Did you know that despite being a single country, China is often referred to as two — North and South? China, or officially People’s Republic of China is a country in East Asia that is home to more than 1.4 billion people. Geographers demarcate the north and south with the Qinling mountain range and the Huai river. This is known as the Qinling-Huaihe Line, and it is an indicator of cultural and economic differences between North and South China.
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This divide is more than a physical boundary: agriculture differentiates noticeably when you traverse the Qinling-Huaihe line. We can attribute this to the major differences in climate and, subsequently, economy. The North has drier and colder climates, while the South is the opposite, leading to different types of agriculture. Furthermore, the North is focused on culture and politics, with a slower development of mechanical engineering and heavy industries while the South has businesses regarding electric engineering, light industries and high technology. As such, it is not surprising that economically, the South is more advanced due to its internet boom and export dependence. As a result, many Northern Chinese people have moved to the South for better living opportunities, and Southern Chinese people value economic performance.
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North China is where the big cities like Tianjin and the nation’s capital Beijing are located, though it also includes smaller farming provinces such as the Hebei and Henan provinces through which the Yellow River runs. North China relies on its economy of agriculture and industrial-based services such as energy and manufacturing plants.
In addition, since North China has a different climate than South China, they grow and produce different foods. In the north, crops are limited due to the colder and drier climate, grains such as wheat are produced and corn, maize and root vegetables are grown. Wheat is a staple crop and many meals are considered starchy. People living in northern China eat more steamed bread, noodles, dumplings and other wheat and grain foods. Fruits are limited but most apples, melons and peaches grow in the northern part of China. People who are from North China focus on the fullness after a meal. They also buy a lot of groceries at once regardless of the freshness. Due to the usually cold and dry climate up north, people living in northern China also consume a lot of red meat (mutton, pork) and dairy (cheese, butter and yogurt) since the calories, fat and protein strengthen their body for the chilly weather. During friend or family gatherings whether it’s for a holiday or a typical day, dishes are served in large portions and liquors drank from big bowls, specifically in Inner Mongolia, where a whole roast lamb is served on occasions.
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Food shortages are far from uncommon in China. Because of China’s rapidly growing population, industrial economy and expansion of cultural consumerism there is always an increasing demand for agricultural products. Unfortunately, these products can be held victim to floods, fire, pestilence, increasing prices and tightening of supplies. Areas in North China such as the Yangtze Plain contains the most valuable arable land, however it is also one of the areas that have gone through the most intensive urbanization. Similar situations in these areas show how difficult it is for northern China to balance the right amount of agricultural and urban land uses. However, down the road if this situation does not improve, the relationship between food demand and production will be less and less correlated. As well, rural areas and smaller towns experience more food poverty than bigger cities due to there not being as many people, so suppliers are not as focused on getting their products there.
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South China consists of 16 provinces including Guangdong, and cities include Xiamen, Hangzhou, Chongqing, Guangzhou and Wuhan. These cities focus on electrical engineering, high technologies and light industries; they have grown quickly due to the success of private sectors. Due to their economic prosperity in comparison to the North, food poverty is not as prevalent in South China. But not everyone is economically successful; inequality exists in cities such as Guangzhou (the capital of Guangdong), where the well being of the poor are diminished because they do not receive social assistance despite being below the benefit standard. There are also inequalities within the rural and urban areas of wealthy provinces such as Guangdong, despite being the richest province in China. Other threats such as the high cost of living, frequent natural disasters, food waste and pollution in water, air and agricultural supplies are all factors that can cause or worsen agricultural differences with the North.
South China has the benefit of the monsoon (a change in the strongest winds that blow from cold to hot regions), which nourishes South China’s land, which allows the production of fresh fruits all year long. Examples of fruits and vegetables are bananas, eggplant, mangoes, tomatoes, lychees, coconuts and other leafy vegetables. As a result, freshness is the core of South Chinese cuisine, and various flavours, colors and textures can be produced.
There are various foods eaten during the holidays, which includes rice cakes (or niangao) to celebrate the Chinese Lunar New Year because the pronunciation is similar to a word that means a higher level of life. Just the middle of a fish is eaten on New Year’s Eve and the remainder is eaten on the next day as a symbol of completeness. During the Dragon Boat Festival (a festival where people either participate or view dragon boat races), people eat zongzi, a pyramid shaped dumpling that includes bean paste, shrimp, nuts and meat for a savoury flavour.
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Poverty, cuisine and culture differs greatly between the north and south geographical regions of China, yet they have similarities as well. In both regions there exists a noticeable difference in food amounts and potential shortages between big cities and smaller towns. Agriculture in both cases is very dependent on that area’s climate and temperatures. During the COVID-19 pandemic, especially in the early stages, many cities in China were affected differently. For example, in Tonghua, which is in North China, there were many cases where residents in apartments suffered food and medicine shortages as they were not allowed to leave their residences and no supplies were being delivered for weeks. In terms of agriculture it is expected that there would be less workers on the farm due to the pandemic and fear of being around too many people or being exposed to the virus. Since North China relies a lot on its agricultural industry for their economy to thrive, they may be more impacted in the long run due to the pandemic.