A Tale of Two Cities: Chongqing and Chengdu

I’ve had a blessed run here in China and I owe it all to my first two years.

Back then, I lived outside of Chongqing and although that city is not as suitable as others for foreigners planning on staying in China long term, it sure does have some character. Everyone has an entry point when they encounter and eventually sink into a foreign culture and mine was Chongqing: it was the first time I realized that “socialism with Chinese characteristics” meant “fat cat capitalism”. It was the first time I saw the people most alien to my own do things I do every day. It was here that I first stared at a crowd and experienced “population-induced vertigo”. Chongqing’s counterpart in the West is probably Mexico City, neither of which have any real counterpart in the developed West, but it was here that I found out that the things that bind us together far outnumber the things that tear us apart.

Legends of the “Mountain City”

Chongqing has so many legends surrounding it that just trying to list them all makes me fall in love with the place all over again. I’ll just give you a brief overview here, because what I really want to do is tell you about the differences between Chongqing and Chengdu as I see them by explaining why I moved from one to the other.

Chongqing has the hottest women in China. The interesting thing is why: why are the hottest women in China living in one of the hottest, sweatiest most crowded example of social stratification, gangster government and rag tag modernization in all of China? I have heard the following:

  1. When the Nationalists ran from the Japanese sack of Nanjing and made Chongqing their capital, they brought all of their concubines with them. In the 50 odd years since, these concubines have populated the city with their sexy, audacious offspring.
  2. The Ba Kingdom, as Chongqing was once and still is referred to, was a multi-ethnic empire that eventually became one people. The fusion of the many tribes that once dominated the many valleys and mountains of Chongqing produced a rare individual and a rare beauty.
  3. The water here is special. The confluence of the Yangzte and the Jialing Rivers and the flowing of the greater combination thereof through the erstwhile Three Gorges produced a rare individual and a rare beauty
  4. Hot Pot was invented here. The sublime aroma and taste of this most potent of southwest concoctions produced a rare individual and a rare beauty.

Chongqing’s Motto: “Yeah, we crazy!”

“Luan jiu luan” (???, roughly acknowledging Chongqing’s hectic nature) is a suitable motto for Chongqing because these rare individuals truly embrace the craziness. If you have ever seen the movie Crazy Stone (highly recommended!), then you have an idea of what Chongqingnese think of themselves and what the rest of China thinks of that. In the movie, a professional thief from Hong Kong is repeatedly humiliated by a bungling band of irreligious scam artists. The band know they bungle. They thrive off of it. They try to bungle, Chongqing-style, just to prove a point. Chongqing is luan. Luan means chaotic, but it means so much more than that.

Looking down onto Jie Fang Bei, Chongqing's most prosperous district which is adorned by skyskrapers

It means the streets zig zag around piles of buildings not only inhabited, but housing a flourishing business clinging to the last days as five-star hotels go up on either side. It means that there will be a fist fight at 5am in the morning between two motorists on their way to work. Real fistfights, not the “get out and check your ride for tiny scratches while all of China is backed up behind you type of mini-scuffle more concerned with money than anything else”-type of car accident. I mean a real fist fight with someone going down for the count. I am not even coming close. This city was built on mountains so the first floor of one might be 10 floors below the first floor of its neighbor and they will be connected by quaint stone stairways, skyways, scaffolding, balconies, business storefronts and roof gardens. In every one of these connecting routes, there will be:

  1. Three hairdressers
  2. Two hot pot restaurants
  3. A poor man’s Wal-Mart
  4. A stationary store

I know I know, you are saying to the screen, Sascha, all of China is like this. No my friend, it is not. All of China is described like this, but very few places can keep the show going for more than a few city blocks. Chongqing is this chaos spread out over an entire 32 million people-and-counting municipality beholden only to Beijing, and that only in name. Every neighborhood in Chongqing is infected with Chongqing-itis, which basically is a willful pride in all things irreverent. Other cities care about their face and will try to show foreigners and rich Taiwanese or officials from Beijing their pretty face. Chongqing has it written in blood that any local that bows and scrapes to outsiders is actually a Chengdunese spy, trying to learn the secret of hot pot.

Someday, I’ll write down all of my Chongqing stories, but now I gotta turn to the city I chose as my home away from the world, Chengdu.

The Chengdu Vibe: “Anyi” (Comfortable)

I left Chongqing’s madness for Chengdu because the city was flat, the roads spider-webbed and the living easy. Chengdu is the fat provincial nobleman to Chongqing’s beer and hotpot steel worker; the Shu to Chongqing’s Ba, ?? (comfort) to Chongqing’s ? (craziness). They constantly sneer at each other, but Chengdu’s sneer is preceded by a quick peek left and right. Chengdu also has a reputation for beautiful women and a penchant for the good life, but there doesn’t really need to be an explanation for it. It’s just the way it is. Chengdu is smack dab in the middle of the Land of Abundance and the genius of Li Bing’s waterworks in Dujiangyan are a constant wind blowing south, carrying the smells of good food, jasmine flowers and the slow sweatiness of a lazy land.

The pandas aren't in too much of a rush in Chengdu. Neither are the people. Everything is laid back

I can’t help it. In Chongqing, I would have had to be a gangster or end up in the gutter. Here in Chengdu, I can get a feta cheese hamburger. There aren’t many hamburgers in Chongqing.

Chengdu is for me the most suitable city in China to live in. Kunming comes a close second, followed perhaps by Dali or maybe one of the coastal cities like Xiamen, but basically I am a southwest boy at heart, no matter where I am. There is a vibe here in Chengdu that attracts a certain type of foreigner and I consider myself to be representative of that type of person. Chongqing does not attract foreigners. I love it there and I still go back every chance I can, but its a tough place to live. Not when you have the easiest city in China just an hour away.

What do you think of the contrasts between Chengdu and Chongqing?

62 thoughts on “A Tale of Two Cities: Chongqing and Chengdu”

  1. Chengu is my hometown and Chongqing is my father’s hometown. Reading this article in Austin, Texas, I am so homesick.

  2. It is so funny to read your account of the twin cities. I have been to both, and like you I am now settled in Chengdu. Last year, I represented my company in a series of negotiations with both cities to the highest level. Even though the mayors from both are imports from Shanghai, the negotiation style just smell so much of the underlying culture of both. It is so hilarious to think about it, yet at the time, so intense and nervous.

  3. I’ve recently started a blog, the information you provide on this site has helped me tremendously. Thank you for all of your time & work.

  4. True, Chengdu is more reserved. However the girls with hot bodies and beautiful faces who are reserved and smile at you are much hotter than the “Vegas” style girls in Chonqing. When you get older you may understand what I mean.

    • Hard to tell they have hot bodies when they’re wearing grandma clothes. I’m just saying. Even if you compare Chunxi Lu (where the most attractive women in Chengdu congregate) to Jiefang Bei, it’s still no comparison. Chongqing women have more confidence and style.

      With that said, I still prefer Chengdu overall.

      Also I reject the notion that your opinion of attractive women supercedes my own on the basis of age since you couldn’t possibly know how old I am.

  5. “Grandma clothes”? I am referring to Chunxi Lu, Jin Li street, and other places in the city, not the countryside.

    Reject the notion that my opinion of attractive women supercedes yours on the basis of age all you want. Your statement “No way, dude. Chongqing girls are way hotter.” implies you are younger and/or immature. But who knows, maybe you are one of those old foreign immature farts that gets the younger girls because the girl wants stability and doesn’t care about your looks. I don’t know and I really don’t care.

    You have your opinion and I have mine. In responding to Sascha’s inspiring comment, perhaps you should post this question online and see what the people think to validate our opinions.

    • Your insecure attacks on an internet stranger are hilarious. Old overweight foreigners taking your precious Chinese gold diggers away from you has nothing to do with me.

      I’m referring to Chunxi lu. The inner city often resembles the countryside in terms of peoples appearance. It doesn’t matter where you are in Chengdu, you still see countryside people everywhere.

  6. There is no reference to myself in your weak response and there is nothing “insecure” about what I wrote. There is also no humor in what I wrote. I merely state the facts of what I have seen in Sichuan in all the time I have spent there. You come off as a cocky egotistical dork.
    You have your opinion and I have mine. Leave it at that “old foreign fat cyber stranger.”

    • brothers brothers, aren’t there enough beauties to go around for old, young, cyber, flesh, foolish clever?

      maybe we should have photographic evidence … i think the CL community would love to see the girls of Sichuan and Chongqing and decide for themselves which town is truly the Seat of Chinese Beauty!

  7. I’m from Chengdu and I’ve been to Chongqing twice and I hate that ugly place! People are rude and violent, streets are filthy, the terrain is hilly, the roads are zigzagging, no bicycle lanes, horrible local infrastructures, etc. I don’t ever wanna go back to that place again.

      • Luckily I’d be back to Chongqing in 2.1~2.10, from and back to sydney all via Chengdu.

        According to my friends, Chongqing is also under a fast change like any other city in China, mainly ambitious skyscrapers and infrustractures(esp bridges), as well as a few newly built high roads to farer suburbs, and 2 more lightrail/subway expected to function in 2011.

  8. Chongqing is technically not one city but a patchwork of cities and towns. Chongqing is very chaotic and dirty compared to Chengdu. Chengdu is a lot cleaner and everything is a lot ordered. Chongqing also has more violent crimes than Chengdu. Commuting in Chongqing is a pain in the butt. The city is built in a bunch of hills and not everywhere is accessible by road transportation. Biking is dangerous and almost impossible in Chongqing because there are no bike lanes and the hills make it hard to ride bikes. Chongqing is very polarized. While Chongqing has more fancy high-rises and other fancy stuff than Chengdu, it also has lots of run-down ghettos that are generally inexistent in the city limit of Chengdu. The cost of living in Chongqing is also much higher than Chengdu. According to my own experience in Chongqing and Chengdu, the only thing in Chongqing that’s cheaper than Chengdu is the taxi fare. In general, I would pick Chengdu over Chongqing if I need to live in one of the two cities.

    • Hi Helen,

      Chengdu, by far. It’s nearby many UNESCO sites like Emei Shan, Le Shan, Qing Cheng Shan and Dujiangyan, and the Panda base. The other UNESCO sites in Sichuan Province are in the Northwest (Huanglong and Jiuzhai Gou), quite far from Chongqing.

      Hope this helps.

  9. I have been in CQ for going on 4 months and tomorrow I make my first trip to Chengdu. I have been to Xi’an and i was ok. I just have to say, as a southern California Native CQ is disgusting. The air is unbreathable. But people are always nice to me and The nightlife is fun enough. I am counting down the days until I can have a good mexican meal. I have hear Peters Tex MEx in Chengdu is great. That remains to be seen. Last point..All this hub bub about who has the hottest girls. They all look like preteen boys in drag. Not a breast or a thigh between the lot of them. If these are the hottest girls in China, I feel bad for chinese men.

  10. Im a girl from Cheng Du. It is so interesting to read the controversies between you guys about girls in which city are the hottest ones. It really made me laugh.

    • Last night my wife and i were trying to figure it out. Chengdu girls are noticeably prettier than other girls from around China, but we couldn’t quite say why. Shanghai girls think they’re pretty, and some of them are, but on the whole Sichuan ladies crush Jiangnan ladies. And Chongqing … well they’re so brazen about they’re sexuality, but is that really it?
      my wife said CQ girls have “obviously the best figures” due to the hills of CQ… so what do you say Tracy?

      Mirror mirror on the wall …
      who are the fliest Chinese ladies of them all?

      and why?

      • Hi Sascha, girls from which part of the US do you reckon are the prettiest?

        This Q can never be answered satisfactorily in every country I reckon.

        • to answer your question, Hugot, it helps to know what you, yourself, consider to be your ideal female qualities. Obviously, there are many stunning women to be found in NYC. Why? Because NYC is the epicenter of fashion(modeling), and media(broadcasting). NYC has the most ethnic variety. South Beach, Miami attracts a different kind of female; not nearly as career oriented as her NYC sisters, yet much more into the body beautiful type thing, as well as the beach culture. Miami is so nice to live in, the saying goes, because it’s so close to the United States. WHat? you say…well, Miami has essentially become the most northern Latin American City…so you will encounter many hot latin women. LA and Southern CAli attract the Hollywood set. In Portland and Seattle you will encounter the “outdoorsy” type girl who would rather wear hiking boots than high heels. The midwest is the place to go if you want that northern Blonde girl. I’ve heard very positive reports about the women of Chicago. NYC, LA and Miami women spend the most on looking good, because the competition is so fierce. That ridiculous TV series Sex and the City brainwashed a lot of women to seek their future husbands in NYC, but they forgot one thing…the guys living there know they have the upper hand in the dating game. Women in America’s capitol complain of a lack of suitable men, but ask yourself…do you want to date a woman who is very career and power focused? I’m sure there are some really hot women in Boulder, Colorado….think Skiing, biking…women who are in shape. As a Chinese? man, you may want to think about LA or San Francisco or Vancouver, BC, where there are many Asian-American women. And then there’s a little insider tip….Montreal, Canada. You’re welcome;)

        • Thank you Tracy 😉

          I think Sichuan girls have a certain “face” too, but its so hard to pinpoint. I think the skin is a big thing – Shanghai girls in general have bad skin and northern girls usually have whiter skin, whereas Sichuan girls have a kind of olive-gold something that I like. I like a bit of caramel or whatever.

          Anywayz, as for US girls … tough tough … because America is not homogenous, you can’t really pick a region based on genetics, you have to pick places based on lifestyle. So for example, west coast ladies tend to be in shape, in general have a reputation for tanned bodies and love to wear bikinis. Sounds awesome, but that’s not really my style…

          There is a Beach Boy’s song called, “(I wish they all could be) California Girls” that goes into regional descriptions. I would recommend that track as a primer.

          America has it all really, but there is such a thing as “the American Woman” and that is a state of mind more than a physical description.

          Europe has regional styes. red cheeked northern girls with scarves and a tendency to drink milchcaffee and cut their hair short; southern divas with thick black hair, immaculate fashion and make-up and a tendency to have bad tempers…

          man there are all sorts of ladies out there. its good to be a man.

  11. Who has prettier girls depends on where you go, when you go, and who you happen to run into it. And even after all that, it’s still subjective. Chengdu girls are shorter with round faces, and girls from the North of China are taller with more pronounced facial features. This has been my observation after traveling around China and living in Chengdu for a few years.

    As far as the US, the most beautiful women I’ve seen are in Los Angeles, especially near the beach (Santa Monica, Malibu, Venice, etc). In that area it’s trendy to be fanatical about reaching your genetic potential. Diet, exercise, and so on. South Beach Miami is also stunning.

  12. Haha! Chengdu girls are getting taller and taller. Actually, not all the foreign girls are tall. Im also not like common Chengdu girls. My skin is tanned because of the journey in Indonesia. Im a “black person” in Chengdu.

  13. hi Sascha
    i liked your views about chengdu.
    i m in love with a girl who is from chengdu i will go to meet her very soon could you please brief me on chengdu girls in general .
    best wishes

    • general info:

      they are genetically Chinese. They have black hair, usually dark brown or black eyes, skin color ranges from white to darkish yellow-brown, they speak Mandarin and a local dialect, Chengdu girls tend to be female.

      Good luck!

  14. Dear Sascha,
    I’m half Chinese half English, i’m moving to Chengdu from London to live with my closest relatives. When did you hear about Chengdu? Its a stunning city with the best food and friendliest people.

  15. What you have said about hamburgers and gangsters is true. After reading this, I am seriously considering packing up and moving to Chengdu. In all seriousness, Chongqing is a nice place to visit, but for the expat, living can be tough.

    • We agree. Sascha and I have both lived in Chongqing and we agree that Chengdu is a more comfortable place to live. Chongqing remains a great place to visit, though.

  16. Demograhicaly, spiritualy and modernly ChongQing is lacking behind ChengDu on the international level…
    BUT ask a GIRL at 25 from ChongQing (living in Chengdu) or vice-versa . And they will both answer YOU my heart is back HOME . THESE women are BOTH in diffenrent categories as beauties . Depending ON what is YOUR preference in the energy of a woman.
    ChongQing girls HAVE more energy in many more fields and situations that women from ChengDu. And when YOU meet and date them at 40 years of age and . It is more eveident the ChengDu woman is already on the vision of retirement (sleep, tea, mahjong) . Where the ChongQing women still rock and roll.
    Well that is IT for TODAY let you know more next TIME.

  17. Chongqing has it written in blood that any local that bows and scrapes to outsiders is actually a Chengdunese spy…

    As a Chengdunese, I have to say you are very close to native…

    Last time I went to Chongqing to visit my wife’s relatives, I was thrilled by the way they stare at me when I told them I am from Chengdu… I swear it’s my first sentence…

  18. I have been to both Chongqing and Chendu and I find Chongqing more appealing. Maybe it has to do with the grimeness I am used when growing up in the east side of my city so I feel it is a home away from home and plus my wife being a Chongqing native, I can not say no to being here with her.

    • Aside from the griminess of Chongqing, what else do you prefer about the city? I like the hotpot there better, but I have a hard time remember things that are better about Chongqing.

  19. I live in Chongqing now. And I’ve never been to Chengdu. But i’m going to visit this city. I disagree with most of you about Chongqing. I don’t know what district in Chongqing you’ve been to, but it’s very very beautiful city with tons of green, thousands of new beautiful buildings (using baidu street view I found out that there are lots of “poor looking” buildings in Chengdu), almost no ghettos, it’s calm and quiet for the city this big at least. It’s filthy comparing to Shanghai or Beijing, but small research using baidu street view proves that probably Chongqing has less garbage than Chengdu. And Chongqing is awesome for biking, it’s like a dream. You can ride at the level of 10th floor easily, you can ride among cars easily, cause of they speed, they are really slow mostly (if it’s not a highway), and cause of driver readiness to anything. I noticed no crime, I was in very scarry places, but people even helped me there. No fistfighting as well. People are different, but rude?! Maybe some, mostly there are fine, very helpful, if you need help, smiling quite often. Service is awesome. Appartments are very very cheap and good. And noone tries to trick me, I was ready for this of course, but. I found an appartment for 1,5 hours, no one tries to show me bad appartments and all. I don’t like a few things though – people, who spits loudly, garbage and lots of people in the center part of blue metro line. Food is awesome by the way, and you can always ask to make it not spicy, if you want to.

    • You should visit Chengdu! I think that is the only way that you can make a real comparison between the two. I continue to visit Chongqing 1-2 times a year but basically disagree: I think Chengdu is a cleaner place, a more pleasant place to live and a better city for bicycling. Chongqing is fun to visit but I would probably not choose to live there again. One big advantage of Chengdu for me is that it has a real international community of professionals who are doing great things, where I feel in the area of cultural diversity Chongqing is sorely lacking. In my opinion it is certainly a beautiful city in some respects and a great place to visit, though. Having the two cities be separated by a fast and cheap bullet train is really nice as well. Definitely take the opportunity to visit Chengdu when you can, despite their geographic proximity they are very different cities.


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