Culture

Do Chinese people discriminate against each other among themselves?

There are many jokes about internal geographical discrimination in China, but they generally appear only on the Internet and stay at the verbal level. It's not about real life.

Will Chinese people discriminate against each other? As a matter of fact, they will. Chinese people seldom resort to racial discrimination, yet more likely to be discriminated against by regions.

Since the popularity of the Internet in China, more and more people have begun to spread jokes about regional discrimination. They often have a certain historical factual basis, but they are triggered by a key news event. Some of these regional discrimination are interesting, but you must not joke about them playing with the Chinese in real life unless they start the topic first.

It should be emphasized that most of these things appear on the Internet, rarely in real life, and most of them are jokes, and the Chinese government and the vast majority of Chinese people resent such remarks.

“Henan people steal manhole covers”

The earliest joke about regional discrimination on the Chinese Internet is that “people in Henan love to steal manhole covers.” This joke originated in Beijing.[1]

Henan is a province in central China. Henan’s economy is very underdeveloped and has a large population at the beginning of the 21st century, so there are a lot of Henan people leaving their homes to work in Beijing. Some of them lack advanced labor skills and can only work in the recycling industry.

There are so many such people that there are even “garbage recycling villages” in the area around the Fifth Ring Road of Beijing.[2]

Dongxiaokou, outside the North Fifth Ring Road in Beijing, was once a famous “garbage recycling villages” in Beijing. The residents there are mainly from Henan, almost all from Gushi, Henan. In its heyday, the waste recycling yard covers an area of more than 330,000 square meters and gathers tens of thousands of waste recycling workers, carrying 1/4 of Beijing’s garbage recycling volume.

Garbage recycling is not a high-profit business, it is still a large income for these migrant workers. However, as more and more people participate in garbage recycling, the profits become thinner and thinner. As a result, some of them have no choice but to take risks. Some people began to “steal if they can’t find it, and rob if they can’t steal it”. The manhole covers, guardrails, transformers and subway cables in use have all become “recycling objects”. According to statistics, more than 70% of the criminal cases in Beijing are committed by scavengers.[3]

“I steal manhole covers to support you” emoji

Due to a variety of phenomena in real life, the abuse of “Henan people love to steal manhole covers” has naturally spread on the Internet. With the development of economy over time, Beijing officials began to gradually control and regulate the behavior of these scavengers. In 2016, Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan Province, was established as one of the few national central cities in the country. People in Henan can live in big cities without leaving their homes, and the phenomenon of stealing manhole covers has become very rare. Now this abuse has gradually turned into a kind of teasing, for example, boys will say to girls, “I steal manhole covers to support you” to express their love.

Nowadays, the phrase “Henan people steal manhole covers” has been rarely mentioned on the Chinese Internet, but many people from Henan will laugh at themselves that they have a large collection of manhole covers in their homes to make self-mockery.

Hard disk and Blu-ray

After the reform and opening up, a large number of people have poured into a few mega-cities in China, such as Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen and so on. Among them, Shanghai is a city with very strong local culture, and some citizens think that non-local people occupy their own living resources, so they scold outsiders on the Internet.

Sounds familiar, doesn`t it?

A funny map from Voice of China, “the whole country in the eyes of Shanghainese”, in which Shanghai is marked as an “cosmopolitan metropolis” and all other areas are marked as “country bumpkins”.

On the Chinese Internet, it is not allowed to make discriminatory remarks against people in specific areas – website administrators and relevant government departments will delete such incendiary and discriminatory content. In order to keep their posts from being deleted, some people no longer use the conspicuous word “outsider” when scolding outsiders, but replace them with “WD”. WD is the pinyin acronym of the first two characters of “outsider” in Chinese(外地人, Wai Di Ren).

As the letters WD coincide with the LOGO of Western Digital, a well-known hard drive manufacturer, the name for outsiders becomes hard drive over time. Some of the new Shanghainese who came to Shanghai were dissatisfied with the discriminatory title and mocked the locals as BD, as the initials of the first two words “local”(本地人, Ben Di Ren). BD is also short for Blu-ray, so locals are also known as Blu-ray.[4]

It is worth noting that these two terms generally refer to outsiders and locals in Shanghai, because they originated in some local forums in Shanghai. Other large cities in China, such as Beijing and Shenzhen, rarely have such a xenophobic culture as Shanghai.

Contrary to the discrimination against outsiders by Shanghainese, there are discriminatory claims in all parts of China that “Shanghainese are of low quality”.

The main reason is that Shanghai has a developed economy, so a large number of Shanghai tourists travel to other provinces every year, and because people in the Shanghai area are generally rich, some people with low academic qualifications and relatively low income can also travel. These people often leave a bad impression on local people when traveling in other provinces. This is similar to the fact that American tourists will be rated as the worst quality tourists in the world.

Welcome to Hulk Shandong.

Shandong is also one of the provinces that are often discriminated against by regions, of which the most common saying is “Welcome to Hulk Shandong.”(浩克山东欢迎您)

The pronunciation of this sentence in Chinese is the same as “Welcome to hospitable Shandong”(好客山东欢迎您), which was originally advertised by the Shandong Provincial Tourism Bureau in an advertisement on China Central Television (CCTV), a national public television station. It expresses that Shandong people welcome tourists from all over the country to travel.

But in 2015, two tourists were having a meal at a restaurant in Qingdao, Shandong province. It was said that they had confirmed to the merchant before ordering that the price of “minced garlic prawns” was 38 yuan per serving, but found that the price was 38 yuan per shrimp when they checked out. The real price for the dish was 1520 yuan (about $200).

Then two tourists called the police, the local public security police station police arrived at the scene to understand the situation, said that there was no law enforcement power, the price dispute was under the management of the price bureau. The price bureau contacted later said that because they didn`t work during the National Day holiday, consumers need to call the police to solve the problem. After the police left, the shopkeeper threatened that tourists could not leave without paying, so the two sides deadlocked until the wee hours of the morning. After that, the consumer called the police again, and both sides of the store were taken to the Liaoning Road police station. After the coordination of the police, the two paid most of the bill to the store.[5]

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This matter was fermenting on China’s social networks, and people hated this kind of ripping off customers very much, and even more hated the inaction of the Qingdao police. What even more unacceptable was that it was found that the slaughtering of visitors in Qingdao, Shandong Province began in 1992 and was even made into a documentary.[6]

So everyone replaced 好客(hospitable) Shandong with 浩克(Hulk) Shandong, which means that Shandong people are as rude and impolite as the Hulk(one of Marvel superheroes). In addition, Shandong is the hometown of Confucius, with very strong patriarchal social atmosphere, news reports often rigured that Shandong men backed to hometown in Shandong with their non-local girlfriends or wife, yet the men’s parents asked the women not to eat with them in the living room, but eating in the kitchen (this is an ancient Chinese custom that favors sons over daughters).

Over time, whenever there is negative news about Shandong, people like to comment on social media “Welcome to Hulk Shandong”.

Jiangsu, a big province of infighting.

When it comes to regional discrimination in China, we have to mention Jiangsu Province. Regional discrimination in China is generally based on provinces, while the most special feature of Jiangsu Province is that people living here look down on each other and are divided on the basis of counties.

In China, all local governments are divided into three levels: province-city-county.

To some extent, the province is equivalent to the state of the United States, the provincial capital manages many prefecture-level cities, and the prefecture-level city manages many built-up districts and counties. The county is a very small administrative unit, and the average county population is only about 200,000 – still a lot of people from the perspective of westerns. Even in the developed southeast coastal areas, the population of the county rarely exceeds 1 million. On the other hand, the population of ordinary prefecture-level cities can reach one million, and some of them can reach ten million.

On the map of high-speed rail lines in Jiangsu Province, we can see that cities in the north and south regions are not directly linked by high-speed rail, which shows the seriousness of their “infighting”. src: 360doc

Generally speaking, people who live in the same province have similar living habits, so they seldom discriminate against each other in the province.

Jiangsu is very different.

First of all, geographically, the entire Jiangsu Province is divided into three parts by the Huai River and the Yangtze River. The climates of these three parts are very different, and people’s living habits are almost completely different, so it is difficult to have the same sense of identity.

Secondly, the economy of every city and even every county in Jiangsu is very developed. Taking Kunshan, a county-level city under Suzhou, as an example, the GDP of Kunshan exceeds that of Taiyuan, the capital city of Shaanxi Province. As the economy is extremely developed, there is naturally no sense of identity with other cities in the province whose economy is weaker than their own.

In addition, people in Jiangsu do not have a unified dialect, and northern and southern Jiangsu speak different dialects at all. Even in southern Jiangsu, which is collectively known as the Wu dialect area, the pronunciation of the Wu dialect of people living in it is very different. Sometimes even the pronunciation of the two neighboring villages are so different that they do not understand what the other is saying.

Therefore, people living in Jiangsu seldom say that they are from Jiangsu, instead they often make it clear which city or even which county they are from, for fear that others will mistake their birthplace. As a person born in Suzhou, I seldom mention that I am from Jiangsu, which is a common feature of almost every one in Jiangsu.

The infighting of Jiangsu people is not only reflected in the ridicule on the Internet, but also in real life. At the beginning of 2020, China’s central government called on all localities to send medical personnel to support Wuhan, and all provinces gathered their own medical personnel in their provincial capitals and flew to Wuhan. The 13 prefecture-level cities in Jiangsu Province each organized their own medical teams and went to Wuhan. Jiangsu’s maverick painting style instantly ignited the Chinese Internet. People jokingly say that Jiangsu is not a province, but a consortium of 13 prefecture-level cities. Due to Jiangsu is called Su for short, so it is also called as Soviet Union.

In China, government-level actions are very focused on “unity and cooperation”. However, in dealing with COVID-19, Jiangsu has shown such a “split” that it is probably very rare in the whole of China.

Different from the words of discrimination in the three regions mentioned above, infighting in Jiangsu Province is more like a description of reality than slander. Even if people in Jiangsu Province see such jokes, they will not feel uncomfortable, but will find it very interesting.


As you may have found, most discrimination within China adheres to two general principles: rich places discriminate against poor ones, and coastal areas discriminate against inland areas.

It is easy to understand that it basically follows the chain of disdain in all civilizations in human history. But in fact, because China’s migration in the past 40 years is one of the largest in human history, hundreds of millions of people have moved from their hometown to another place to work, live and even settle there. Therefore, the real regional discrimination gradually disappeared in history.

In 2019, a truck carrying manhole covers had a traffic accident in Henan province, and 33 tons of scattered manhole covers were picked up by nearby villagers overnight. This has caused netizens in other areas to use the meme of “Henan people stealing manhole covers” to spread the news widely. But the fact is, before that, there has been no news of Henan people + manhole covers for nearly 10 years. All the manhole covers in this news had also been returned.

Geographical discrimination is strictly prohibited in China’s education system and civil service system. In private enterprises, geographical discrimination is also rare, because if an entrepreneur really wants to be competitive, it is impossible to reject talent on the basis of geographical location.

As the article has shown, geographical discrimination on the Internet in China is more like a kind of meme, which will bring significant funny effects to many regional social news.

Of course, unless you have a deep understanding of Chinese culture, we still advise you not to use these meme.

[1] Where did the meme of Henan people steal manhole covers come from?
[2] There used to be a recycling army of 160000 people in Beijing, but now…
[3] Urban scavenging industry: it earned millions in three years in the 1980s, and now it is coming to an end.
[4] https://www.zhihu.com/question/390860937/answer/1245664169
[5] https://zh.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E9%9D%92%E5%B2%9B%E5%A4%A9%E4%BB%B7%E8%99%BE%E4%BA%8B%E4%BB%B6
[6] https://baike.baidu.com/item/%E6%9D%80%E4%BA%BA%E8%A1%97%E7%9A%84%E6%95%85%E4%BA%8B

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