China Elevator Stories
Are regional stereotypes about Chinese true?
Chinese people have many stereotypes about Chinese from other areas.
“… 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: Supposedly, men from Shanghai like to cook and clean, women from Shanghai, however, are materialistic and lazy around the house. Chinese say people from Zhejiang province are good at conducting business. Sichuan purportedly features China’s most beautiful women. Cantonese are said to eat just about anything. Beware of the Henanese, is what Chinese tell me, they are all thieves. Don’t travel to Guizhou, is the advice I am given, the province is so poor and underdeveloped that you’re bound to get robbed or worse. Some tell me the Uighurs in Xinjiang are all terrorists and thieves (I traveled to Xinjiang in 2016 to see for myself, and found them to be friendly and welcoming).
I hadn’t heard any stereotypes about men from Northeast China before marrying my husband, . 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.
Are regional stereotypes true?
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). He’s straightforward, but expects us to be equals in our relationship*.
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 if regional stereotypes about Chinese are 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.
Talking about stereotypes, especially negative ones: During travels through the region, most Uighurs I met in Xinjiang treated me in a warm-hearted and welcoming way.
When I talked to another traveler – a student from another Western country studying abroad for a year in Urumqi, Xinjiang’s provincial capital – he told me he had 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 than 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 I was prepared that traveling there would be different from traveling to 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, 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 disapproving manner. Did they? Certainly that is a possibility. But what I was wondering instead was if he was smiling at them or looking at them in an unfriendly way. 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 only found out later that this was not true.