How I discovered a major cultural divide in China

Farmer rice paddies Shangshan Village.China Photos/Getty ImagesSixty-three-year-old farmer Wu Shenglin carries a package of rice paddies at a field at the Shangshan Village

When we in the West talk about differences within China, the narrative is usually about the urban-rural divide. Yet I lived in Guangzhou in the south and Beijing in the north — both cities of over 10 million people — and I noticed clear differences in cultures. These were differences that the mainstream narrative had nothing to say about.

I spent the next five years giving psychological tests of culture to people from all over China and puzzling over why the root cause of these differences. I soon discovered these differences fall along the traditional dividing line between rice and wheat. Why would rice have anything to do with culture?

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