North China (北方 Hanyu pinyin: Běifāng) and South China (南方 Hanyu pinyin: Nánfāng) 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 boundary between North China and South China is usually defined to be the Qinling Mountains and Huai He River; there is an ambiguous area, the region around Nanyang, Henan, that lies in the gap where the Qinling has ended and the Huai He does not yet begin. As such, the boundary between North and South 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 as being outside "China proper", such as Manchuria, Taiwan, and Inner Mongolia, are also conceived as belonging to either North China or South China according to the framework above. Xinjiang and Tibet are, however, not usually conceived of being part of either north or south.
The concepts of North China and South China originate from differences in climate, geography, culture, and physical traits; as well as several periods of actual political division in history. North China is too cold and dry for rice cultivation (though it does happen today with modern technology) and consists largely of flat plains, grasslands, and desert; while South China is warm and rainy enough for rice and consists of lush mountains cut by river valleys. In addition, North Chinese trace some of their ancestry to Altaic peoples such as the Mongols and Manchus; South Chinese trace some of their ancestry to Tai and Austronesian peoples related to modern Thais and Taiwanese aborigines; this results in obvious differences in physical trait. (Internal migration within China, however, has greatly blurred such differences.) There are also major differences in language, cuisine, and popular entertainment forms.
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 by dividing Han Chinese into two castes: a higher caste of northerners and a lower caste of southerners. (These were the second-lowest and lowest castes of the Yuan Dynasty.)
In modern times, North and South is merely one of the ways that Chinese people identify themselves, and the divide between North and South China has been overridden by a unified Chinese nationalism. Few Chinese people (with the notable exception of Taiwanese politician Lee Teng-hui) would consider the difference between North and South sufficient reason for political division. During the Deng Xiaoping reforms of the 1980s, South China initially 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 in part because the economic faultlines eventually created a division between coastal China and the interior which runs in a different direction than the north-south division, and in part because neither north or south has any type of obvious advantage within the Chinese central government.
Nevertheless, the concepts of North and South continue to play an important role in regional stereotypes.
The stereotypical northerner:
- Is taller, plumper, has fairer skin
- Speaks a northern Mandarin dialect, which is legato
- Eats wheat-based food rather than rice-based food
- Is loud, boisterous, open, and prone to "thunderbolt" displays of emotion, such as anger
- Might make a good emperor
The stereotypical southerner:
- Is shorter, lankier, has darker skin
- Speaks a southern dialect, which is staccato
- Eats rice-based food rather than wheat-based food
- Is clever, calculating, hardworking, and prone to "mincemeat" displays of emotion, such as melancholy
- Might make a good tycoon
Note that these are very rough stereotypes, and are greatly complicated both by further stereotypes by province (or even county) and by real life.
In geology, North China and South China are two ancient landmasses that correspond to modern northern and southern China.