Are regional stereotypes about Chinese true?

“… Men from Jilin tend to be more aggressive,” a female group member in one of the WeChat groups I’m in recently warned another group member. My husband is from Jilin province, so I wanted to know more. She explained: “It is known across China that Northeastern Chinese men tend to be more aggressive (than their Southern counterparts) and believe more strongly in the more domestic role of a woman.”

Regional Stereotypes about Chinese

Over my years in China, I have heard plenty of regional stereotypes from Chinese: Men from Shanghai like to cook and clean, women from Shanghai, however, are materialistic and lazy around the house. People from Zhejiang province are good at conducting business. Sichuan features China’s most beautiful women. Cantonese eat just about anything. Beware of the Henanese, they are all thieves. Don’t travel to Guizhou, the province is so poor and underdeveloped that you’re bound to get robbed or worse. The Uighurs in Xinjiang are all terrorists (and thieves).

cross-cultural relationship

Before marrying my husband, I hadn’t really heard any stereotypes about men from Northeast China. Supposedly, men from Northeast China are manly in appearance, have quick tempers, can stomach lots of alcohol, are very straightforward and have traditional gender role expectations.

Regional Stereotypes – True or not?

So – are these stereotypes true? (And – question to myself: Have I married a wolf in sheep’s clothes?)

My husband is tall, but doesn’t drink much (just one or two beer occasionally if he wants to relax a bit). He’s straightforward, but expects us to be equals in our relationship. Of course, there’s much more to his personality than can be summarised in a few words.

Stereotyping is a way of simplifying things in our minds. Stereotyping isn’t necessarily bad. People say there’s a grain of truth to most stereotypes – but is there? I can’t answer the question “are regional stereotypes about Chinese true” (sorry to keep you hanging), but I can offer a piece of advice: Whatever stereotype you hear, go see for yourself with a non-judgmental mindset. I haven’t found most of the stereotypes about Northeastern men to be true with my husband, but then, I don’t see him in black and white, but in colour. I don’t know nearly enough Northeastern Chinese men to judge if there’s any truth in these stereotypes or not.

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Talking about stereotypes, especially negative ones: During travels through the region, most Uighurs I met in Xinjiang were warm-hearted and welcoming and all my stuff is still here. I talked to another traveler – a student from another Western country studying abroad for a year in Urumqi, Xinjiang’s provincial capital – and he had the complete opposite experience. He felt that Uighurs were hostile towards him and he didn’t enjoy his time in the area as much. Which does make me wonder – are (negative) stereotypes actually more a reflection of our own insecurities and biases then they are of the people we stereotype? Especially stereotypes we form not after experiencing something for ourselves, but before – from hearsay? What if we actually reinforce stereotypes by believing in them? In the case of the Western traveler, what if he had heard negative stereotypes about Uighurs before visiting that area that made him act in a confrontational or unfriendly way? Wouldn’t that make people respond in such a way? He told me that one police officer at a train station asked him “immigration questions”. He found that very rude and didn’t want to comply. I was asked similar questions, but didn’t think twice about it because Xinjiang is a politically sensitive area and traveling there will thus surely be a bit different from other areas in China. After being asked at one train station what I’m doing in that area and telling the police officers who gathered at the station that I’m traveling around, we started chit-chatting and had a fun conversation. Three of the four police officers were local Uighurs, one was Han-Chinese. They were all quite friendly. The traveler also told me that Uighurs seemed to stare at him in an unfriendly and disapprovingly manner. Did they? Did he smile at them or did he look in an unfriendly way too? I’m not saying that every person you meet will be friendly if you are, but being non-judgmental when there is no need to judge will surely end in a much more rewarding experience for all sides involved.

What do you think? I’d love to read your thoughts.

Read this older post about how my Chinese husband does not fit most stereotypes about Chinese men.

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About

Hi, I'm Ruth, welcome to China Elevator Stories! I have been living in Kunming and Shenzhen in the past and am now staying in Northeast China with my Chinese husband and our baby and toddler son. Join us on our journey bridging worlds!

8 comments

  1. This is exactly the reason I want to travel to xinjiang myself – because I want to see what it’s like rather than listen to all the media accounts and stereotyped floating about. I think you have a very interesting perspective – whether having a negative attitude to begin with will cofirm the assumed stereotypes. I do have to say that when I was in qinghai Tibetans were very warm towards me whereas to my Chinese MIL there was definitely a bit more distance. Now I can’t say whether she was distant to begin with and made the situation worse but it made me realise that two people (possibly because of their race and political surrounding) can have a very different experience of the same place.

  2. It does sounds as though the other traveler had a chip on his shoulder, or at least very strong ideas about How Things Should Be Done. Isn’t the point of traveling to see how other cultures do things? Preferably with an open mind?

    • He seemed shocked that this place was about 80% Uighur and only 20% Han, Urumqi is about the opposite. I’m not sure what he expected, but it seems like he went there with a lot of expectations of how things would be like. Which is weird, because I’ve heard there’s just as much security and military in Urumqi.

  3. Dani

    I think you’re right about going into a situation (or a region) with preconceived notions about the culture. When we expect people to behave a certain way, based on stereotypes we’ve heard about them, then we’re far more likely to notice any little thing that fits our expectations — even though it could be our very expectation that provokes or engenders that behavior to begin with. It’s a very good reminder to approach every situation, culture, etc. with an open mind. Thanks for that – and for the lovely, thought-provoking post.

    PS – after reading the older post you linked to at the end, it’s possible I now have a tiny crush on your husband. 😉

  4. Hello Ruth!
    I have heard some of these stereotypes too! I haven’t been so much in time as you, so I am not able to say if it’s true or not.. but I am really got sad when I found people think all Henanese are thieves or bad people… my boyfriend is from there, I spent a whole year living there and I simply loved it, never thought they are bad people, actually Henan is much more safe than my country! hahaha (Chile)

    Greetings!

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