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Open Dialogue: Northern vs. Southern Asians

Posted February 20th, 2010 by Peter · 19 Comments

Vannie Sung’s latest submission is about latitudinal differences between Asians in their own countries. There is definitely a divide that keeps Asians everywhere (especially in areas torn by war and ideology) from achieving true unity because they are so caught up in upholding their own cultural identities. Vannie poses a larger question at the end– can people co-exist with NO boundaries and maintain unique identities? Read this post and give us your opinion or experiences.

As I’ve mentioned before about alleged rcupegional stereotypes between the West and East Coast here in the United States (see “East vs. West Coast Asian-Americans), it seems that there exist differences between the North and the South in Asian countries as well.

Imagine you’re filling out a survey and you come to the question that tells you to check off your race and/or ethnicity. Usually if the form is specific, we see these options “Asian” (usually applies if you’re from China, Japan, Thailand, etc.) and the separate option for “South Asian” ( associated with India, Pakistan, Nepal, etc.). Of course, then there’s the apparent split between North and South Korea (don’t forget Vietnam).

Regarding stereotypes, I’ve heard a few that appear to exist almost everywhere in relation to the northern and southern regions. For example, “Southern Indians are darker”, or “Those in southern Japan speak slower.” This is what I’ve managed to find on Wikipedia, distinguishing northern and southern China. Keeping in mind that these are after all, stereotypes, and that my research is coming from a questionable source (I admit, Wikipedia is convenient for research, but dangerously unreliable), I’ve taken all of this information with a grain of salt. However, having read the “Stereotypes” section on that webpage, I can see how a Chinese Northerner “eats more noodles, dumplings, and wheat-based foods rather than rice-based foods”.

Once again, when we attempt to classify a region, do the stereotypes work for or against us? Between the North and the South, can we co-exist with no boundaries-yet maintain a unique identity?

We hope to hear your responses and discussions because this will help clear up why people are so dissonant even though they are from the same countries and cultures.

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Tags: Customs · Environment · Habits · History · Open Dialogue · People · Relationships

19 responses so far ↓

  • 1 amanda // Feb 20, 2010 at 6:35 pm

    The thing regarding eating more rice-based foods is true! Northern China’s climate is more suited for growing wheat/grain-based products… hence they eat more noodles (“fen3″), while Southern Chinese grow rice, so the noodles we eat are different kinds (“mi3fen3″) and we tend to eat rice more!

  • 2 amanda // Feb 20, 2010 at 6:38 pm

    @amanda, oops, i meant “mian4tiao2″ for Northern Chinese people!

  • 3 GAURAV AHUJA // Feb 20, 2010 at 6:42 pm

    For many thousands of years, the geography of various countries would divide people. Genetic and cultural differences would evolve. You cannot expect otherwise especially in big, racially diverse, multicultural, and multi-religious countries such as India. China is much more homogenous racially. But, that was of course through conquest from the Han which continues to today with Uighurstan and Tibet. What you call stereotypes are usually correct generalizations with various degrees. A continent that has so many languages, religions, and races can never be united inside that continent or with those various people in the diaspora outside of the continent.

  • 4 Viet // Feb 20, 2010 at 7:29 pm

    We hate northerners because they speak funny and they eat dogs.

    In all seriousness though, the north/south Vietnam thing isn’t just because of the War.

    A part of it was because of the war, yes, because of the atrocities the Northern Army did to the Southern Army after the war (and during).

    And I want to leave that as part of the conversation because many people (my family included) are still very bitter about what happened during the war.

    On a less serious note, though. There’s the perception that northerners speak with somewhat of a hoity toity accent and use fancy words and they look down on us simple southern folk and our southern accent

  • 5 kvietgrl // Feb 20, 2010 at 10:18 pm

    @Viet, Thanks Everyone for sharing your insight. I agree with Viet that southern people tend to see northern vietnamese people as more high and mighty in their accent and also a list of others such as being uptight, stingy, not down to earth like southern people, etc…

  • 6 Peter // Feb 21, 2010 at 9:18 am

    @amanda, Wow Amanda, I did not know that!

    I didn’t realize that food differences could occur due to geography. It’s not always ideological, I guess!


  • 7 Viet // Feb 21, 2010 at 3:45 pm

    As for me, I really have no reason to hate northerners (aside from their accent and the whole dog eating thing). In fact, i find the accent somewhat exotic, sort of like when someone in America speaks with a British accent.

    And most people I know don’t hate northerners really either.

    I think a lot of the bitterness and animosity is directed towards the government and not so much the people themselves.

  • 8 Eurasian Sensation // Feb 21, 2010 at 4:00 pm

    @ amanda and peter, Indian cuisine displays a similar dynamic – the hotter and wetter south is dominated by rice-based foods, while wheat in the form of breads dominates the drier north.

  • 9 steve // Feb 22, 2010 at 12:23 am

    yeah, i def think the stereotypes about N/S Chinese food differences are true — naturally the different climates lead to different staple foods — wheat noodles in the northern plains rather than rice from the rainy south, but I almost feel as if it goes deeper than that…

    typically southerners in China are seen as smart, quick-witted, resourceful, and simultaneously immersed in dozens of shady business deals. northerners are trustworthy and loyal, though perhaps a bit slower and not as good at business.

    seems the food almost reflects that dichotomy – southerners will eat ANYTHING and everything all at once in the same meal, whereas northerners are content with a mess of beloved jiaozi, miantiao and a bowl of doujiang to ease the transaction.

    i’ve heard that typically countries in warmer climates tend to be slower, kinder, more expressive of emotions, more relationships-oriented and less concerned with time… my feeling is that this holds generally true in Asia when we compare Japan/Korea/China with Philippines/Thailand/Indonesia.

    Would you say that’s a true generalization — and if so, why does it seem N/S China seems to break free from the model?

  • 10 Eurasian Sensation // Feb 24, 2010 at 5:32 am

    Some of the stereotypes about the differences between North and South Asians have parallels in Europe as well. Those from the north (China, Korea, Japan, or Germany, Sweden, England) are often seen as efficient, hardworking and serious. Those from the south (Indonesia, Philippines, India, or Italy, Spain, Greece) are frequently seen as more free-spirited or laid back. Not saying there is any truth to this. But you could wonder whether a hotter climate engenders a different approach to life.

  • 11 Yup // Feb 24, 2010 at 11:43 am

    @Eurasian Sensation,

    I think that commercial where Lewis Black goes to Aruba pretty much confirms what you said.

  • 12 kvietgrl // Feb 24, 2010 at 1:13 pm

    Happy Birthday Peter!

  • 13 BatuKhanw4 // Feb 24, 2010 at 8:01 pm

    Kirsten Dunst is turning Japanese. Funny video.

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  • 15 Chriss // Mar 6, 2010 at 6:21 pm

    It’s not just the Asians. It’s human nature. Think about the jokes America makes about Canada or New York and Los Angeles.

  • 16 Kuri // Mar 10, 2010 at 6:14 pm

    The same goes with North and South Jersey, too ;]
    But yeah, I didn’t read the article on East/West coast Asians, but I think the idea of East/West coast Asians having to be united is a weird idea…how come just Asians? I feel like a lot of the Asian community tends to exclude themselves from American culture because they feel they are unliked and different. I must refute this- just because you look alike or are from a similar region of the world does not mean that nobody likes you…maybe like, thirty years ago…but times have changed a lot and I really hope someday that Asian people will stop feeling like they are that different. WE ARE ALL PEOPLEE

  • 17 leslie // Mar 17, 2010 at 8:55 am

    @Eurasian Sensation,
    there’s a book called outliers by malcolm gladwell that addresses this dichotomy at some point.
    i think what it boiled down to was in colder climes, you had to think ahead to prepare for harsher winters, and basically life was just a little bit harder and more complicated for you, while in warmer places, winter was either milder or nonexistent.
    plausible explanation; it is, of course, a sweeping generalization, and doesn’t exactly explain everything. however, my parents do acknowledge that there is a bit of the sentiment of looking down on southerners in korea as well.
    i guess it’s a bit like how in the US, the south is seen as a redneck haven, even if it isn’t necessarily the case?

  • 18 Chinamerican // May 7, 2010 at 8:29 am

    I’m dating a guy who is part Taiwanese aboriginal (father’s side) and his mother is from Shandong but her family is actually hwakyo (Chinese in Korea). My family is from Foshan, in the South.

    We deliberately poke at each other for the differences – I make fun of him and his family for being dark, he makes fun of me and my family for being generally shady. However, no matter how different we are, we still speak to our mothers in that exasperated tone that inevitably ends in tired defeat and bond over it.

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