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Northern and southern China

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Northern China (Chinese: 中国北方 or 中国北部; lit. 'China's North') and Southern China (Chinese: 中国南方 or 中国南部; lit. 'China's South')[note 1] are two approximate regions within China. The exact boundary between these two regions is not precisely defined and only serve to depict where there appears to be regional differences between the climates and localities of northern regions of China vs southern regions of China. Nevertheless, regional differences in culture and language have historically fostered a number of local identities.[1][2]



Often used as the geographical dividing line between northern and southern China is the Qinling–Huaihe Line (lit. Qin MountainsHuai River Line). This line approximates the 0 °C January isotherm and the 800 millimetres (31 in) isohyet in China.

Culturally, however, the division is more ambiguous. In the eastern provinces like Jiangsu and Anhui, the Yangtze River may instead be perceived as the north–south boundary instead of the Huai River, but this is a recent development.

There is an ambiguous area, the Nanyang Basin region in Henan, that lies in the gap where the Qin has ended and the Huai River has not yet begun; also, central Anhui and Jiangsu lie south of the Huai River but north of the Yangtze, making their classification somewhat ambiguous as well. As such, the boundary between northern and southern China does not follow provincial boundaries; it cuts through Shaanxi, Henan, Anhui, and Jiangsu, and creates areas such as Hanzhong (Shaanxi), Xinyang (Henan), Huaibei (Anhui) and Xuzhou (Jiangsu) that lie on the opposite half of China from the rest of their respective provinces. This may have been deliberate; the Yuan dynasty and Ming dynasty established many of these boundaries intentionally to discourage anti-dynastic regionalism.[citation needed]

The Northeast and Inner Mongolia are conceived to belong to northern China according to the framework above. At some times in history, Xinjiang, Tibet and Qinghai were not conceived of as being part of either the north or south. However, internal migration, such as between the Shandong and Liaodong peninsulas during the Chuang Guandong period, have increased the purview of "north" China to include previously marginalized areas.



The concepts of northern and southern China originate from differences in climate, geography, culture, and physical traits; as well as several periods of actual political division in history. Northern and northeastern China is considered too cold and dry for rice cultivation (though rice is grown there today with the aid of modern technology) and consists largely of flat plains, grasslands, and desert; while southern China is warm and rainy enough for rice and consists of lush mountains cut by river valleys. Historically, these differences have led to differences in warfare during the pre-modern era, as cavalry could easily dominate the northern plains but encountered difficulties against river navies fielded in the south. There are also major differences in cuisine, culture, and popular entertainment forms such as opera.

The Qin Mountains and Huai River approximately separate northern Mandarin-speaking regions on the one hand, and southwestern Mandarin-, Eastern Mandarin-, and non-Mandarin-speaking regions on the other. ("Mandarin" and "Southern" on this map refer to Sinitic languages, while other groups are not Sinitic.)[3][note 2]
The Qin Mountains and Huai River also mark the approximate boundary between wheat and rice cultivation.

Episodes of division into North and South include:

The Northern and Southern Dynasties showed such a high level of polarization between North and South that sometimes northerners and southerners referred to each other as barbarians; subjects of the Yuan dynasty were divided into four political status classes. Northerners included the Khitans and other ethnic groups occupy the third-caste and southern natives occupying the lowest one.

For a large part of Chinese history, northern China was economically more advanced than southern China.[citation needed] The Jin and Yuan invasions caused a massive migration to southern China, and the Emperor shifted the Song dynasty capital city from Kaifeng in northern China to Hangzhou, located south of the Yangtze River. The population of Shanghai increased from 12,000 households to over 250,000 inhabitants after Kaifeng was sacked by invading armies. This began a shift of political, economic, and cultural power from northern China to southern China. The east coast of southern China remained a leading economic and cultural center of China until the Republic of China. Today, southern China remains economically more prosperous than northern China.

During the Qing dynasty, regional differences and identification in China fostered the growth of regional stereotypes. Such stereotypes often appeared in historic chronicles and gazetteers and were based on geographic circumstances, historical and literary associations (e.g. people from Shandong, were considered upright and honest) and Chinese cosmology (as the south was associated with the fire element, Southerners were considered hot-tempered).[1] These differences were reflected in Qing dynasty policies, such as the prohibition on local officials to serve their home areas, as well as conduct of personal and commercial relations.[1] In 1730, the Kangxi Emperor made the observation in the Tingxun Geyan (庭訓格言):[1][5]

The people of the North are strong; they must not copy the fancy diets of the Southerners, who are physically frail, live in a different environment, and have different stomachs and bowels.

— the Kangxi Emperor, Tingxun Geyan (《庭訓格言》)

During the Republican period, Lu Xun, a major Chinese writer, wrote:[6]

According to my observation, Northerners are sincere and honest; Southerners are skilled and quick-minded. These are their respective virtues. Yet sincerity and honesty lead to stupidity, whereas skillfulness and quick-mindedness lead to duplicity.

— Lu Xun, Complete works of Lu Xun (《魯迅全集》), pp. 493–495.

"Southern" can also refer to areas such as Jiangsu and Zhejiang but not South China such as Guangdong.[7] Historical migrations were often north-to-south.[2]


GDP per capita in 2004. The disparity in terms of wealth runs in the east–west direction rather than the north–south direction. The map, based on provincial borders, also hides an additional sharp disparity between urban and rural areas. However, the southeast coast is still wealthier than the northeast coast in per capita terms.

In modern times, North and South are merely one of the ways that Chinese people identify themselves, and the divide between northern and southern China has been complicated both by a unified Chinese nationalism as well as by local loyalties to linguistically and culturally distinct regions within the province, prefecture, county, town and village isolates which prevent a coherent Northern or Southern identity from forming.[citation needed]

During the Deng Xiaoping reforms of the 1980s, South China developed much more quickly than North China, leading some scholars to wonder whether the economic fault line would create political tension between north and south. Some of this was based on the idea that there would be a conflict between the bureaucratic north and the commercial south. This has not occurred to the degree feared, in part because the economic fault lines eventually created divisions between coastal China and the interior, as well as between urban and rural China, which run in different directions from the north–south division, and in part because neither north nor south has any type of obvious advantage within the Chinese central government. Besides, there are other cultural divisions that exist within and across the north–south dichotomy.[citation needed]

The transition from north to south is gradual and not universal, but some differences can be observed.



Northern regions of China have long winters that are cold and dry, often below freezing, and long summers that are hot and humid.[8] Transitional periods are short. The ecology is simple and not resilient to droughts.[2]

Many southern regions are subtropical and green year round. The winters are short. They often experience typhoons and the East Asian monsoon in the summer.[9] The ecology is complex, and floods are more common.[2]

Distribution of tropical wet forests that is present in southern regions of China but less present in north regions of China

Diet and produce


The northern regions are easier to cultivate.[2] Hardy crops such as corn, sorghum, soybeans, and wheat are grown, and one to two crops are produced each year.[1] The growing season lasts four to six months. Wheat-based food such as bread, dumplings, and noodles are more common.[7][8]

Cultivation of the southern regions began later in history.[2] Warm temperatures and abundant rainfall help produce rice and tropical fruits.[8] Two to three crops can be grown each year, and the growing season lasts nine to twelve months.[1] Rice-based food is more common.[7][8]

Language and people


Jones Lamprey, a British army surgeon in 1868,[10] writes that northerners have lighter skin tones than southerners, although the shade can change greatly from season to season depending on an individual's exposure to sunlight when performing manual labor outdoors.[11] Northerners are often taller than southerners.[12]

Variants of Mandarin are widely spoken in northern regions and often with a rhotic accent.[2][11] Ethnic groups are comparatively more diverse in southern regions.[1] Rhotic accent is usually absent from the Mandarin spoken there. Different dialects are less mutually intelligible, and additional languages such as Cantonese or Hokkien are spoken.[11] Patrilineage organizations are larger and more integrated in rural southern regions, possibly due to competition for territory and merges.[2]

A series of studies on regional differences in China suggest that people from places that grow wheat have different social styles and thought styles from those in rice-growing regions[13][14][15]. Respondents from northern China are found to be more individualistic, think more analytically, and more open to strangers. Those from the southern regions are more likely to think holistically, interdependent, and draw a larger distinction between friends and strangers. The difference was attributed to the growing of rice, which often requires the sharing labor and managing shared irrigation infrastructure.[16][17][18]



Traveling between places tends to be easier in northern regions where the terrain is more even.[2]

See also



  1. ^ Also referred to in China as simply the north (Chinese: 北方; pinyin: Běifāng) and the south (Chinese: 南方; pinyin: Nánfāng).
  2. ^ The map shows the distribution of linguistic groups according to the historical majority ethnic groups by region. Note this is different from the current distribution due to age-long internal migration and assimilation.




  1. ^ a b c d e f g Smith, Richard Joseph (1994). China's cultural heritage: the Qing dynasty, 1644–1912 (2 ed.). Westview Press. ISBN 978-0-8133-1347-4.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Xuefeng, He (7 March 2022). Northern and Southern China: Regional Differences in Rural Areas. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-000-40262-9.
  3. ^ Source: United States Central Intelligence Agency, 1990.
  4. ^ Lewis, Mark Edward (30 April 2011). China Between Empires: The Northern and Southern Dynasties. Harvard University Press. ISBN 978-0-674-06035-7.
  5. ^ Hanson, Marta E. (July 2007). "Jesuits and Medicine in the Kangxi Court (1662–1722)" (PDF). Pacific Rim Report (43). San Francisco: Center for the Pacific Rim, University of San Francisco: 7, 10. Archived from the original (PDF) on 19 March 2012. Retrieved 12 July 2011.
  6. ^ Young, Lung-Chang (Summer 1988). "Regional Stereotypes in China". Chinese Studies in History. 21 (4): 32–57. doi:10.2753/csh0009-4633210432. Archived from the original on 29 January 2013.
  7. ^ a b c Eberhard, Wolfram (December 1965). "Chinese Regional Stereotypes". Asian Survey. 5 (12). University of California Press: 596–608. doi:10.2307/2642652. JSTOR 2642652.
  8. ^ a b c d "Regions of Chinese food-styles/flavors of cooking". regional cuisines. Archived from the original on 16 April 2009.
  9. ^ Zhu, Hua (1 March 2017). "The Tropical Forests of Southern China and Conservation of Biodiversity". The Botanical Review. 83 (1): 87–105. Bibcode:2017BotRv..83...87Z. doi:10.1007/s12229-017-9177-2. ISSN 1874-9372. S2CID 29536766.
  10. ^ "Jones Lamprey | Historical Photographs of China". hpcbristol.net. Retrieved 17 November 2023.
  11. ^ a b c Lamprey, J. (1868). "A Contribution to the Ethnology of the Chinese". Transactions of the Ethnological Society of London. 6: 101–108. doi:10.2307/3014248. ISSN 1368-0366. JSTOR 3014248.
  12. ^ Lu, Guoguang; Yang, Zhihui; Zhang, Yan; Lu, Shengxu; Gong, Siyuan; Li, Tingting; Shen, Yijie; Zhang, Sihan; Zhuang, Hanya (2022). "Geographic latitude and human height - Statistical analysis and case studies from China". Arabian Journal of Geosciences. 15 (335). Bibcode:2022ArJG...15..335L. doi:10.1007/s12517-021-09335-x.
  13. ^ Talhelm, Thomas; Dong, Xiawei (27 February 2024). "People quasi-randomly assigned to farm rice are more collectivistic than people assigned to farm wheat". Nature Communications. 15 (1): 1782. Bibcode:2024NatCo..15.1782T. doi:10.1038/s41467-024-44770-w. ISSN 2041-1723. PMC 10899190. PMID 38413584.
  14. ^ Talhelm, T.; Zhang, X.; Oishi, S.; Shimin, C.; Duan, D.; Lan, X.; Kitayama, S. (9 May 2014). "Large-Scale Psychological Differences Within China Explained by Rice Versus Wheat Agriculture". Science. 344 (6184): 603–608. Bibcode:2014Sci...344..603T. doi:10.1126/science.1246850. ISSN 0036-8075. PMID 24812395.
  15. ^ Talhelm, Thomas; Zhang, Xuemin; Oishi, Shigehiro (6 April 2018). "Moving chairs in Starbucks: Observational studies find rice-wheat cultural differences in daily life in China". Science Advances. 4 (4): eaap8469. Bibcode:2018SciA....4.8469T. doi:10.1126/sciadv.aap8469. ISSN 2375-2548. PMC 5916507. PMID 29707634.
  16. ^ Talhelm, T.; Zhang, X.; Oishi, S.; Shimin, C.; Duan, D.; Lan, X.; Kitayama, S. (9 May 2014). "Large-Scale Psychological Differences Within China Explained by Rice Versus Wheat Agriculture". Science. 344 (6184): 603–608. Bibcode:2014Sci...344..603T. doi:10.1126/science.1246850. ISSN 0036-8075. PMID 24812395.
  17. ^ Talhelm, Thomas; Oishi, Shigehiro (2018). "How Rice Farming Shaped Culture in Southern China". In Uskul, Ayse (ed.). Socio-Economic Environment and Human Psychology: Social, Ecological, and Cultural Perspectives. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. pp. 53–76. doi:10.1093/oso/9780190492908.003.0003. ISBN 9780190492908. LCCN 2017046499. SSRN 3199657.
  18. ^ Bray, Francesca (1994). The Rice Economies: Technology and Development in Asian Societies. University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-520-08620-3.

Further reading