China’s 10 Happiest Cities of 2017

West Lake in Hangzhou | © Jacob Halun / WikiCommons
Picture of Fran Lu
Updated: 8 January 2018
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Xinhua has released its 2017 survey of China’s happiest cities. Without much controversy, Chengdu, Hangzhou, Nanjing and Xi’an made the top five. Controversially, Kunming didn’t make the cut. And one city, unknown even by most Chinese people, made it in the top 10 for the first time ever. Culture Trip looks at the results and examines what makes each city so happy.

The Top 10 Happiest Cities in 2017

It is the fourth year in a row that Chengdu, the capital city of southwest China’s Sichuan Province, ranked the top of the list. The other nine cities are Zhejiang’s Hangzhou, Zhejiang’s Ningbo, Jiangsu’s Nanjing, Shaanxi’s Xi’an, Jilin’s Changchun, Hunan’s Changsha, Zhejiang’s Taizhou, Shaanxi’s Tongchuan and Jiangsu’s Xuzhou.

What makes Chengdu China’s happiest city?

It’s found reasonable by Chinese netizens that Chengdu remains the happiest city. The city that used to be the capital of brocade since the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.E. – 220 C.E.) boasts fertile soil and a favorable climate and is widely known as “the Country of Heaven” thanks to its residents’ carefree lifestyle. The city is the top go-to place for people who crave Sichuan cuisine, represented by spicy dishes like Sichuan Hot Pot, Dan Dan Mien and Mapo Tofu. What’s more, Chengdu has an overwhelming advantage: Giant Panda. Eighty percent of the rare animals reside in Sichuan Province, and Chengdu has the only metropolitan breeding center for giant pandas in the world.

Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding

What makes the other cities so happy?

Of the other nine happiest cities, three are from east China’s Zhejiang Province, while two are from Jiangsu Province, which borders Zhejiang and Shanghai to the south. The two provinces, together with Shanghai, shape the Yangtze River Delta Economic Region, China’s economic heartland, with Hangzhou harboring the headquarter of the Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba. The region is also known for its picturesque river sceneries. “It’s human nature to live by rivers,” analyzed counselling psychologist Lu Yue. “Above all, as a historical city, Hangzhou is not as impacted by modernity as Beijing. Beijing’s ancient city walls were demolished, and many hutong alleys disappeared too.”

West Lake in Hangzhou

The same theory can apply to Xi’an as well. Having been the capital city of 13 dynasties in Chinese history, and being the home to Terracotta Warriors and Mount Huashan, one of the Five Great Mountains in China, Xi’an is a city brimming with beauty passed down from ancient China. What’s more, Xi’an is also known for its street food like Rougamo (Xi’an meat burger) and Yangrou Paomo (Flatbread in mutton soup). Likewise, the seventh happiest city, Changsha, has famous food culture too. No wonder some netizens joked that the list was made by foodies.

One surprising contender

Perhaps the most puzzling winning city is Shaanxi’s Tongchuan, because, honestly, few people in China have heard of the city except for those who are from the Shaanxi Province. But why is it among the top 10 happiest cities?

As Oriental Outlook’s vice chief editor Wang Qiguang explained, it is to reward the city government’s effort for notably raising the sense of happiness of its people — while Tongchuan used to be a city of coal, it has been focusing on transformation to a leisure, resource-efficient city after being listed by China’s State Council as a pilot city for resource-based transformation for sustainable development in 2009.

How was happiness measured?

According to Xinhua, China’s state news agency, the country’s happiest cities were assessed primarily based on ‘people’s sense of achievement’.

Out of 93 possible candidates, the study whittled down the Top 10 through the use of four different methods. Based on research by Professor Christopher K. Hsee, these methods included: a sample survey conducted by professional organizations; an online voting that polled up to 14 million respondents; the evaluation of materials submitted by the candidate cities; and big data analysis according to 50 indicators in 16 categories including income, employment, environment, quality of life, public security, education, transport and tourism.

In a nutshell, the survey tried to quantify people’s ‘sense of achievement’, which appears quite vague a psychological status. While you might be curious of what specific scientific methods the researchers took to come up with the results, you might be let down for the moment since the survey’s organizers haven’t yet published detailed information on that.

Yangtze River Bridge, Nanjing

Netizen’s response

While Chinese netizens from the listed cities scrambled to leave their supportive comments on social platforms like Weibo and WeChat, there’s also a group of people who don’t take it personal. Like Weibo user @Aichiyuebingdezhangtusansui said: “There’s no point to argue which city should or shouldn’t be in the list, because there are happy and unhappy people in every city, and the cities laid in front of us are just a pack of big data.”

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