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Kunming ranks fifth nationally in expat poll

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The Spring City landed on a list of the most desirable Chinese cities in the eyes of foreigners this week. A canvass of expats ranked Kunming squarely in the middle of a top-ten list headed by Shanghai.

The survey included only cities considered prefectural-level or larger and excluded the non-mainland metropolises of Hong Kong, Macau and Taipei. Kunming was ranked above Qingdao, Xiamen, Tianjin, Hangzhou and Nanjing as determined by respondents ranking such criteria as environment, job opportunities, schools and administrative policies.

Results of the opinion poll were compiled from expat-only responses gathered last year. According to a People's Daily article the poll:

... was conducted during September-December 2012. A total of 175,400 expats, including Nobel Laureates [sic], recipients of the Chinese Government Friendship Award and foreigners working in China [who] participated in the survey through both paper and online voting.

Beating out Kunming were Suzhou, Shenzhen, Beijing and Shanghai. Natural environment, a category where Kunming perhaps has a competitive advantage over its eastern brethren, did not carry enough weight to move the Spring City higher in voters' eyes. The top three cities all lost points when it came to environmental concerns.

Kunming was singled out for perceived deficiencies in both education and healthcare. Surprisingly, traffic in Yunnan's capital was not mentioned, possibly reflecting the severity of gridlock in other municipalities.

Despite shortcomings such as being labeled a backwater by many expats and Chinese, Yunnan's viability as an alternative to the densely populated east is growing. A recent Businessweek article chronicled the growing trend (requires proxy) of middle-class Chinese fed up with big city life. Many are pulling up roots and moving to Kunming, Dali and Lijiang, which they see as offering simpler and healthier living conditions.

Top image: Yereth Jansen
Bottom image: People's Daily

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I've been to all of the above cities except Tianjin, and I can only reason the expats surveyed aren't all that well traveled... because there is no way Kunming ranks above Qingdao, Xiamen, and Hangzhou if you factor in "job opportunities, schools and administrative policies." Once again, the mythical allure of the spring city bumps it up.

Yeah I think they must have got their numbers way wrong haha...
Was in Tianjin a few weeks ago...it's way ahead of Kunming in everything and a lot more expats than even Shenzhen.
You can even download an expat PDF for their TEDA district (just 1 district) explaining where the restaurants, bars, hospitals and schools are (everyone of them is international standards).
So I believe Kunming is growing and I definitely agree with the fact that more and more Chinese are coming here, but it probably ranks bottom of a top 10.
Unless you count all the Thai and Vietnamese in Kunming (which are also expats right?^^), then it all makes sense.

Having been told I HAD to take part in this survey (for the second year running) and guided towards choosing Kunming as top in all categories I can assure the results are meaningless. Even if you have travelled to many of the alternative cities (as I have) it's unlikely you will have lived and worked in many of them, so commenting on local governmental attitudes to and services for expats is a nonsense. But hey, well done Kunming (I guess... 5th out of 10??)

Ocean, are you one of the Nobel Laureates? Recipient of the Chinese Government Friendship Award?

Qingdao has some funky feng shui going on with the mountains and the sea. I prefer Qingdao.

Hi ! I am attracted to the "Spring" city element and the eco-friendly environment of kunming. That's why I am very very close to signing -on a Homestay program from a US-based company called Mindsabroad. The agent has also arranged a No-Pay Intern job for me.

I read from another forum that such homestay programs are scams.

Any kind soul will like to enlighten me before i remit the payment to Mindsabroad ?


Thank you so much,

Louis... you about are 5 years late.

Kunming nowadays has brown skies and chaotic traffic. The headline photo above is deceiving, I bet it was either taken a long time ago or during the end of a prolonged holiday; the sky just doesn't quite look like that anymore. I don't want to sound like a hater but the truth can be rather disappointing.

I have lived and worked in all of the cities quoted above (as well as Taipei n HK) in exception of Xiamen and Qindao... Kunming is not a bad place to live, however the recent industrial output here and lack of diesel emission control is destroying the only reason KM was big in the eyes and nose of expats: the environment.

IN A COUPLE OF YEARS FROM NOW, the PM 2.5 levels will be reaching 200 constantly, there will be no advantages to choose Kunming over any other chinese city. Yes it will be hazy and unhealthier because when combined with its high altitude the health effects will be worst than other cinese cities.

@Spartans I agree. In just 7 years I've seen the changes and they aren't good in terms of the environment. I am thinking of moving out of Kunming in 5 years or so.

Louis - Glad you read the forum and stopped. "the agent arranged a No pay intern job for me". I pretty well guarantee you can set this up on your own once you arrive, if you are willing to put in some leg work. I glanced at the website, didn't read all the specifics so I can't tell you exactly all the ways this program may be a ripoff.

But I can tell you this. There is an extremely high probability that you are indeed being gamed to one degree or another. The nice sounding package they arrange for you probably sounds good on paper but in all likelihood is not that good. Heard countless stories about people being charged exorbitant prices to intern or volunteer. Often the organizations care little if the work you do is useful or what type of experience you have. If you pay their fee thats the extent of it.

My advice — come here spend a week checking things out. What type of work you want to do, whats available, actual costs of living and food. Then you can make a slightly more informed decision. Maybe this program is the exception, my guess is its the same as all the others. A business masquerading UNICEF.

There is of course a MAJOR advantage of choosing Kunming over any eastern cities, and this advantage will remain no matter how polluted, congested, backwoods or whatever you might consider Kunming: Kunming is in -Yunnan-.

Yes, Kunming is in Yunnan and that's one of the main reasons it is so highly regarded. Yunnan is the nicest province. But realistically, how often do most people get out of Kunming and into other parts of the province? You could just as easily hop on a plane from the east coast and explore Yunnan during your holidays.

Yello ! U know something. I think Kunming is great because you cool people are there !

Have a great day and I cant say thank you enough.

I have some more thinking to do, now that what you told me causes me to procrastinate. But I very likely will make a trip to KM a reality very shortly to check it out first. Hhhmmm I thought the photos are really beautiful and close to nature.

Take care,

Hoping on a plane costs a lot of money and trouble, that's not something all of us can or want to afford. That being said, you have a point of course, most people don't leave Kunming that often, but even Kunming itself benefits from being in Yunnan, seeing as it has great weather and very nice surroundings; you can easily get a little bit of nature without even having to travel to another city, just get out in the mountains. In terms of amazing 'getting away'-opportunities, even if just for a day, Kunming has every other major chinese city beaten hands down, perhaps except Xining, Ürümqi and Lanzhou, and it seems to me few laowai wants to live in those three anyhow. For me, coming from a european city with extremely boring natural surroundings, this is a very big issue, as living in Kunming completely re-ignited a passion for the outdoors that I can never pursue in my hometown. (And then, sure, say Dali would be even better in this regard, but we're talking about major chinese cities only here).

I personally also think Kunming has a very nice cuisine, as I really enjoy yunnanese food, but I know the 'food in Kunming'-question is a sensitive issue on this site, so I'm not gonna push that one.

Ok, you make valid points. I met a woman from Malaysia and she absolutely hated Kunming. She couldn't wait to get back to Malaysia. Never been there, but apparently where she comes from has a lot more to offer in terms of natural beauty. And maybe Kunming coming out on top of Beijing and Shenzhen isn't saying all that much.

And anyway, a more appropriate question in my mind is do I really want to stay in China at all? Food scandals are obviously not going to be addressed any time soon, pollution is getting worse here, and I still feel some subtle hostility from people at times when I walk down the street. I don't think I'll ever feel at home or completely relaxed living here. To be honest, the longer I stay the more paranoid I get that some food scandal is going to kill me or some hostile local making shit wages is going to kill me or the air or water is going to kill me.

Best city to live in China? Maybe none is the best answer.

@abcdabcd You made some good points. I feel that way as well.


"But realistically, how often do most people get out of Kunming and into other parts of the province? You could just as easily hop on a plane from the east coast and explore Yunnan during your holidays."

I don't know about "most people" but I get out of Kunming ALL THE TIME. The only reason I live in Kunming is because it is the transportation hub of Yunnan and makes a good base for exploring the rest of the province. So far, in 4 years, I've made pretty good use of my time, with about 25% of it spent outside of Kunming. Whenever I'm in Kunming for longer than 2 weeks at a time I get bored and have to get out.

And no, you could not just as easily hop on a plane from the east coast and explore the kinds of places that are most deserving of exploration. Maybe you could explore Dali or Lijiang or Jinghong, but most of Yunnan requires hours and hours from the nearest airport. These places do not quick weekend getaways make.

yep, lots of great places to see. no doubt about it.

but by your own admission, it takes "hours and hours" to get to most of these places. and as long as the train ride from beijing to guangzhou is faster than kunming to dali, i'll keep insisting that kunming is the most over-rated hub in east asia.

My top 3 is undoubtly Qingdao, Nanning,Shenzhen.
@ abcdabcd: I am living in Nanning and feel home and relaxed in this not too large, green,
and clean city. Moreover, the people are extremely friendly.

I must say, I am really disappointed to hear all the negativity and pessimism coming from all you Kunmingers. You should count your blessings! I visited Kunming this winter for a couple of weeks and absolutely fell in love with the place. I was impressed by the beautiful scenery, friendly people- both expat and Chinese, fantastic weather, and, yes, BLUE SKIES. Of course it's not perfect, but it would be nice if y'all could appreciate what you do have instead of harping on the few drawbacks. As my friends back in Tennessee would say, "Ain't no place perfect!"

@Joe_Kerman Key words you use was "I visited Kunming ... for a couple of weeks". Try staying hear for at least 1 year and maybe you'll understand a little more. Believe us, this ain't Tennessee.

sure kunming still has a lot going for it and there are much worse cities in china but this place really has deteriorated noticeably over the last few years. thinking back to the Spring Festival holidays... the sky was really blue without all that smog and the dust from the constant roadworks on almost every street! 5th best in china? really??

oh ye... I was forced to do that stupid survey too. my boss said to "just put kunming as #1 for everything". needless to say i didn't put kunming as first for anything so i doubt my form was counted.

I've been here 8 years. I would say that Kunming would only be an average pick for a location to live in China. Yunnan is a great province for enjoying "natural China", so by default that means living in Kunming.

Sadly, the expansion and changes here have been mostly negative. Unplanned construction, pollution, traffic, local corruption continues unchecked in Kunming. This really knocks down Kunming as a preferred destination for anyone. This poll sounds like just another sham to attract tourists to this area.

My optimistic belief is that in 7-10 years Kunming will settle down and tweak itself into a front runner city for living. It has a way to go at it's present state. I'll be patient and continue to live here and wait and see. To that end, I'm moving out to Chonggong where I bought property. Living IN the city is not that great. I often travel out of here, and so Kunming is an ideal base for that. If I had to stay here (and work) on a daily basis, that would be a very hard pill to swallow.

Now with the new petrochemical plant firing up.........that may well squash any chance of "Kunming" and "natural beauty" being used in the same sentence.

In the meantime I'll be keeping my fingers crossed.

I'm looking to get out of this town as soon as possible. I'm gonna keep it as a base hub but I'm reducing my time in the city (especially commuting) to an absolute minimum. I've never seen a place deteriorate so fast. At the moment, Kunming is the most unlivable place I've ever lived in.

Like all surveys - this survey is biased and inconclusive. Unless the people interviewed have at least visited the cities that were on the survey - this survey is completely useless. At least Kunming got a good rating.

Why are you bumping all of these news stories?

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