It is no secret that generalizations about certain groups of people are hugely simplistic, however, generalizations can hold some degree of truth and can also be quite interesting if not useful. This article aims to portray the general differences between the Northern regions of China that typically grow more wheat, and Southern regions of China that typically grow more rice. There is no absolute here and the generalizations are just that- general. We aim to explain these stereotypes rather than condemn them as absolute.
Having established this, lets get into some stereotypes about the Chinese people from the North in comparison to those from the South. Generally, Northerners are considered to be very loud, straightforward and to a certain degree, aggressive. They are also regarded as being more independent as well as analytical in their thought process. When you come across a group of extremely loud and rowdy Chinese, they will generally be labelled as Northerners. This contrasts to the Southern Chinese people who are typically viewed as less ostentatious than their Northern neighbors. Southerners are generally viewed in light of their loyal and cooperative nature as well as holistic approach to situations. They additionally are generally labeled as more crafty, sly and cunning in comparison to Northerners.
While these assumptions may not be true for every Northern and Southern Chinese person, they are the general stereotypes and so now, having stated these two stereotypes, let’s take a historical look as to the possible reasons as to why these two differing cultural psychologies emerged.
A collaborative study between universities in Michigan and China, lead by Professor Talhelm, proposed an extremely interesting hypothesis as to why Northern and Southern Chinese people developed differently. Their hypothesis states that the main reason for the North and South divide can be traced back to rice and noodles. The Northern and Southern regions of China are roughly divided by what we know in the West to be the Yangtze River (长江).The area below the Yangtze River is largely a rice growing area, while the area that lies North is more suitable for the cultivation of wheat. In the Southern region of China, rice is largely grown on irrigated land. This harvesting method requires the sharing of water as well the building of dikes and canals, all of which require frequent maintenance. Thus, Southern rice farmers historically would collaborate in order to mutually create and maintain the infrastructure needed to successfully harvest the rice. Rice farming is typically very labor intensive and thus, requires a huge amount of collaboration in order to be successful. This, Talhelm argues, is largely responsible for the interdependent and collaborative mind set of the Southern Chinese people, who would work together in order to pursue the common goal of a successful rice harvest.
The main ingredient in noodles is wheat, which is grown largely in the northern regions of China. In comparison to rice, wheat does not need as much infrastructure and maintenance to grow. Rice cultivation requires large, wet areas known as paddy fields, while wheat is grown on dry land. Wheat is less arduous than rice and can be grown with a steady supply of natural rainfall. Wheat also requires about half the amount of time from planting to harvest as rice does. This results in the Northern farmers who are less dependent on fellow farmers for a successful harvest and thus, enjoy more freedom to grow their crops independently. This can perhaps be seen as one of the main causes that had led to the more independent mindset that permeates northern Chinese culture.
Talhelm concluded the study stating that, “The idea is that rice provides economic incentives to cooperate, and over many generations, those cultures become more interdependent, whereas societies that do not have to depend on each other as much [Northern wheat growing regions] have the freedom of individualism.”
So there you have it, a possible explanation as to why the people from the north and south of China have such contradicting mannerisms, it all comes down to rice or noodles. Imagine that.
What do you think? Do you think there is any merit to this hypothesis? Let us know and keep the conversation going.
Having grown up in South Africa, attended College in the US and now living in China, has allowed Stephanie to experience a multitude of differing cultural perceptions of the world. She's learning Mandarin AT Mandarin Inn and is studying for her HSK-LEVEL 5 certificate.