Growing rice is very different from growing wheat. Rice requires about twice as many labor hours as wheat, which led rice farmers to share labor. Paddy rice’s irrigation networks require farmers to coordinate their water use and flood their fields at the same time. These elements gave rice villages a dense social world, with tight social ties. Across four studies, I test thousands of people’s thought style and behavior across China. Do the north and south have different cultures? And do these cultures fall along the historical lines or rice and wheat farming—even in modern day Starbucks?
Thomas Talhelm is an Assistant Professor of Behavioral Science at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. Thomas has lived in China for five years as a Princeton in Asia fellow, as a freelance journalist in Beijing, and as a Fulbright scholar. He researches how rice farming gave southern China a very different culture from wheat-farming northern China. Thomas also founded Smart Air, a social enterprise that makes low-cost DIY air purifiers to help people in China protect themselves from air pollution.