There’s another side to China’s economic/business landscape that doesn’t get the “press” that its biggest cities enjoy.  Often passed over are the dozens of “next tier” cities that now represent the majority of China’s economic growth.  Most of these cities (China has over 160 cities with populations of 1 million or more) lie away from the traditionally prosperous eastern seaboard, often thousands of miles inland.  Indeed, most Westerners have probably never heard of these cities: Tianjin, Wuhan, Chongqing, Wuxi, Xi’an, Qingdao, Xiamen, Kunming and dozens of others that make up what consulting firm Jones Lang LaSalle calls the “China50”: the major 50 cities in China that do not include Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou or Shenzhen.

For scale, some data from Jones Lang LaSalle on the China50:

  • The GDP of the China50 is $2.9 trillion, making this block of Chinese cities the 5th largest economy in the world…roughly equivalent to Germany’s national economy
  • 12% of global economic growth over the next 10 years will be from the China50
  • The 10 fastest growing large cities in the world (by GDP) are in the China50
  • As experts Jens Thraenhart, Kate Chang and Wolfgang Arlt observe, “…the (Chinese) cities with the fastest growing number of millionaires are in third, fourth, and fifth-tier cities…and about 50% of these wealthy were not even classified as wealthy four years ago.”

Needless to say, both Chinese and Western businesses are flocking to these cities, eager to capture a share of the China50’s massive (and growing) consumer base.  Western airlines such as United, British Airways, Qatar Airways, Finnair, Air France and Lufthansa have now begun direct flights to second and third-tier cities such as Chengdu, Chongqing, Wuhan and Qingdao; global and boutique hotel chains have moved in, and high-end retailers such as Louis Vuitton, Fendi, Zegna, Apple, and Starbucks have been tripping over themselves to get stores opened as fast as possible in many of the China50.

What all this adds up to is that China is a much bigger story than Beijing, Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Shanghai (which together make up only 9% of China’s population), and Western businesses have discovered this.   As ambitious families in these cities become increasingly aspirational, businesses, including those involved in international education, will enjoy many new opportunities.