North China vs. South China: Stereotypes, Generalisations and Bigotry

North China vs. South China: Stereotypes, Generalisations and Bigotry
Nov 08, 2010 By

Geologically, the separation between the North and the South is easy to define: two continental cratons, edges merging near the Huai River. Culturally and ethnically, however, the division fades from somewhere in the centre like a bad Chinese haircut, leading to generalisations, stereotypes and bigotry among both the Chinese and the obnoxiously loud westerners you meet in bars getting online degrees in East Asian Studies.

North China vs. South China: Stereotypes, Generalisations and Bigotry

Over millennia, depending on the region, the people residing within the modern Chinese borders have been influenced, fought over and assimilated by a multitude of tribes, clans and countries. They have culturally and ethnically evolved at times almost autonomously; they have embraced different religions; they have cultivated and sought food differently, depending on the climate, soil and type of game readily available; and they have developed many different languages, worldviews, political views, attitudes, traditions and lifestyles.  With a country as big as China and as culturally resilient and significant for such a lengthy period of time—at times the focal point of world trade, commerce and imperialism—one can easily see how so much inner diversity was able to take root and blossom, and hot those individual characteristics were able to evolve and adapt, whether it be under the influence of climate change or barbarian invaders.

Historically, Chinese civilization developed in the East, beginning along the fertile banks of the Yellow River, then spread longitudinally, stretching from Xi’an to Beijing down to Shanghai and below. In antiquity, as well as modernity, the East, especially near and along the coast, due to the arid desert-scape occupying much of the West, has been where the majority of the Chinese have resided. Also, the East, at least since the days of the Silk Road, is where most foreign interaction took place, and it is where both industry and agriculture have thrived.  Although plenty separates the East from the West, the southern/northern divide contributes an unmatchable slew of bigotry, stereotypes and generalizations, permeated in the hearts of the Han Chinese.

Also, in China local pride is fervid; the united front put up when speaking to a Westerner generally fades proudly and loyally when speaking to another Chinese, where they define themselves more specifically—by province, town, village and clan—inevitably contributing at times to a haughty superiority.

Let’s indulge in some sweeping generalisations:

Stereotypically, the Northern Chinese are rowdy, loud, animated, free-spirited, honest to a fault, loyal, and  full of ‘yang;’ they possess the souls of those who fought off barbarians, rode horses, and slept under the stars. They’re the ardent ones, susceptible to drunkenness and passionate fits of anger, not unlike Dmitry Karamazov. This spirit burns in their blood like kerosene, fire spewing from their lips (in the industrial cities, chunky fire, looking like vomit). The Northern Chinese are built to be emperors, leaders, heroes, and conquerors.

And, stereotypically, Southerners are people reared in the pleasure-dome of abundance, raised on rolling rice fields, with silk worms nipping at their whiskers, developing as soft impressions of the calm and tranquil land. They become cultured, erudite, soft and refined, fond of art as well as industry. Southerners are said to be cunning and shrewd, industrious, scholarly, built as instruments for the improvement of culture. They’re said to be well-suited for entrepreneurship, for industry, for art, and for a scholarly life.

Many Northern Chinese follow their ancestry back to Altaic people, such as the Mongols or the Manchus, and the Southerners, especially those in the far south, trace their lineage back to the Thai, or the Taiwanese aborigines. Both interbreeding and migration have severely blurred the lines but these different, albeit ancient backgrounds contribute to cultural and linguistic diversity, as well as diversity in appearance.

According to general stereotypes, the Northern Chinese have taller, broader body types, smaller eyes, fairer skin, and longer faces; the Southern Chinese have shorter, narrower body types, a darker complexion, rounder faces, bigger eyes with double eyelids, and shorter necks and limbs.

Food and Cultivation:
In a country as food- savvy as China, it’s no wonder dishes are a conduit of further competition. Northern China is too cold and dry for the level of rice cultivation that the South enjoys (although with modern technology the North is able to grow a longer-style grain of rice, which leads to a distain among the Chinese as to whose rice is better), so, traditionally, the Northerners ate more noodles, dumplings and other wheat-based foods, while the Southerner ate more rice-based foods. Fruit-wise, the North produces apples, melons, and peaches, while the South produces more tropical fruits such as mangoes, bananas, coconuts and litchis. Along with wheat, the North produces corn, sorghum, root-based vegetables, and cabbages, while the South produces taro roots, eggplants, tomatoes and leafy vegetables, all of which contribute to dishes that come under constant scrutiny by the other side.

Another element to the rivalry is that over China’s long history the capital has been relocated many times, controversially, leading to discontent, a stirring of allegiant sentiments, and bloodshed. During the Yuan Dynasty, in particular, with the capital in Beijing, four castes were created—the second lowest being the Northern Han, the lowest being the Southern Han. Both sides saw each other as barbarians, and some still do.

As foreigners, however, stereotypically, we have nothing to worry about—we’re simply not worthy enough of an opponent. Our big noses, big eyes and natural tendency to be born outside of the motherland, render us barbarians and intruders, unworthy to even play the game.

Related links
Instant Expert: A Quick Guide to China’s Dynasties
Cross Cultural Communication in China – Yes, No, and Maybe
Who Are We? Race and Face in China

Warning:The use of any news and articles published on without written permission from constitutes copyright infringement, and legal action can be taken.

Keywords: North china vs. south china Chinese generalisations north south stereotypes China Chinese stereotypes


All comments are subject to moderation by staff. Because we wish to encourage healthy and productive dialogue we ask that all comments remain polite, free of profanity or name calling, and relevant to the original post and subsequent discussion. Comments will not be deleted because of the viewpoints they express, only if the mode of expression itself is inappropriate.



Much of this article is correct, although, Mr. Scott's general stereotyping of northernors to be loud and rowdy is not neccessarily true. Since he has live in Tangshan, he probably thinks all northernors are just like the rest of the people in Dongbei, however, people from Hebei, (native) Beijing, Tianjin, and/or northern Henan and possibly Shanxi do not act the same. These northernors, especially native Beijing'ers and Tianjin'ers are generally not loud or rowdy but are especially reserved and meek and GENERALLY try to avoid being loud or rowdy. Also, stereotyping all southernors to be careful hardworking workers that are quiet and respectful is not true. Look at any Cantonese person and one can see that. I admit, many southernors are very respectful but certainly not all are quiet. In fact, the only quiet southernors I have come across are from Shanghai and the surrounding area or southwestern China (i.e Yunan, Guizhou, etc.) TIbet and Xinjiang can hardly included in any category as that most people native to those areas are not ethnic Han Chinese or share any resemblance in culture or language to the Han ethnic group. All this being said by a native Beijing'er who now lives in the U.S.A :)

Apr 29, 2012 06:51 Report Abuse



The truth to this whole debate going on here to this article is simply this Mr. Joseph's absolute "hate" attitude reply!! I was astonished by his very hateful reply! why ? ..even if he doesn't like the article ....and his written Chinese is terrible and very poorly written and he is Chinese !! I know ! I can read and write Chinese and I guess by all accounts especially by Mr. Joseph I a "White Devil". Please Joseph get a grip on yourself ! I don't agree with alot of things but you need to get a life. Either go see a therapist or take a tranquilizer!! It's just an article. If you want to reply to me ..go ahead. I am not afraid of your hate ! But, it is people like you that give others a bad name and rap....why not chill fora while.

Mar 29, 2012 09:26 Report Abuse



Empty drivelling by semi-employed westerners.One would think they would be able to x-ray the stereotypes and differences they have in their own countries in the same way! Westerners will never tell everyone here that a country like the US will never allow its minorities to see the sun.The old rich whites carry guns,exclude the poor from good schools and rich neighbourhoods.One Chinese started moving to the West,they never went into making an inventory of all the petty ironies of human nature in the countries they inhabited.It is so frivolous to read that continuous chorus of pathetic write ups about what Chinese are and are not.What they like and do not.Many Chinese know little about slavery,can one of these Westerners help them out with another drivel? Can we know what the US,Britain,France,Germany have been doing to raise to their own level countries they exploited for centuries? Tell us why after centuries of exploiting others,the West still succeeded in running itself to the ground,that they now need help from poor countries.

Mar 27, 2012 22:05 Report Abuse



Go to Dongbei and talk to my crazy mother-in-law and then go to HK and talk to anyone - you'll see the difference. The article is very right. Whenever I go to Liaoning to visit in-laws, I always dread the noise, the loud voices, loud TV, spitting everywhere, but if I go to Sichuan or HK to see friends, it's a completely different story. Just my own experience, no generalisations.)))

Mar 27, 2012 08:27 Report Abuse



I must say, i think most of your observations are accurate, except for the attitude paragraph which i think is completely rubbish. In my experience, the cantonese people can be full of themselves and too proud to notice the existence of the mainland. They are louder, ruder, more arrogant, and they place themselves on the top of the pyramid just because they are wealthier. Mandarin people are much more welcoming and friendly, similar to koreans and japanese people due to their proximity. This can be proven with the horrible loud horrible cantonese language which makes me want to chop my ears off, compared to the chilled sounds of mandarin

Nov 19, 2011 03:27 Report Abuse



Northern Chinese IS Northern Chinese, our ancestry have NOTHING to do with mongols, manchus, or wthatever, don't believe those shameless Chinese "experts"

Jul 11, 2011 10:38 Report Abuse


samuel welsh

I think most chinese are good but the service manner sucks.

May 09, 2011 21:59 Report Abuse



Hello. I am a Chinese, from the south, Guangdong province, I lived in the north (Shandong) for 2 years and I live in Hong kong now. Yes, for the most part these stereotypes are the ones spoken of by many people both north and south. Again, we Chinese also take them with what you westerners say " a grain of salt". I know these stereotypes arent 100%, but the culture in Shandong and Guangdong are definitely different. Thats all i will say

Apr 03, 2011 10:32 Report Abuse



I am Chinese. I think this article gives a pretty accurate account of generalized stereotype of northern and southern division. The key word is 'generalization', it may not apply to every individual or situation. it may not be 100 percent objective, still, it shows the author has some in-depth knowledge on Chinese people.

Nov 14, 2010 04:09 Report Abuse



Thank You Sermon for your reply....Being realistic is based on truth, fact and wisdom not lies...when you have lived long enough the truth will reveal itself and people need to open their minds and hearts. Life is too short and that is a real fact....if HUMAN BEINGS can not live in Harmony than what is left to live for?

Nov 12, 2010 04:07 Report Abuse



Peace and Harmony to ALL....We humans are one species on this small planet, regardless of our birth locations this article here in China and else where is not necessary. I would prefer to read about the cultural diversity of the different regions from an historical point of view which contributes to the unity of all Chinese people. This is 2010 and people habits, history and behavior all over the world lets take a different approach and point of view to express future articles regarding any and all people. xiexieni

Nov 12, 2010 00:40 Report Abuse



beautiful, now let's be realistic...nothing is necessary, besides love and harmony, really, but it's just not interesting. You don't learn about true human nature that way, because, well, that is not human nature. To be able to find peace we need to know history, we need to know ourselves, and the TRUTH about ourselves, so that maybe, in the future we can change it. Until then, lets not lie about what type of beings humans are.

Nov 12, 2010 03:45 Report Abuse



Sermon, your reply express a shallow reality, to clarify what I stated... history and human behavior include events of time and require a different human approach and views as reflections of our actions. If I understand you...human nature is limited, and I say to know ourselves is not truth...Wisdom allows humans to see the truth beyond the lies. xiexieni

Nov 14, 2010 05:38 Report Abuse




I agree with what you say about wisdom. I think most people would agree with you.

But you are still missing the point.
Stereotypes and generalizations have nothing to do with wisdom, They are based on here-say, prejudices and ignorance. And this article was about stereotypes. It is not saying that they are true. It is just saying that these perceptions exist.

Nov 14, 2010 23:09 Report Abuse



True Mark;.....Stereotypes and generalizations are ignorant perceptions by ignorant minds far short of wisdom. However the common indifference relating to stereotypes can be over come by self development...How many people did Jesus convert from their dark ignorance to see the light of goodness. What continues to exist can be over come....hope is never out of reach. xiexieni

Nov 15, 2010 23:58 Report Abuse



Why bring Jesus into this.

Unless you want a discussion about stereotypical bible bashers. And the generalizations and bigotry of the fundamentalists.

Nov 16, 2010 19:59 Report Abuse



Mr. Scott,
I want to let you know that I appreciate this article and concur with the generalizations. Almost weekly, I discuss Chinese culture with my students and they express similar views. I’ve also witnessed two very violent fights in Xian, both in restaurants during normal dinner hours. Luckily however, these are only stereotypes and each of the billion plus people in China react differently and have their own unique personalities.
That picture is pretty sweet, too.

Nov 11, 2010 07:50 Report Abuse



I feel this article was very well written if not a little to succinct for me. In fact there are a lot more biases between the North and South and the racism or as you call local pride goes far deeper then any Chinese would care to admit. Your last paragraph could have been a boast from the master race as I have seen and heard many times here.
No body but Chinese are worthy.

Nov 09, 2010 21:10 Report Abuse



It's hard to say about these stereotypes. China certainly has a lot of local variations and regional differences, and stereotypes, biases and prejudices are kind of inevitable. The Chinese in general do know about these differences and they are also quite open about expressing their opinions toward all kinds and types of distinctions between the different regions and localities in China, which of course include the people, culture, languages and dialects, food, customs, geography...etc. All of these things, such as the regional and local differences, Chinese people's views toward different places and its people and so forth have been there throughout history, up to and including now. However, I wouldn't call the local prides, stereotypes, biases and prejudice in this context as racism, though (Many Chinese do admit quite openly of their local pride and their views about other people and places in China, these have also been there throughout history up to and including now). Many times, the Chinese themselves have different views about the different regions and localities in their country. Individual Chinese's opinions can also be different from one another regarding the differences between the different localities and regions (Chinese opinions can be very diverse, and this is true of just about anything out there). Of course, different Chinese from different places are also different from one another. And, we should also remember that as individuals, people are also different from one another and that no two Chinese are exactly the same.

Also, I don't know about the last paragraph in this article. It seems to me most Chinese these days see foreigners, especially Westeners in a rather positive light. Some Chinese do have this love and hate attitude toward Westerners. But most of the times, Westerners and their countries and cultures are held in high regard, as I would say the majority of Chinese consider the West as the symbol of civilization. Very very few Chinese would see the Westerners as barbarians these days, and many would also not see them as intruders. This attitude of seeing the Westerners as civilized and being better has been around for a long time now, even Mao couldn't change this attitude during his rule, if he wanted to change it at all in the first place. In fact, he himself still adhered in a general way to a Western ideology, communism. So yeah, I don't believe the majority of Chinese have seen themselves as being more worthy than the Westerners from the 19th century onward up to and including now. The opposite has been true: as overall, Westerners and anything Western have been seen and still are seen by the Chinese as more worthy and better than Chinese and anything Chinese. This attitude of seeing the West being better is probably going to be there for at least the next 50 to 100 years, if not more.

Nov 19, 2012 23:52 Report Abuse



My post from above was addressed not only to Freakboy, but also to other readers here.

Nov 20, 2012 00:28 Report Abuse



Joseph, I don't think you know what you are talking about. You seem to get things all wrong. You made it sound like all southern Chinese speak Cantonese and they were all brought up by the western value. All land in the south of Yangtze River is considered south and north of it is considered north, then you will get a better picture of south vs north.

Nov 08, 2010 20:13 Report Abuse



Joseph, the north and south divide in China is not put in place by regions speaking cantonese. most cantonese speakers come from Guangdong, Fujian, Guanxi or HK. Leaving a whole lot of non cantonese speaking south china. I have spent 5 years in Harbin the one of the largest northern cities and currently I live in Zhuhai. There is a huge difference in "rowdiness" between the two places. In Harbin you can spend a night out in the club with out a massive brawl taking place. the 11am lunches oftern include upwards of 8 alarge beer botttles. While in Zhuhai its alot more chill with fights rarely happening in the clubs and the lunches consisting of chocolate flavoured vita soy.

Nov 08, 2010 16:47 Report Abuse




The article is about stereotypes.

Nov 08, 2010 16:46 Report Abuse



I beg to differ Mr. Scott but if by Northern Chinese, you are referring to the Mandarin-speaking peoples then you are gravely mistaken with that "rowdy and loud" remark although you seem to have redeemed yourself (a tiny bit) when you said they are "born to be emperors"; yet you fail in a huge way if being the observant one you claim yourself to be. The Southern Chinese (those that speak the Cantonese dialect) are more rowdy having been brought up by the Western values of the British occupation of Hong Kong. The Northern Chinese are a lot more reserved and meek, if you will. They tend to be gentle in their words and actions as opposed to what you were trying to present them as. The Southern Chinese tend to be more aggressive in their words that reaason and leniency are seen as a weakness and therefore should be dealt with in strong way, however, the Northern Chinese tend to use reason with the way they conduct everyday life; they are soft-spoken and are generous with their smiles. Southern Chinese are easily irritated having that strong character quite possibly inherited from such partial Western upbringing. You seem to have failed in those respects. You cannot base your observations based on the people or a handful of Chinese you come across in bars or universities. I have lived in Tianjin for quite some time now and I have never seen any kind of "rowdiness" and it is interesting to note that Southern Chinese who come to the North seem to introduce themselves with this "loudness" and "rowdiness" you label Northerners with.

Nov 08, 2010 15:00 Report Abuse


Mr. Scott

Mr. Joseph,
First off, this article was meant to take an objective look at traditional Chinese stereotypes of each other; the STEREOTYPING discussed here does not come from my own personal observations, although I have lived in the very traditional North (Tangshan, heard of it?) for about a 1 ? yrs. and the ‘western-influences South for quite some time. I have also travelled China extensively. These remarks are what SOME Chinese, from either side, have typically said about the other. It appears you don’t understand the meaning of stereotype or generalisation. Of course bigotry is not true, of course they’re not all like that. The claims stated are from research and talking to many Chinese, not in bars or universities, as you seem to have pigeonholed me into some generalisations yourself. This article is not meant for people to read then be bigots and overgeneralise themselves. It is not for people toread and then say, ‘I can be a bigger bigot than that’ and then proceed to do so, as you have done. But you need to read it to figure that out. Cantonese is not a dialect, big shot, and you seem to be under the impression that all Southerners were raised in Shanghai and Hong Kong. When you come back to reality you will find that your generalisation encapsulates a very small per cent. You make it sound like all southern Chinese were raised with more western values, and then claim to know how it really works by having lived in Tianjin. Why don’t you look into the history and occupation of Tianjin by the west... it is very extensive.
Take a look at the title, learn or remember how to read critically, and don’t let an article presenting traditional stereotypes objectively inspire you to say to yourself, ‘ I can pigeonhole massive groups of people better than that,’ because anyone who actually read the article with 6th grade reading skills would know how ridiculous that is.

Nov 08, 2010 18:51 Report Abuse