I've been here two years and I think Handan's great!
- very dirty, smelly and noisy
- air very polluted (fourth most polluted city in China last year - asthmatics beware!)
- very ugly (mostly scraggly trees, dusty pavements and nasty Soviet-looking apartment blocks)
- few opportunities to escape Chinese-ness (western restaurants are all horrendous junk food)
- not many historical sites (actually Handan has a very rich ancient history but there's not much left to see. There are a few outside the city, though.)
- low foreigner population. It's harder to make foreign friends here than it would be in a bigger city.
- extremely friendly locals
- low cost of living (you can live frugally for 1000 a month, live well for 2500, live like a king for 5000)
- restaurants EVERYWHERE (food from every province in China, many restaurants are terrific)
- plenty of shopping
- reasonably pleasant weather (almost no rain, but usually a nice breeze to cool you off in summer)
- transportation is cheap and convenient. Traffic is steadily worsening but is still pretty good.
- rapid economic growth = plenty of opportunities to make money if you play your cards right!
- high demand vs. supply for foreigners, so less competition than in other cities
- close proximity to major urban hubs (2 hours from Beijing by train, 4 from Jinan by bus)
- lots of things to do: karaoke, pool, gyms, cinemas (more and more movies these days have English subs). What more do you need?
For me Handan is not too big, not too small. It has all the amenities you would expect from a city, but none of the stress. Every time I go to Beijing I can't wait to get away from the hectic pace there and return to the relaxed pace of Handan, where you can actually live your life instead of spend it queuing for things and getting stuck in traffic.