I recently wrote about the benefits of picking a city a bit off the beaten track in China for your year abroad, but promised to write something arguing the other point of view (and there are definitely advantages and disadvantages of each!). So here goes, five reasons why Beijing and Shanghai are the places to study abroad in China…


Due to the high investment into and populations of these two major cities, transport links from them to the rest of China (and abroad) are generally fantastic. There are high speed trains to all major cities nearby (great for weekend trips during term time) and flights all across Asia for adventures further afield during the vacations. If you are travelling from a smaller city you may need to take older, slower trains or travel via Beijing.

International Environment

As major cities for business and trade in China, Shanghai and Beijing have large expat communities and most locals can speak English. This makes initially settling into the culture much more comfortable, particularly if you have not previously studied much Mandarin. Additionally, if you are considering working in an international company in China, these are perfect cities for networking and work shadowing opportunities. And if you want to party, there are western style clubs all over the city – often with free drinks or entry to entice students in.

Famous Sights and Cultural Activities

Tying into the point about travel – you don’t even have to leave the city to visit top tourist sights! There are so many places to visit all around you (e.g. the Forbidden City, Bund, Museums, Temples) – admittedly some may seem a little done up for the tourists, but still give you a bright and cheerful insight into Chinese history and culture. Students are often busy with their studies and you may not have much time to travel at weekends – but having interesting sights on your doorstep means you just need to take an afternoon off. Also, many major cultural and social events are held in Beijing – whether it’s the National Day parade or a concert, there’s something on all the time.


The climate is incredibly varied across China – from the cold, wintery north where it gets to below -30 degrees in Winter to the tropical South where snow is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Beijing and Shanghai sit nicely in the middle of these two extremes – Beijing perhaps slightly cool in Winter and Shanghai a little warm and humid at times, but both relatively comfortable for us Brits to cope with. Trust me, this is important – I barely left my dorm in Harbin’s freezing winter and once my clothes literally froze while drying in my room

World Famous Universities

While studying abroad will look great on your CV wherever you go, there is that little bit more sparkle when you’ve studied at Peking University or Shanghai Jiaotong University – both of which are well-known internationally. These top universities offer fantastic quality education and lots of extracurricular/ scholarship opportunities due to high levels of government investment. Of course, university rankings should not be your main deciding point but finding out which ones are good for your chosen course can help you decide where you might learn the most.

I had an amazing year studying in Harbin and wouldn’t change it for the world, but would definitely admit that, particularly for short term programs, Beijing and Shanghai may suit some students better. Don’t forget to check out my article on the advantages of going somewhere a little further afield though!


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