Slower pace of life, less pressure prove big draws
Fu Ninghui is happier with her new life after moving to Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan province.
Last year, after living and working for six months as a translator in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, the 24-year-old relocated to Zhengzhou, one of the country's "new first-tier cities".
Shenzhen is one of the four existing first-tier cities, along with Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, capital of Guangdong.
Fu said Zhengzhou offers a much slower pace of life and places less pressure on young people compared with existing first-tier cities.
"I no longer have to spend huge amounts of time at work or on commuting, which means I have more time for the things that I'm interested in, such as practicing yoga," she said.
Like many graduates, Fu's first stop after leaving college with a bachelor's degree in translation was a first-tier city to pursue opportunities in both her career and personal life.
However, she soon found that events did not pan out the way she had expected. Competition for translators was fierce in Shenzhen, and she often felt she was at a disadvantage. Property prices were also too high for young people to afford.
It was not long before Fu decided to move to Zhengzhou, the biggest city and the only "new first-tier" one in Henan, her native province.
The term "new first-tier cities" was first coined by the Chinese media six years ago, through rating cities on the basis of five factors: richness of commercial resources; convenience of intercity transportation; the active lives of the urban population; the diversity of lifestyles; and development potential.
Using these factors, 15 centers have been recognized as new first-tier cities. Along with Zhengzhou, they include: Chengdu, capital of Sichuan province; Hangzhou, capital of Zhejiang; Wuhan, the Hubei provincial capital, Shenyang, capital of Liaoning, and Kunming, capital of Yunnan.
Ding Changfa, an associate professor of economics at Xiamen University in Fujian province, said the emergence of these cities stems from attempts by first-tier metropolises to resolve the "metropolitan malaise".
To ease overpopulation, congestion and pollution, the four first-tier cities have set targets to guide the outflow of people and industries. New first-tier cities, most of them provincial capitals or regional centers, are taking over some functions of the "big four" by becoming homes to professional talent and industries, Ding said.
Liu Yuanju, a researcher with the Shanghai Institute of Finance and Law, said that as property prices in first-tier cities have soared in recent years, it has become increasingly difficult for young people to buy homes.
"In the meantime, household registration policies (hukou) in the four cities are becoming unprecedentedly strict, and only a very few college graduates are able to gain permanent residence permits and settle down. Against such a backdrop, some young people are looking elsewhere," he added.
In recent years, researchers have found the ability of new first-tier cities to attract talent, particularly young college graduates, has clearly increased, overtaking the "pulling power" of first-tier destinations.
Last month, a survey conducted by Xinhuanet and Ziroom, an online apartment rental platform, showed that the number of people renting homes in new first-tier cities such as Tianjin, Hangzhou, Chengdu, Wuhan, Nanjing, capital of Jiangsu province, and Xi'an, capital of Shaanxi province, increased last year at a faster pace than in first-tier cities.