“… 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).
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.
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.