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The North Vs South Differences in China Explored

Jan.14, 2020

I believe there's a rivalry between the Southerners (南方人, nánfāngrén) and Northerners (北方人, běifāngrén) in every country.

China isn't the exception, and it can always cause a storm on the Chinese Internet when there's a difference spotted. You may have got to know many local friends since you moved to China. However, have you got some interesting south vs. north traits?

I hope what I'm sharing today can help you have more fun when hanging out with local friends next time. Okay! Let's get started:

The North Vs South Differences in China Explored.png

(Pic on the Internet teasing the humid cold in the South of China)

With its vast territory of China, all the disagreements between the north and south are rooted in their distinct climates. One of the most topical issues in China is, the coldness in winter and how to deal with it!

Most of you must have noticed that the insulation of the house in China is not perfect (actually, terrible). This leaves a big part of south China struggling with a normally seldom seen chill caused by 0-10°C degree winter and the lack of central heating system (暖气 nuǎnqì).

You've lived in Shanghai for a while so you know sometimes how hard it is to stay indoors in winter. You can check out more information about the Chinese central heat system in the article below

Why Does Half of China Struggle to Stay Warm Indoors in Winter?

Well equipped with 暖气nuǎnqì, The Northerners develop a series of lifestyle to "enjoy" the long winter, which to the habitants of warm climate of the South is shocking, and thus expressed on the Internet:

Bath in the public baths


Zài gōnggòng zǎotáng xǐzǎo

Hsk Standard

People from the north will spend hours enjoying taking a bath in a public bathhouse with many other naked people together, which most of the southerners cannot accept.

Vegetable shopping before winter


Tún dàbáicài

New Hsk

The northerner really doesn't understand why the southerner buys a single cabbage for only when they need it, as they always buy by "kgs" to store for winter. Most of the northerners say if you buy grocery in a southern way in any market in the north, you will definitely drive the owner mad.

Comedy Center


Xǐjù zhōngxīn

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The 5-6 month long winter strengthens the Northerners' humorous skill. In China, no one will doubt the dominancy of Northerners to the comedy stage all over the country. In the Internet Era, according to the data, the northerners have a big engagement in the live streaming industry of China.

Compared to the funny, expressive and bold northerners, the delicate, restrained and hardworking Southerners focus more on the economic performance.The economic centre of China has been in the south since ancient times.

Food flavour is another focus of the N-S debates. The debates are normally themed with:

Toufu pudding 豆花 dòuhuā

chinese food

Sticky rice dumpling 粽子 zòngzi

chinese food

So, based on so many N-S differences, how to tell if a Chinese is from the South or North?

Their Mandarin ACCENT!

By the way, Mandarin is the official Chinese spoken language based on Beijing-Northern dialect. This can partly explain the Chinese Northerners are better at expressing, therefore, are more advantageous on the comedy stage.

1. If you hear your Chinese friend speaking without the "er" sound, Southerner.

By the way, official Mandarin doesn't make "er" as a compulsory pronunciation. So, it's totally fine to speak without "er" sound.

"er" is a difficult technique for every Chinese southerner. You can't "er" everything. It has a complicated system of rules behind the "er" sound. You can check with your Chinese teacher who has majored in Chinese linguistics 

Scholarship to Study Chinese Language in China

The Northers often tease - Southerners randomly put "er" in the sentences, making their life "full of surprise"

2. When you hear 咋zǎ for 怎么zěnme, 啥shá for 什么shénme, Northerner.

咋办啊? = 怎么办啊?

Zǎbàn a?= Zěnme bàn a?
What to do?

他说啥了? = 他说什么了?

Tā shuō shá le?= Tā shuō shénme le?

What did he say?

3. The typical Shanghainese particle suffix. When you hear "ya, la" at the end of the sentence, Southerner, probably, Shanghainese.


Mingtiān shàngwǔ qù,hǎo fa la?

We go tomorrow morning, is it okay?


Hǎo de ya!

Okay! Great!

There're way more to mention when referring to different Mandarin accents, especially in the South. Over the last 50 years, Southern China has been making great efforts to promote Mandarin and unify the local speaking. It's still a big dispute about if people have discarded the local dialects assertively.

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What do you think about the Chinese version of the North vs. the South?  Isn't it as interesting as other countries'?

We always pursuit to speak with the perfect Chinese pronunciation. But I  believe the charm of learning Chinese is to be able to understand China by talking with local people all over the country. You will enjoy the communication more when you see yourself dealing with accents with much confidence. I hope this article will inspire you to discover more about the local culture in the future!

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The North Vs South Differences in China Explored