Jiangsu, from the margin to the center

When I was eight years old I memorized all the capitals in the world…because (well, because a friend had done the same). I’ve always been into geography. But there is one thing I’ve been guilty about for nearly twenty years: I can’t point to all the provinces of China on a map and name them. For example, I only scored 83% in 2 minutes 10 seconds on Seterra’s China province quiz. For comparison, on the African countries quiz I got 100% in 1 minute 59 seconds. Obviously the latter is “harder” than the former, so it indicates my lack of focus.

To make up for my lack of fluency, I’m going to be reading Wikipedia entries of Chinese provinces and putting my reflections into this space. Readers who know more can also chime in in the comments.

I’m starting, for no particular reason, with Jiangsu. The coastal province north of Shanghai, it is not surprising that this is a wealthy region in a Chinese context. Shanghai is administratively distinct, but it seems that it’s core “native” culture is really that of southern Jiangsu. Even without Shanghai in the mix, Jiangsu would have about the 14th largest economy in the world if it was a separate and distinct nation.

Since I read Kenneth Pomeranz’s The Great Divergence about ten years ago I was not surprised at the fact Jiangsu was so economically vital. It had been the same in the 18th century when the lower Yangzi region became the heartland of Chinese economic growth and industry. But it seems that this region’s importance in trade and Smithian growth dates back at least to the Song dynasty, as the Grand Canal between north and south constructed during the Sui-Tang triggered development.

Originally Jiangsu was not part of China proper, as during antiquity it was inhabited by barbarian peoples. Of course, eventually, it was Sinicized, and when non-Chinese groups took over the North China plain Jiangsu and the Huai river served as a barrier to further southward expansion.

6 thoughts on “Jiangsu, from the margin to the center

  1. “To make up for my lack of fluency, I’m going to be reading Wikipedia entries of Chinese provinces and putting my reflections into this space.”

    Good plan. Facts with meaning and context attached to them are easier to memorize than bare data points.

  2. Link on Jiangsu leads to Africa quiz.

    I tried to do the same thing with Chinese provinces using Memrise in summer, but… just got busy with other stuff. I am going to make another try at this now, hope you’ll post about this your endeavor more.

    I am also learning Chinese, so I’m reading about
    https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/江 (and it makes connection to Yangtze more strong to me now for this province)
    and https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/蘇

    And looking for all this I finally learned the name of Bohai Sea, helps make sense of the China map for me.

  3. Yangzhou was already the richest city in China during the middle Tang. Jiangsu is culturally quite odd, the north is just another sleepy part of the central plains, while the south is the core of Jiangnan. A dialect map would show that quite well, Nanjing being an odd Mandarin speaking island in a sea of wealthy Wu speakers.

  4. One data point that might help you differentiate Jiangsu from other coastal provinces is that it (and inland provinces to its west) produce both wheat and rice, while Zhejiang (and provinces to the west) plant mostly rice.

  5. Jiangsu (maybe with the exception of Shanghai) is also part of what I call the great Chinese peeing zone, which reaches (at least) from Zhejiang to Shandong. Haven’t been to Fujian, so don’t know whether it reaches further south.
    In these 3 provinces whenever I went outside I saw several people (not just children, which you see everywhere) pee out in the open. Further inland (eg. Anhui) & in the north (Jilin) I didn’t see so many, although still almost daily whenever I went out for longer than 30 minutes.
    In the provinces I have been to & stayed for more than a few weeks,this seems to be least common in Guangdong.

  6. A problem with memorizing modern Chinese provinces, even if you’re familiar with Chinese history, are the borders that are often arbitrary in respect to natural linguistic, geographical, and historical boundaries.

    As mentioned by others, Jiangsu in particular is a weird melding together of northern/central plains Mandarin speakers with the Wu-speaking areas along the lower Yangzi.

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