Chengdu has the most successful economy of any mainland Chinese city, a US-based think tank has concluded after looking at such factors as job growth, foreign investment and high-value-added industries.
Shanghai and Tianjin came second and third respectively, while Beijing landed hard in 13th place in the rankings by the Milken Institute.
Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province, was singled out for its "human capital, central government support, established industries in high-end aerospace and aircraft design, and a more recently developed electronics manufacturing sector", according to the institute.
The study pointed to two ways cities were developing on the mainland. In the case of Tianjin and Shanghai, the institute saw urbanisation, industrial clustering and infrastructure investment bolstering larger regional economies.
But the recent slowdown in economic growth "suggests that a new approach centring on technology, private investment, and consumption" would replace the previous strategy.
The study is the first time the institute has ranked mainland cities. It assessed 266 at the prefecture level and above and divided them into two categories – 34 first and second-tier cities, and the rest as third-tier cities.
Instead of valuing projected economic growth, the report examined factors over different time periods, including job and wage growth, gross regional production, foreign direct investment and the strength of high-value-added industries.
Chengdu, home of several respected universities, has emerged as a key economic growth engine in the mainland's southwest, enjoying lower labour costs.
Chongqing, which ranked ninth, stood along with Chengdu as the only two inland cities to make the top 10. Shenzhen, which has evolved from a low-cost manufacturing base to the country's information technology hub, came in just under the wire, taking the No 10 spot. In the ranking of third-tier cities, Jiangsu was home to seven of the top 10, with Suzhou taking the top spot.
A strong transport network, including airports, highways and high-speed rail lines connecting cities throughout the Yangtze River Delta played a crucial role in the province's economic growth, the report said.
1 Chengdu, Sichuan
4 Dalian, Liaoning
5 Nanjing, Jiangsu
6 Hefei, Anhui
7 Xiamen, Fujian
8 Changchun, Jilin
10 Shenzhen, Guangdong