Making Sense of the Geographical Divisions in China | 进一步的去了解中国的地域划分
Before coming to China I, like most of my friends and relatives back in the U.S., assumed that China was one, huge, homogenous chunk of land – where everyone spoke “Chinese,” looked “Chinese,” and shared a common culture and history.
After living on-and-off in China since 2007 and traveling throughout much of the country, I can resolutely say that notion is false. Just like in the United States, each geographic region of China (province in China’s case) is distinct with its own cuisine, culture, and in many cases, dialect. Although an overwhelming majority of the people, close to 92 percent according to government statistics, are Han Chinese, there are 55 other ethnic minorities in China. Some, like the Uighurs in China’s extreme northwest, look nothing like the image of the “typical” Chinese person that was burned into my mind before coming.
Now, having just traveled to Shenzhen in China’s southern Guangdong Province, I’ve become aware of another division that shares a parallel with the U.S. – the distinction between northern China and southern China.
In my experience, if you ask a Chinese northerner (north of the Yangtze river) the difference between northern China and southern China, they’ll tell you that southerners are more interested in earning money and less interested in politics. They eat rice instead of noodles and steamed buns, don’t dine on jiaozi (dumplings) during the spring festival, and are generally darker-skinned.
Of course, if you ask a Southerner about a Northerner, they’re likely to say that they’re taller, stronger, and eat heartier food, but are a tad less “cultured.”
In Guangdong province, the heart of China’s Cantonese culture, I experienced southern culture at its apex. In Beijing and Manchuria (dong bei), I experienced northern culture at its apex.
Just like in the U.S., each region has a rich heritage and culture. In southern states in the U.S., you’re likely to hear voices flavored by a Dixie accent, and will probably see a confederate flag or two, a remnant of an era that came and went.
In China, I’ve found that the stereotypes of north and south are, by-and-large, spot on. Like the culture as a whole, southern cuisine is carefully prepared, subtly spiced, and neatly served. In the north, food is blasted with flavor and sauce, and served on huge, heaping platters.
It’s tough to say which culture I like better, but because I’ve spent most of my time in China in Beijing, I’ve become more familiar and comfortable around the northern culture. Still, the allure of the warm, subtle south is alluring.
What’s most important is for an outsider to understand that China, like the U.S., is far from a homogenous country. The geographic divisions, north-south especially, play an important role.
Some of us were talking about the problem of littering in office today. For me, who grew up in Shanghai, studied in Singapore and finished college in Cedar Falls, Shanghai has the most serious littering problem. However, as I have always seen America as a homogenous entity, I failed to realize the difference people came from different places would have. From what was described to me, cities like New York has a much worst littering problem than Shanghai.
This did make me start to think about the difference people show in my four years in the States. Americans do not have dialects like we do in China, but some of them do have a very distinguishable accent. Another thing I noticed was Americans usually have a very strong stereotype for each state whereas in China, most of the people are grouped into North and South.
The reason for the difference in my opinion is that more people want to travel and move into bigger cities in China which created a bigger flow of population. I think there are enough opportunities here in the States so people can do well without depending too much on their location. But it is very different in China, most people believe in going to a bigger city would bring them more income and ultimately lead to a good life. While this idea is true in many cases, I feel there are many opportunities missed in smaller communities.
Most of my American friends could not understand the difference between a dialect and a language and are usually surprised to learn that people from the north can sometimes do not understand a single word someone from the south is speaking even though they can both write in the same language. I personally believe this is a very important aspect of Chinese culture and should definitely be preserved and this can be a good indicator of geological identity.