The Nine Nations of China

Atlantic Magazine has a short article entitled, The Nine Nations of China and it is written by Patrick Chovanec, a professor at Tsinghua University. It basically consists of an interactive map that seeks to make the well-worn (and pretty well-known) point that China is not monolithic. This article is coming out now to coincide with President Obama’s China visit:

This week, President Obama makes his first state visit to China. What kind of country will he find there? We tend to imagine China as a monolith: 1.3 billion people sharing the same language, history, and culture. The truth is far more interesting. China is a mosaic of several distinct regions, each with its own resources, dynamics, and historical character.

I am not sure how these nine regions were determined and when I pressed on the link for what appears to be a fuller explanation, I got sent to an error page. But I know that knowing these nine regions is important because the article tells me so:

As China’s economy becomes more integrated, these regional differences are taking on greater importance than ever before. Each of the Nine Nations faces a unique set of challenges and opportunities in carving out its own competitive niche. Anyone who wants to do business in China, make policy towards China, or simply comprehend the dramatic changes happening there should understand the Nine Nations and the role each of them is playing in shaping China’s future.

The problem I see with this map is that it is exactly that. A map. And as a map, it distinguishes among regions geographically and that is not how I view many aspects of China. Just by way of an example, I see Beijing having commonalities with Shanghai just because they are two powerful and relatively sophisticated big cities. Different as these two cities are (and they are plenty different — in their cultures, in their attitudes and even in their languages), they still share many commonalities in terms of business.

Help me out here. What do you think?

UPDATE: Mr. Chovanec has done a nice post on his blog explaining his map a bit more. And Jottings from the Granite Studio has weighed in as well.

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