Shanghai’s role in boosting China’s overall GDP, Guangzhou and these South China cities will be a fixture in the nation’s future growth for decades to come.
READ MORE: 10 Reasons Shenzhen Is Better than Shanghai