China: North Vs South

China is vastly huge. Due to climate variance, people living at opposite ends of the country eat completely different foods and celebrate the same festivals distinctly differently. Read on to discover more.

To generalize variations between North and South China is impossible because even in a small place like Dongguan, the north and south, east and west could be dramatically different. However, we can take a look at some common distinctions.

Roughly, the borderline between the north and south lies along the Yangtzi River, the largest river in China, flowing west to east across the vast country. Areas in the north of the river have four explicit seasons, while the lands in the south, especially Guangdong, have a long and humid summer, brief and uncharacteristic spring, autumn and winter. The territories in the north are also flatter with endless plains, while the south has many mountains, rivers and forests. There are a bunch of aspects that due to location, end up as polar opposites or at least different somehow, including architecture, language, life habits and even people’s personalities.

According to Thomas Talhelm, a University of Virginia Ph.D. student, wheat-growing people in the north are thought to be more aggressive and independent because they are able to depend more on themselves; while rice-growing people in the south are considered more cooperative and interdependent because rice farming is labor-intensive and requires water infrastructure maintenance. He called it “rice theory.” The clan culture and clan communities in southern villages do reflect the collectivism side of southern people. Take Nanshe Village of Chashan Town for example: in history, the village cultivated the Xie clan, which had its own collective property and village committee, consisting of a dozen respected elderly members, who would make decisions on matters such as building the village wall or setting up public schools. This self-governed model was adopted widely in Guangdong’s countryside. The question is, as more and more people migrate to urban areas, how much does this agriculture-based theory still influence people’s mindset nowadays?

During the last 1,000 years, northern people continued to migrate to the south due to warfare and natural disasters.

In China, it’s stereotypically believed that Northern Chinese are loud, straightforward, aggressive and bold. Many of them lived by the boundless plain and waters, rode horses and shot arrows, ate a lot of meat and slept under the stars. They lived in a bigger environment and faced a wider horizon. They are born leaders, heroes, emperors and conquerors. They drink baijiu (rice wine) by the jin (half kilo), and they value brotherhood and loyalty. It is believed they are honest and passionate, and yet sometimes, can be irritable or aggressive.

On the other hand, stereotypically Southern Chinese tend to be gentle, reserved and implicit. They lived by the calm and tranquil rice fields with their extended families and clan members in a village. They’ve become soft and refined, after being surrounded by rough rocks and mountains, hostile jungles and rivers. This complicated and unsafe environment forced them to be thoughtful, attentive and even suspicious. They are also said to be cunning and shrewd due to prosperous business activities along the southeastern coast. They are well-suited as entrepreneurs, scholars and industrials.

Another profound difference is in regimen: it seems almost every southerner is capable of using traditional Chinese medicine to make soup and tea, for good health. In Guangdong, due to the weather, inner humidity removal is so important that there are perhaps hundreds of recipes for drinks, soups, desserts and “cool tea” with such purposes. “Cogongrass root porridge” is a unique breakfast invention of Dongguan, reducing both inner heat and humidity. Traditionally, every housewife knows a few slow-cooked soup recipes suitable for the four seasons and various solar terms.

In history, China’s ancient civilization started in the areas between the Yangtzi River and the Yellow River. The south, especially Guangdong, was considered a land of barbarians until 1,000 years ago. And during the last 1,000 years, northern people continued to migrate to the south due to warfare and natural disasters. Southern culture is a combination of the north and local culture, sometimes it even preserves the original northern culture that no longer exists, such as Cantonese, which is said to be the closest language to ancient Chinese.