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Northern China (Chinese: 华北pinyin: Huáběi) and Southern China (Chinese: 华南; pinyin: Huánán), also referred to in China as simply (Chinese: 北方; pinyin: Běifāng) the North and (Chinese: 南方; pinyin: Nánfāng) the South, are two approximate regions within China. The exact boundary between these two regions has never been precisely defined. Nevertheless, the self-perception of Chinese people, especially regional stereotypes, has often been dominated by these two concepts.



The geographical dividing line between northern and southern China is the Huai River-Qinling Mountains line. This line approximates the 0 degree January isotherm and the 800 mm isohyet in China.

Culturally, however, the division is more ambiguous. In the eastern provinces like Jiangsu and Anhui, however, 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 region around Nanyang, Henan, that lies in the gap where the Qinling has ended and the Huai River has not yet begun; in addition, 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), and Xuzhou (Jiangsu) that lie on an opposite half of China from the rest of their respective provinces. This may have been deliberate; the Mongol Yuan Dynasty and Han Chinese Ming Dynasty established many of these boundaries intentionally to discourage regionalist separatism.

Areas often thought of as being outside "China proper", such as Manchuria, and Inner Mongolia, are also conceived as belonging to either northern or southern China according to the framework above. Xinjiang and Tibet are, however, not usually conceived of as being part of either north or south.


China in 1142

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 China is 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 language, cuisine, culture, and popular entertainment forms.

The Qinling 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.)
The Qinling Mountains and Huai River also mark the approximate boundary between wheat and rice cultivation.

Episodes of division into North and South include:

The Southern and Northern Dynasties showed such a high level of polarization between North and South that northerners and southerners referred to each other as barbarians; the Mongol Yuan Dynasty also made use of the concept: Yuan subjects were divided into four castes, with northern Han Chinese occupying the second-lowest caste and southern Han Chinese occupying the lowest one.


GDP per capita in 2004. Disparity in terms of wealth runs in the east-west direction rather than 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 is 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 and as well as by local loyalties to province, county and village which prevent a coherent Northern or Southern identity from forming.

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 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 urban and rural China, which run in different directions from the north-south division, and in part because neither north or south has any type of obvious advantage within the Chinese central government. In addition there are other cultural divisions that exist within and across the north-south dichotomy.


Nevertheless, the concepts of North and South continue to play an important role in regional stereotypes.


  • Is taller and larger in stature
  • Has smaller eyes with single eyelids (i.e. an epicanthal fold)[1]
  • Has a relatively dolechocephalic skull and longer face
  • Has lighter, fairer skin color[2]
  • Speaks Mandarin with a northern accent
  • Eats more noodles, dumplings and wheat-based foods rather than rice-based food[3]
  • Is more boisterous and open in personality, with more direct "thunderbolt" displays of emotions


  • Is shorter and smaller in stature
  • Has a relatively brachycephalic skull and shorter face
  • Has larger eyes with double eyelids[1]
  • Has darker, tanned skin color[2]
  • Speaks Mandarin with a southern accent and/or a southern dialect such as Yue (Cantonese), Wu, Hakka, Xiang, Min or Gan
  • Eats more rice-based food rather than wheat-based food[3]
  • Is more industrious and entrepreneurial, with more reserved displays of emotions

Note that these are only rough and approximate stereotypes, and are greatly complicated both by further stereotypes by province (or even county) and by real life. Though many of these are considered to be stereotypes, there are some studies that illustrate variations of physiological differences.[4]

See also


  • Brues, Alice Mossie (1977). People and Races. Macmillan series in physical anthropology. New York: Macmillan. ISBN 978-0023156700.
  • Eberhard, Wolfram (1965). "Chinese Regional Stereotypes." Asian Survey, 5(12), 596-608.
  • Lamprey, J. (1868). "A Contribution to the Ethnology of the Chinese." Transactions of the Ethnological Society of London, 6, 101-108.
  • Morgan, Stephen L. (2000). "Richer and Taller: Stature and Living Standards in China, 1979–1995." The China Journal, (44), 1-39.
  • Muensterberger, Warner (1951). "Orality and Dependence: Characteristics of Southern Chinese." In Psychoanalysis and the Social Sciences, (3), ed. Geza Roheim (New York: International Universities Press).

Further reading

  • Ebrey, Patricia Bukley; Liu, Kwang-chang. (1999). The Cambridge illustrated history of China. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0521669917 (ch. 4, 5)
  • Lewis, Mark Edwards. (2009). China Between Empires: The Northern and Southern Dynasties. Harvard University Press. ISBN 978-0674026056
  • Tu, Jo-fu. (1992). Chinese Surnames and the Genetic Differences Between North and South China. Project on Linguistic Analysis, University of California, Berkeley.


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