yangtze-deltaRecent chatter on the sinoblogosphere has brought to my attention a rivalry of which I’d previously been unaware. Now living in Shanghai, I am all to familiar with the idea that there are two parts of China, namely Shanghai and then the countryside.

And I also know there’s much talk about whether Beijing or Shanghai is the better city, at least among expats in Shanghai. But what I hadn’t previously had was a sense that there was a rivalry between the waiguoren in the interior and those in the cushy costal towns. Little did I know that the Chengdu/Kunming crowd saw this division.

I’d like to break things down further and introduce a new category of regional laowai. I call them the delta rats, and I proudly consider myself among their ranks. We’re the forgotten few in the lower reaches of the Changjiang. We’re the Zhou-dwellers.

I’ve compiled a short list to help determine if you belong in this group:

  1. You take it for granted that no one over 50 can speak Mandarin
  2. You think Xuzhou and Guangzhou are poseurs.
  3. You think Beijing opera is for suckers. Kunju is where it’s at.
  4. You think the Grand Canal is just another bridge between you and the local Suguo.
  5. Anyone from north of the Yangzte might as well be from another planet.
  6. You don’t flinch at things costing “si si kuai”.
  7. None of your Chinese friends leave town on Qingming.
  8. You’ve travelled by bus to Shanghai at least once.
  9. All the major roads in your town used to be canals.
  10. You think your town should be called the Venice of the East.
  11. You’ve been to Wuxi and might even think it’d be a nice place to settle down.
  12. You can give a cabbie directions without using Mandarin.
  13. Your town has at least one statue of Xi Shi.

If this list describes you, then take pride, delta rat! Jiangnan thanks you. And next time one of your expat friends tells you how great life is in Beijing, Chengdu, Kunming or Harbin, just smile and nod, confident in knowing the truth: you know the Real China.


  1. I think you’re full of shit. And Shanghai is the least Chinese of mainland China’s cities. It didn’t even exist when all the other places you mention were already over 1,500 years old. Shanghai is full of expat poseurs who reckon they’re “in China”. Got news for you bud, Shanghai is “China Lite”.

  2. Wow. Now that’s some sincere rage right there.

    I think you missed the point, though, since I’m not speaking of Shanghai at all but of the smaller towns in the Yangzte delta. Places like Changzhou (2,500 years old) or Suzhou (2,500 years old) or Shaoxing (6th century BCE).

    I think the fact that the idea of a “real China” is given any credibility at all is more than a bit ridiculous. But maybe you’re right. I’ll be sure to let my neighbours in Shanghai know that they’re not “really” Chinese.

    Sorry, bud. Don’t take this so seriously.

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  4. All Ya’ll B*TCHES need to RECOGNIZE! Dirty Du 4-Eva! (Makes strange gestures with hands) WHAT WHAT!!??!???

    Now that I’ve letcha all now …

    i love this representing region stuff because I didn’t know anything about:

    Xi Shi, Wuxi, Kunju or Suguo untill now. Thanks!

    • I’ll never get used to saying I need to run to the Alldays/好的 to pick up some snacks. It will be 苏果 until the day I die.

  5. How does one pretend to be an expat?

    A number of ways:
    1) You’re really a student;
    2) You have a crappy job, teaching English, or being a barman, or a DJ, or some other low end profession, and run a blog about your saddo life;
    3) You’re here on tourist/business visas, abuse the system and don’t actually have a work permit;
    4) You think being a ‘face’ on sites like this or ShanghaiExpat means you’re arrived;

    • Perhaps in Like Totally Awesome Land, but the rest of the world tends to use a slightly broader definition:

      An expatriate (in abbreviated form, expat) is a person temporarily or permanently residing in a country and culture other than that of the person’s upbringing or legal residence. The word comes from the Latin term expatriātus from ex (“out of”) and patriā the ablative case of patria (“country, fatherland”). [source]

      Is it difficult being so bitter? It seems like it would be.

  6. I’m not quite in a water town, but I’m in the boonies near Shanghai (and Hangzhou) too! I do have to disagree with #6 because I definitely still flinch when people tell me “si si kuai.” My mind panics for a minute, I’m about to shout “tai gui le!” and then finally memory kicks in and I pass over a 20.

    I mean, seriously, don’t chinese people get confused about it too?! Anyway, I thought it was a unique local accent in my town only, so it does give me comfort that laowei all over the region are having the same difficulties!

    • It’s all about the tones. Of course, those aren’t always standard either, so it’s probably not the same in your middle of nowhere as it is in mine.

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