Other cities that qualified were Wuhan, Chongqing, Nanjing, Suzhou, Xi'an, Changsha, Shenyang, Qingdao, Dalian and Ningbo. Two cities — Dongguan and Zhengzhou — made it to the list for the first time this year.
While there is no official ranking, cities in China are often categorized according to tiers based on gross domestic product (GDP), population and level of political administration. Shanghai, Beijing and Guangzhou are widely cited as first tier cities.
The Rising Lab study took into account the cities' performance in five areas, including availability of commercial resources, connectivity and livability. Other than the usual data points, such as GDP, factors such as the number of retail stores and bars operating in the city were also considered.
Rising Lab's study raised eyebrows, however, by including Dongguan on its list of top cities. A manufacturing hub in Guangdong province, it's been best-known outside of China for undergoing a crackdown on its red-light industry.
Some users on Chinese social media platform Weibo were dismissive of the study. "Isn't "new first-tier city" just a nicer way of referring to second-tier cities?" one user asked.
"If Dongguan did not go through the anti-vice campaign, it would have become a first-tier city even sooner," another Weibo user joked.
Other users suggested that the rankings were just an excuse for individuals to speculate in the real estate market. This was especially because housing prices and living costs in some lower tiered cities were similar to those in the first tier, but wages resembled those in third or fourth-tier cities, one Weibo user argued.
While cooling measures have had some impact on the rise in home prices, the potential of a bubble in the property market has been regarded as a risk to the economy by some.