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Beijing and Shangha


Beijing and Shanghai are two of the most important cities in the People’s Republic of China, with Beijing being the national capital and Shanghai being the largest city in the world. Our task in this assignment is to compare the two cities and see how much they differ from each other.

Before we begin to elaborate on the points, we hypothesize that the fact that Shanghai and Beijing are part of the same country, and being business and economic hubs, the population in these cities will be diverse, leading to several similarities. While the numbers and figures might differ, it is our belief that Shanghai and Beijing will be quite similar.

Firstly, we compare the population demographics of the two cities.

Population demographics

Population-wise, Shanghai is the largest city in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the largest proper city in the world. As per the 2010 census, Shanghai’s population is over 23 million, as opposed to Beijing’s figure of 19,612,368. Beijing is, as of 2010, the 26th most populated city in PRC and has a population density of 1,200/km2 (as opposed to Shanghai’s population density of 3,600/km2).


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Shanghai has had an average population growth rate of 3.75% per annum as compared to Beijing’s population growth rate of almost 4.45% per annum from 2000 to 2010.  This is completely attributed to changes in municipal boundaries of the city and inward migrants, as the natural growth rate (births-deaths) in both cities has been negative since long. Around 89.3% of Shanghai’s population is urban while the remaining 10.7% is rural. These figures are 84.3% for urban areas and 15.81% in the rural areas in Beijing.

In 2010, life expectancy of Shanghai residents was estimated to be around 82.13 years which is the highest in China and one of the highest in the world. Since the life expectancy is high, and mortality and fertility rates are low, Shanghai’s population is an aging one with over 22.54% people being over 60 years of age and only 8.3% being under 14. Beijing is in a slightly better position with 11.12% of the population being over 65 and 9.96% being younger than 14. (Olivier, 2012)

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We can easily see that both cities are very similar in this respect, though Shanghai is a few steps ahead of Beijing. Both have negative natural population growth and the minor increase in population can be attributed to influx of migrants. A vast majority of the citizens are Han Chinese and life expectancy is relatively high leading to an aging population. Next, we study the economic structure of the cities.

Economic structure

Shanghai is the commercial and financial center of mainland China and is the 5th biggest financial center in the world (Global Financial Centres Index, 2011). In the end of 2009, Shanghai had 787 financial institutions and the Shanghai Stock Exchange had the third highest trading volume and the sixth highest capitalization of listed companies. Since 1992, Shanghai’s economic growth has been in double digits every year (except during the 2008-09 recession). In 2011, Shanghai’s total GDP was equivalent to US$297 billion and the per capita GDP was US$12,784. (Neville, 2012)

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The largest service sector industries in 2011 were financial services, retail and real estate. Manufacturing sector accounted for 39.9% of the total GDP and agricultural sector a mere 0.7%. Shanghai boasts of the world’s busiest container port and aims to be an international shipping center soon. Heavy industries account for almost 78% of Shanghai’s gross industrial output, with shipping, steel and automotive manufacturing being the most important ones.

Beijing’s economy too follows a similar pattern with tertiary industry (including finance) accounting for 73.2% of its GDP. In fact, financial industry contributes nearly 13.8% of Beijing’s GDP, the highest of any Chinese city, with over 751 financial organizations and a revenue of 128.6 billion RMB (almost 11.6% of total financial industry revenue of China). Beijing also boasts of 41 Fortune 500 companies (second highest in the world after Tokyo) and over 100 of China’s largest companies.  (Ellis, 2010) In 2010, Beijing’s GDP was 1.37 trillion RMB, and per capita GDP was 78,194 RMB. Real estate and automobile sectors were strong just like in Shanghai. Beijing is also popular for innovative start-up companies and entrepreneurship firms, which have been back up by both Chinese and foreign venture capital companies.

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As we can see, financial services are the major industry in both cities, as are manufacturing, real estate and automobiles. Next, we move to the socio-political culture.

Socio-political culture

In both Shanghai and Beijing, the Communist Party of China (CPC) controls the Municipal government. The local CPC collects taxes, issues administrative orders, manages the economy and directs the Municipal People’s Congress to make policy decisions. Both cities have a dual party government, in which the Communist Party of China Municipal Committee Secretary outranks the Mayor. Officials of the Shanghai administration form the “Shanghai clique”, a powerful part of the national government, who often participates in personnel appointments and policy decisions. Bejing, being China’s capital city, is home to all important national government and political institutions. The environmental issues for the cities are studied next.

Environmental stress issues

Being one of the most populated cities in the world and also a highly developed one, Shanghai has a high level of air pollution, but still it is low as compared to other Chinese cities. However, the government is taking many environmental protection measures, including incentives for transportation companies that invest in LPG buses and taxis. Almost all factories in Shanghai have been moved to the outskirts of the city or to neighboring provinces and consequently, since 1990s, the air quality in Shanghai has been steadily improving. In addition, the government has also invested US$ 1 billion to clean up the Suzhou creek that flows through the middle of the Shanghai.

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In Beijing, on the other hand, most of the air pollution and dust can be attributed to the neighboring provinces of Shandong and Tianjin due to the south/southeasterly wind. Schemes accounting for spends of almost US$ 17 billion were implemented for the improvement of air quality prior to the 2008 Summer Olympics, like limiting drivers to odd or even days to reduce traffic and opening up subways to discourage people from using taxis. Post the Olympics, Beijing government has put in place other restrictions like restricting use of a car to six days a week, increase of parking fees during rush hours, etc. Beijing was the first city in China to ban “yellow label” high emission vehicles from use and require the Chinese equivalent of the Euro 4 standard. Beijing also has one of the world’s largest fleets of natural gas buses comprising of 3800 buses. Cloud-seeding measures are often uses to clear the air of pollution and dust by inducing rain showers before large events. Despite all this, actual pollution level in Beijing is still high and there have been instances when pollution was “beyond measurable levels” and people were advised to stay indoors due to thick smog. We will now study the culture of Shanghai and Beijing and compare it.

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Most of Shanghai’s population speaks Wu Chinese or Shanghainese (a local dialect of Wu Chinese). However, migrants often cannot speak the native language and instead communicate in Mandarin, which is the official national language. Most people in urban Beijing speak the Beijing dialect of Mandarin, while people in rural Beijing municipality speak their own local dialects.

Shanghai is China’s origin city for literature, cinema and theater. Shanghai is currently the center of Chinese film making industry. To Beijing, on the other hand, goes the credit for one of the highest achievements of Chinese culture, the Beijing or Peking opera. The “Shanghai School” is known for its contribution to art and adding a modern touch to tradition Chinese style of painting. In the realm of fashion, Shanghai is said to have modernized the traditional “Machurian qipao” (the traditional dress) into the cheongsam, a more westernized version of the dress. Beijing is known for different kinds of art, like the cloisonné metalworking technique, a traditional Beijing art specialty that is quite famous as a Chinese form of art. Famous cultural landmarks like the Thirteen Tombs of the Ming Dynasty, the archeological Peking man site and sections of the Great Wall of China are places of historical and archeological interest in Beijing. Next, we look at similarities in the religions of both cities.

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The Chinese constitution grants its people the freedom to practice the religion of their choice. This has led to great diversity of religion and both Shanghai and Beijing have a rich blend of religions ranging from Taoism to Buddhism (Beijing is known for the Lama Temple). There are also followers of Islam (the Shanghai Muslim Association is world renowned), Christianity (Shanghai has the largest Catholic percentage of all cities in Mainland China), Confucianism (Beijing has the world’s second largest Confucian temple – the Kong Miao), Mahayana Buddhism and Jewism. Daoism is the only religion that has originated in China and followers of this religion are also found in both cities. We now compare the infrastructure (the education system, the road and transport system) of the two cities.


Shanghai provides its citizens with mandatory 9-year education and has one of the best education systems in China. Only 2.74% of Shanghai’s population over the age of 15 is illiterate, and 22% have college, 21% high school, 36.5% middle school education. (as per Shanghai’s 2010 census). The literacy rate in Beijing is comparatively lower at 90.6%. Shanghai has over 930 kindergartens, 1200 primary and 850 middle schools and is also a center for higher education with over 30 universities and colleges and a 2010 study found that public schools in Shanghai have the highest educational quality in the world. Beijing, being the capital city, has the highest concentration of higher education institutes and boasts of over 89 colleges and universities, 680 secondary schools, 61 vocational schools and 38 technical schools (in 2011).  (Fairlink Exhibition Services Ltd., 2012)

Shanghai also has an extensive public transportation system including metros, buses and taxis. The Shanghai metro has 12 lines and is the longest network in the world. With over 1000 bus lines, the city also has the world’s most extensive network of urban bus routes. The road network is also extensive and several of China’s major highways pass through Shanghai. Private car ownership is high and Shanghai is also well connected by railroad and also has separate domestic and international airports and is one of the leading air transport gateways in Asia.

Beijing, being the capital city, is a major transportation hub and is a center of national highways, railways, expressways, and railway network. Beijing also boasts of the Beijing Capital International Airport, which is the second busiest airport in the world by passenger traffic and the busiest in Asia. The Beijing subway has 14 lines and another 21 are to be added by 2020. Almost 700 bus routes are operational in Beijing and taxis are also easily available. Both cities are a terminal for Beijing-Shanghai high-speed railway, China’s most important high-speed rail line.

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Policy implications for a better future

Both cities have initiated several policies, a few of which we have already considered like the motor vehicle usage restriction and the auctioning of license plate numbers for registration of new vehicles. This policy has been successful in bringing down pollution levels and traffic jams, and also in slowing down rate of increase of personal use vehicles.

China also has a very stringent one-child policy and most people who have more than one child have to pay heavy fines (one-fifth of their annual income) or lose access to public services like education and health care. This policy was introduced more than 30 years ago and is adversely affecting the sex ratio as many couples prefer male offspring to females. The one-child policy, if continued, will see a drastic fall in the working population as already a majority of the population is over 60 years and this will harm China’s productivity. First Shanghai, and now Beijing, is considering the adoption of the two-child policy within the next 5 years and has already loosened the rules for parents who themselves were single children and for mothers above age 28 or those who wait 4-5 years before having a second child.

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China, which used to be a communist nation, where equality of all was preached, has over the years seen a huge divide amongst the rich and the poor and this divide has grown by 13 times over 20 years. For every Ferrari, there are 100 uneducated children in China.  (Ellis, 2012) The capitalist bent in China’s policies seems to be widening the rift amongst the rich and the poor.

We conclude with a table that summarizes the findings of our study and by stating that our hypothesis was indeed correct. Shanghai and Beijing are similar cities and while it can be said that Shanghai is more advanced that Beijing, Beijing is slowly but surely following suit.

Comparative table for Shanghai and Beijing

  Shanghai Beijing
Total Population 23,019,148 (2010) 19,612,368 (2010)
Population Density 3,600/km2 1,200/km2
Total GDP US$ 297 billion (11th highest in the world) US$ 247.7 billion (13th highest in the world)
Per capita GDP US$ 12,784 (highest in the world) US$ 12,447 (3rd highest in the world)
GDP growth rate 8.2% 8.1%
Government type Municipality Municipality
Largest industry Financial Services Financial Services
Prevalent language Wu Chinese, or local Mandarin dialect Local Mandarin dialect
Religion Buddhism, Confucian, Islam, Christianity, Jewism, Taoism, Mahayana Buddhism Buddhism, Confucian, Islam, Christianity, Jewism, Taoism, Daoism
Literacy rate 97.26% 90.6%



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