Virtually nobody gets tired of comparing Beijing and Shanghai, myself included. There really is a dichotomy, with neither side (yes, “side’) having much appreciation or understanding for the other. When asked by people who have never been to China to compare the two cities, I usually sum it up by saying something like the following:
Shanghai is the business and finance city. It has a history of being China’s most international city and in many ways it still is. The people there are like New Yorkers/Parisians, which means they look down on pretty much everyone else.
Beijing is China’s government/power city. It’s polluted and dry. Its location is unexpected for Westerners in that it seems to have been situated more for defensive reasons than for commerce or livability. It is also China’s media and tech capital.
Five years ago, my China trips almost always meant me spending three days in Shanghai for every day in Beijing. But a few years ago, that ratio completely flipped and now I probably spend at least five times more time in Beijing than in Shanghai. My law firm does a lot of work for media and entertainment and technology companies and that work is often complicated and hands on. That work is mostly in Beijing and it typically requires more client meetings. Much of our Shanghai work involves manufacturing companies and for a variety of reasons, they tend to require a lot less hand-holding and face-to-face visits.
Anyway, I am writing about Beijing and Shanghai because I got an e-mail from Matt Schiavenza the other day regarding the redesign of his blog. And when I went to look at it (it looks great, BTW) I got hooked on his series of interviews with people living in different cities around the world. They are truly fascinating and, near as I can tell based on the cities I know best, quite insightful and accurate. I ended up getting quite enthralled and read them all.
The Beijing and Shanghai ones are both excellent. The Beijing interview is with Jeff Crosby, whom I do not know. The Shanghai interview is with John Pasden, who has been churning out great stuff on Chinese language (mostly) and culture (a bit) on his Sinosplice blog since 2002! If you want to get a better feel for Beijing and for Shanghai, I recommend you check out the two interviews and then let us know what you think. Both of the interviews and of the whole Beijing v. Shanghai thing.