China is a country that's going places. Over the past few decades, it's embraced a program of modernization and development that's changed the face of the entire country. Poverty has been dramatically minimized, crumbling facades have been replaced by smoked glass and aluminum, educational standards have improved, and working conditions have taken several steps in the right direction. Or at least, that's the case in most places. Unfortunately, rural poverty, urban crime, and countrywide repression are still very much extant. To find out which parts of the country are best avoided, read on to learn which are the 20 worst places to live in China.
China isn't short on beauty, but if you can find even a trace of it in Lanzhou, you'll have managed something that no one else has for years. Industrial, gritty, and plagued by pollution, this isn't the kind of place you'll want to venture outside without an industrial strength face mask. The chemical cloud isn't the only problem: the drab, uninspiring architecture of the city is hardly inviting, and neither is the equally drab, uninspiring landscape that surrounds it.
According to WorldAtlas, around 80 percent of city inhabitants breathe polluted air. Those in low-income countries tend to be more affected than those in high-income countries. Amongst other things, poor air quality can lead to serious health problems like heart disease, respiratory complications, and stroke. In Hengshui, air pollution is a fact of life. This giant, sprawling city of 4 million has the fifth-highest rate of fine particulate matter in the country, something that puts each of those 4 million people at risk of disease and early mortality.
Chinese cities have long held a reputation as some of the most polluted places on Earth, something that's largely attributable to the large-scale industrialization of the country over the last century. Although the government has taken strides to improve the situation by eliminating coal consumption and improving industry standards, some 90 percent of urban areas still record over the recommended rate of pollution. Case in point: Handan, a grimy, gritty city with a vast steel industry and the fourth-highest level of pollution of any city in the country.
Buying a gun in China might be difficult, but buying explosives is a piece of cake. In 2015, Liuzhou, a major city in Guangxi Province, was rocked by a series of explosions that left 7 dead and 51 injured. According to CNN, state media reports suggested that the suspect had paid couriers to deliver the letter bombs to various public institutes, including hospitals, across the city. Although the incident was isolated, it paints a picture of what's becoming an increasingly dangerous, hostile city. Casual street crime, assaults, rape, theft, and even murder are all commonplace. The police presence is palpable, but rather than adding a sense of security, it seems to merely exasperate the feeling of tension instead. The city's problems don't end with crime: congestion and traffic are abysmal, as is the astonishing number of deaths that happen on Liuzhou's roads each year.
Back in 2016, scmp.com reported that the air quality in Shijiazhuang had reached lung-busting levels, with even a short, 5-minute walk leaving residents gasping for breath and coughing up sediment. Although the Shijiazhuang authorities have introduced various measures to try and control the problem (including suppressing dust, reducing coal use, relocating enterprises, reducing emission and promoting green initiatives), the situation is still grim, with heavy industry creating a constant smog cloud and a level of pollution that ranks as the third-worst in China.
If you'd rather not spend 30 minutes recovering from a 5-minute walk, dine on black sediment for breakfast, and struggle to see the sky for the thick black cloud of pollution, do yourself and your lungs a favor and avoid the less than delightful city of Xingtai. According to the latest reports, the city has a PM 2.5 of 128 micrograms against a required rate of 35 micrograms. As a result, the city's residents are at a vastly increased risk of respiratory diseases, cancer, heart attack, and stroke. So epic is the problem, Xingtai now has the unfortunate distinction of being the ninth most polluted city in the entire world.
If you're a tourist, most locals would advise you to either avoid Shenzhen completely or keep a very close eye on your possessions at all times. Bag snatching, pickpocketing, and thefts are commonplace. Visitors are also recommended to steer clear of taxis in favor of the metro and avoid lingering at bus stations and train stations. But while the situation for tourists isn't particularly pleasant, it's even worse for permanent residents. As well as the crime, the work-life balance is next to non-existent: if people want to eat and keep a roof over their head, they can forget all about recreation or leaving the office before 8pm.
Named by travelturisme.com as one of the most dangerous cities in China, Guangzhou is a huge metropolis with an equally huge crime problem. As the third latest city in China, you'd expect there to be some crime, just not as much as there is. Taxi, currency, and shopping scams are all widespread, and while most criminal activity tends to take place outside hotels, bus and train stations, and shopping areas, nowhere is completely safe - as evidenced by the 30000 reported incidents that take place each year. On the plus side, what was once one of the poorest cities in China is now well on the way to becoming one of its most prosperous. According to borgenproject.org, the city used to be home to 138 slums (or 'urban villages,' as they're euphemistically called). Most of the inhabitants were migrants, farmers who'd lost their livelihoods, or other disenfranchised or impoverished groups. Thanks to intense efforts by the government to reduce poverty, the situation is now far, far improved.
As home to some first-rate cultural attractions like Potala Palace, Jokhang Temple and Sera Monastery, Llasa sounds like the kind of place with a lot going for it. It's not. Outside of those attractions, there's really not a lot else to say about the place. It's not memorable, not attractive, and not in any way the kind of place you'd want to spend a long weekend, let alone a lifetime. To compound the problem, the city is subject to various political tensions that make the experience of living there as an expat incredibly challenging.
Over the course of just one year, 40.38 percent of Chongqing residents can expect to become the victim of vandalism or theft. 55 percent can expect to experience corruption and bribery. Even tourists aren't immune, with robberies, pickpocketing, and even stabbings all on the rise. The year-on-year crime increase is a staggering 25 percent, making Chongqing one of the most dangerous cities to live in China.
If you value clean air and equally clean streets, stay away from Baoding. The city is home to several coal power plants, all of which turn out such huge quantities of fumes, the city has become permanently buried under a thick layer of pollution. So bad has the problem become, it's almost impossible to see from one end of the street to the other.
A city might not be to blame for the weather it enjoys, but there's no denying climate makes a big difference to quality of life. Unless you really, really love frostbite, icy extremities, and the permanent threat of hypothermia, you might want to stay away from Daqing, a city in the Heilongjiang Province that boasts some of the most bone-chilling winters in China, if not the world. Summers are slightly better but not by much. If fairness, the entire province is the same, but unlike other cities such as Harbin, Daqing is uninspiring and immemorable, completely lacking in the attractions and lifestyle that could help take the chill out of the air.
The remote western province of Xinjiang is a place of unique beauty, spellbinding culture, and ancient traditions. Or at least, most of it is. But for every rule, there's an exception, and in this case, Wulumuqi is that exception. Boring, uninspiring, and more in tune with a city from the east of the country than one from the west, the only good thing you can really say about the place is that it has the province's one and only Carrefour. Other than that, it's too bland to justify even a fleeting visit, let alone a longterm stay.
China might have experienced an economic boom in recent years, but just try telling that to the people of Xianjung village, a place where poverty is the norm and prosperity is something that happens to other people. Back in 2008, the BBC made a special investigation into the village, uncovering just how far behind the rest of the country it had fallen. The 18000 inhabitants, most of whom lived in manmade caves, were heavily dependent on agriculture - when the crops failed, so did they. The only means of survival for certain families were government subsidies. Educational standards were also dismal, reducing the hope of future generations of a better life. The worst thing about it? 13 years later, it's still the same.
Named by echinacities.com as one of the very worst places to live in China, Fuzhou's faults may not be as obvious as certain other undesirable places, but that doesn't make it any more appealing. Crime isn't particularly atrocious, the amenities are decent enough and the poverty level is by no means appalling. The problem? It's boring. Despite being a relatively decent size, it's got no redeeming features. There's no big cultural attractions, no unique lifestyle... nothing, in fact, of note at all. Unless you like your hometown to put the bland in beige, skip it for the far more attractive delights of its coastal cousin Xiamen instead.
Over the past decade, the Chinese government has made dramatic strides to reduce poverty. In most areas, it's worked exceptionally well. Unfortunately, there are still plenty of rural areas where the situation for residents remains as bleak as ever. Yihezhuan is a small village located just 3 hours outside Beijing. Most people are earning less than 1,000 yuan ($157) a year. Nutritional deficiencies are rife, with many living on a subsidence diet of noodles and potatoes. Basic services are almost completely absent, while the only means in and out of the village is a basic dirt track.
The remote rural village of Hangka seems to have been left behind in China's race to eradicate poverty and move into the future. Poor (most people earn the equivalent of around $290 per year), miserable, and with very few opportunities for people to effect a real change in their lives, it's a world away from the buoyant atmosphere and high tech credentials of places like Beijing and Shanghai.
Ningxia is a landlocked region in the northeast of China. It's an area where people are hugely dependent on farming for survival. Unfortunately, it's also a region with inclement weather, poor soil, and a history of crop failure. Basic sanitation is all but absent. Education is considered an afterthought rather than a necessity, and childhood malnutrition is rife. In a country with an exploding economy and an upwardly mobile workforce, places like Ningxia are being left further and further behind.
Despite what the media would have us believe, most of us have never been safer. In most big cities, crime is falling and personal safety is rising. The problem? 'Most' doesn't mean 'all.' In Chengdu, crime has grown a dramatic 54.17% in the last three years alone. Most of it is 'petty,' with pickpocketing and opportunistic thefts the most common. But still, a theft is a theft, and if you'd rather keep what's yours to yourself, it's best avoided.
1. Yarkand County
China isn't a country that naturally springs to mind when you think of terrorism, but you'd be surprised at just how much terrorist activity has occurred in certain regions over the years. Yarkand County is home to the Uighur, a group of people who've long fought to achieve freedom from the Chinese government. In recent years, the separatist campaign has become increasingly violent, with organized explosions, shootings, and looting turning it into one of the most volatile and dangerous areas of the country.
You can also read:
- A Luxury Traveler’s Guide to Spring Festival in China
- The 10 Richest People in China
- The 10 Richest Cities in China
Written by Liz Flynn
Read more posts by Liz Flynn