China is a vast country with an enormous population of roughly 1.45 billion people! Around two thirds of the Chinese population live in cities, and China now has 145 cities with a population of over 1 million people. 21 of those cities have over 5 million people living there, and 10 cities in China have a staggering 10 million or more inhabitants. Out of these many enormous cities, there are four that stand out from the rest: Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen. These are China’s original ‘Tier 1’ cities, and the country’s four biggest. In this blog post, we outline why these four cities are the most popular destinations for teachers moving to China for the first time.

Let’s delve into what makes these cities special:


Located in the north, Beijing is China’s capital and easily most famous city. With a vibrant population of approximately 21.76 million people, this illustrious metropolis claims the distinguished title of China’s second-largest city, trailing only behind the bustling Shanghai. The city is scattered with globally famous sites such as The Forbidden City, The Great Wall and Tiananmen Square, causing Beijing to be by far the most popular Chinese city for tourists to visit. Despite being steeped in history, Beijing has a wonderful mix of both traditional Chinese and modern culture and has a much milder climate than its fellow counterparts. For more information on the enchantment of Beijing, please check out our Beijing City Guide. 


Gracing the central east coast is the magnificent metropolis of Shanghai, the biggest city in China. Known as the county’s financial hub, this city has exploded in size and population over recent decades. Currently, the population of Shanghai is estimated at 29.21 million, which is a drastic increase from the 5 million people who lived here in the 1950s. Due to this rapid development and population increase, Shanghai does have a much more modern feel than Beijing, with a vast array of skyscrapers and modern architecture covering the city. For a deeper glimpse into the captivating city that is Shanghai, we invite you to explore our Shanghai City Guide which promises to unravel the essence and grandeur of this extraordinary city.


Located in Guangdong Province in China’s south is Guangzhou, sometimes referred to as China’s most important city! Situated on the Pearl River, Guangzhou has a history of over 2,000 years and was a starting point of The Silk Road trading route which stretched across Eurasia. Given the city’s age, it has a very traditional Chinese feel, with conventional architecture still existing throughout parts. To this day, it is still one of China’s most important ports and trading hubs and is the country’s third-largest city with a population of 14.28 million people.

Top 15 Things to Do in Guangzhou


Located next to Guangzhou, also in Guangdong Province, is the city of Shenzhen. Known as China’s Silicon Valley, this city is China’s tech hub where the majority of the country’s leading tech firms base their headquarters. Partly due to the rise of technology, this city has experienced ridiculous growth over recent years with a current population of 13.07 million people, up from just 875,000 in the year 1990! Similar to Shanghai, Shenzhen shines as a beacon of modernity, distinguished by its contemporary architecture and a skyline dominated by sleek skyscrapers. This city has a similar subtropical climate to Guangzhou meaning it remains warm for large parts of the year.

Top 20 Things to Do in Shenzhen

Now, let’s take a look why these four cities are the most popular for teachers moving to China.

Number of Opportunities

One of the main reasons why the big four cities are the most popular for teachers is quite obvious: there’s more teaching opportunities there! Being the largest cities, with the biggest populations, means they have the greatest demand for teachers. Whether in International Schools, Private Schools, Kindergartens or Training Centres, there are typically more teaching opportunities within the big four than other cities in China. This is hugely beneficial for teachers because the likelihood of finding a school that matches their preferences (salary, benefits, work environment etc) is much higher. In addition to this, it means that should a teacher decide they want to change schools upon completing their contract, they’ll easily be able to find their next opportunity without having to move to a new location and start over again!

Amount of Expats

Not only is there a larger demand for teachers within the big four, but there’s also a demand for many other professions. As mentioned, Shanghai and Shenzhen are the financial and tech hubs of China respectively. Due to the greater number of opportunities, it makes sense that more expats will be living throughout these cities. From a social point of view, this means that teachers moving to one of the big four are likely to interact with more expats than if they were in a smaller city. The presence of expat communities within these cities facilitates an easier and swifter process of forming friendships for teachers, leading to an enriched social life.

More Foreigner Friendly

Largely in part to the higher number of expats living there, the big four cities are all deemed to be the most ‘foreigner friendly’ in China. Teachers who move to one of the big four can expect to find it easier to navigate around the city, whether on foot or by metro, due to more signs being in English. Also, whether it’s a taxi driver or a waiter in a restaurant, it’s more common to find locals who can speak English in the big four cities than elsewhere. 

Due to these cities being larger and more multicultural than others in China, teachers living there can typically find more things to do during their time off. Not only is there a great array of restaurants, cafes, bars and shops, but there are more sports clubs and leisure activities for teachers to enjoy. In addition, teachers will find that home comforts such as western food and brands are much easier to come by.

China can be viewed as a very different place to the west, with a uniquely different culture and challenging language barrier. However, there are an extensive number of cities in China where teachers can find fantastic opportunities and have an exciting, enjoyable experience. For teachers who are heading to China for the first time and are nervous about what to expect, choosing either Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou or Shenzhen as your destination may be a wise bet. You’re likely to find it easier to meet more expats, navigate around your new surroundings, and have a larger variety of teaching opportunities to choose from. If you are someone who wants to embrace the Chinese culture and language to its fullest, and have a more unique experience within the country, then there are many opportunities in China’s other cities to explore too!