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.


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

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


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Good to know

Jul 17, 2021 07:28 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