China today boasts at least two of the world’s great cities on its mainland – Beijing and Shanghai. While these megacities, with populations well in excess of 20 million people, hog the limelight, so-called ‘second-tier’ cities, such as Tianjin provide some light relief from the hectic pace of life. Tianjin may be the largest city most people have never heard of; it is China’s 4th largest city, with over 15 million people spread across its main urban centres. It is the former port city for Beijing, providing the capital with its access to the sea and the trade routes across the world.
Any visitor to Beijing or Shanghai cannot have failed to notice the scale of those cities, and with that vast size comes an almost inevitable compromise in terms of traffic jams, higher prices and crowds of tourists and locals alike. Tianjin, by contrast, has a rather less frenetic pace of life. Inhabitants can take long, peaceful walks along the beautiful HaiHe river or mooch around the former European concession areas in WuDaDao. It is a big city, but with the feel of a compact and connected centre – the ‘downtown’ areas of shopping, sporting and leisure facilities all sit within a few square kilometres of the CBD. Strolling, jogging or cycling around the city is remarkably easy and affords a chance to see the historic and cultural highlights whilst never being too far from a restorative coffee shop or restaurant.
The city’s traditional heart is around the Drum Tower, just a few minutes’ walk from the school. Here, arts and crafts’ shops rub shoulders with antique dealers and restaurants offering local Tianjin delicacies. Further along the river, and again within easy reach of the school, lie the former concessions, sections of the city which in the 19th Century were annexed by the major world powers, including Britain, Germany, the US and Japan. All saw in Tianjin the chance to exploit Chinese trade, and as a result, the city has developed some historic areas which reflect the architecture and ambitions of their former occupiers. A day spent wandering around WuDaDao, or the recently restored Italian concession area makes for a fascinating journey into the city’s past. Venturing outside the city, Tianjin has its own stretch of the Great Wall, which makes for a scenic and peaceful two-hour hike: the crowded Wall sections around Beijing will seem a million mile away once you set foot on the Huangyaguan stretch of this UNESCO World Heritage site.
Like all China’s growing cities, Tianjin is far from rooted in the past, however. The pace of construction is astonishing, and the scale and ambition of the city’s leaders mean that dazzling new projects spring up each year. The city has an international airport, with flights connecting to Europe, Asia and Australasia. There are four vast train stations linking China’s fast-growing high-speed rail network with cities across the country. Beijing is just 33 minutes by bullet train, whilst Shanghai, once an overnight sleeper journey away, is now down to four hours by super-fast train. Around the city, a subway network of six lines serves the main downtown area with clean, frequent and remarkably cheap transport. Above ground, Tianjin’s fleet of buses and taxis have been joined in recent years by DiDi cars, an uber-equivalent which offers English-language services via its mobile app. Getting around, both within the city and from further afield, is fast, affordable and safe in Tianjin.
Moving to China may seem a daunting prospect. Language barriers appear insurmountable, and a reputation for poor air quality can be powerful deterrents, but Tianjin is a city working hard to overcome these stereotypes. The government has turned its full force to address the issues around air quality. Year-on-year reductions in harmful pollutants have made striking progress, with a 33% reduction in PM2.5 measurements in the past 12 months alone, according to Greenpeace East Asia, and further action has been promised over the coming years. In terms of language, the city is increasingly accessible to non-Chinese speakers, with mobile phone apps now so powerful that even the most monolingual individuals can make themselves understood.
The quality of life in Tianjin is excellent. Prices are lower than in the tier one cities; apartments are large and modern, fitted out to a very high specification; premium brand stores such as Apple, Zara, Nike and Prada proliferate in every mall; and western restaurants, bars and 5* hotel chains are all readily available. The arts and music scene, housed within the fantastic Tianjin Grand Theatre complex and other venues across the city, is vibrant and growing. Touring groups from across the world perform in Tianjin, and the proximity to Beijing means that even the most A-list tours of China are accessible.
In 2018, the Economist Intelligence Unit ranked Tianjin as China’s third most liveable city, ahead of the likes of Shanghai and Hangzhou. It is a city that provides an enviable standard of living, and as a base for living and exploring China and wider Asian destinations, it is hard to beat and we look forward to welcoming you to our home.