China's worst wives in Shanghai? An online ranking rekindles age-old stereotypes

PUBLISHED : Friday, 12 July, 2013, 11:09am
UPDATED : Friday, 12 July, 2013, 4:30pm

Over the last few days, a ranking of cities in China where husbands are most controlled by their wives has been circulating on Chinese microblogs and drawing thousands of comments.

According to the rankings, China's leading commercial hub Shanghai also leads in "hen pecking", followed by Sichuan's capital Chengdu, Hubei's Wuhan and the historic city of Chaozhou in eastern Guangdong.

As the debate gathered pace, netizens started questioning the ranking's origin and veracity. The Shanghai-based Jiefang Daily looked into its archives and only found a report in 2007 by the Hunan government-controlled news forum Rednet. 

Even that report said that the ranking was old and using it was like "reheating the old food" of popular preconceptions.

The rekindling of the eternal debate about China's regional stereotypes comes at a time when the country' is considering reforming its "hukou" or household registration system, that has pegged many second and third-generation urban residents to their rural roots. 

Until now, regional discrimination remains an prominent issue in hiring practices, university admissions and the administration of justice. 

But these preconceptions about regional differences are deep-rooted and not likely to go away. A study published in 1965, before the Cultural Revolution, by Berkeley sinologist Wolfram Eberhard, found that some perceived regional traits he recorded in a survey go back to antiquity. 

He identified three broad "types of Chinese". The "Northern type", centred in Shandong and Hebei provinces, is perceived as being "straight and honest, simple and enduring."

The second type. the "Yangtze valley type", centred around Shanghai, Jiangsu and Zhejiang, is "clever and sharp" and "cunning businessmen".

The third, the "Southwestern type", was centred in Mao Zedong's home-province Hunan, where people are perceived to be "emotional with a violent temperament".

Unsurprisingly, the viral list of China's most hen-pecking wives only lists second and third type cities. It seems that little has changed in popular preconceptions over the last half a century.