I’ve only lived in Guangzhou — but I’ll make the following points as to why this area is the best to live in.
The Pearl River Delta is considered by some to be the world’s first “mega city” — exceeding over 40,000,000 in population. Some of the most affluent parts in China, and indeed all of Asia, are located here. Guangzhou, Foshan, Shenzhen, Hong Kong, and Macau are all quite affluent.
With that said, Guangzhou alone can’t possibly be more diverse than Beijing or Shanghai — although it is diverse in its own right — having the largest African population in China and having a substantial Arab population as well. My Arab and Turkish friends mentioned that the Arabic and Turkish food in Shanghai can’t touch whats offered in Guangzhou. It’s cheaper here, too, they said.
Travel – Guangzhou is situated perfectly for travel. Traveling to the rest of China is a breeze because Baiyun International Airport will host flights to pretty much anywhere in China, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan. Flying to Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand, or other vacation spots is also just a 2–3 hour plane ride.
Chinese Food – Even my friends who have lived Beijing and Shanghai will admit that Guangzhou has the best Chinese food around. Some people might say Cantonese food is too boring — but once you acclimate yourself to its subtle flavors, you’ll really start to appreciate it. The saying goes “Eat in Guangzhou”.
Western Food – I’ll give Shanghai and Beijing the nod on this. Guangzhou’s Western food scene is pretty weak. Western restaurants here are expensive and taste wise most of them leave you feeling like “meh, it was okay — but not exactly worth the price”.
Regulation – I always hear about passport checks or raids in Beijing, Shanghai, and Shenzhen. I rarely hear about them here. Guangzhou is the most laid-back 1st tier city in China. This can have its drawbacks of course — but it makes starting a business and doing business in general more smooth.
Air Quality – Let’s face it. This is a huge issue in China. Guangzhou will beat northern China hands down on air quality — based on my weather app, its usually slightly better than Shanghai and Zhejiang. Shenzhen has the best air quality among 1st tier cities in China.
Opportunity – Shenzhen is a technology hub. Guangzhou is a manufacturing and government hub. Hong Kong is a financial hub. Macau is a gambling and hospitality hub. What are your dreams? Whatever they are, you’ll find opportunity to realize them here.
Cost of Living – Guangzhou is the cheapest 1st tier city in China. Apartments are cheaper to buy or rent compared with Beijing, Shanghai, and Shenzhen. While the average salaries might be below the other cities, I feel that the cost of living makes up for it.
Overall, I think the Pearl River Delta is the best place to live in China in general, with Guangzhou being the best place in particular. Guangzhou has more history and culture than Shenzhen preserved in its language and culinary traditions.
If you have money and are already settled on a career path — then Shanghai might be your best option. It will be the most accommodating and comfortable for foreigners. If depends on what you’re trying to get out of your experience in China. The Pearl River Delta is good for people on their hustle — because it has a little bit of everything.