University of Nottingham Ningbo China
Institute of Asia and Pacific Studies
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Research Seminar: The rice theory of culture: Evidence of China (and India's) two cultures (7th Sep 2016)


3:30-5:00pm, Wednesday 7th September, AB 453

NUBS China and IAPS are honored to invite Thomas Talhelm, an assistant professor of behavioral science at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, into UNNC to exchange his experience in research for several day and finally ended with a seminar. In this journey, he presented his research interest and research experience. In the ending seminar, he mainly introduced the idea of his project with dramatic examples of research methods.

Thomas Talhelm researches cross-cultural differences and north-south cultural differences in China. He has lived in China (both north and south) for four years doing research, as a Fulbright Scholar, Princeton in Asia fellow, and as a freelance journalist. While living in Beijing, he also founded Smart Air, a social enterprise that researches and ships low-cost DIY air filters as an alternative to the high-priced air purifier market.

One of Thomas Talhelm’s recent major projects is studying how rice and wheat agriculture have given northern and southern China two very different cultures. As Thomas Talhelm introduced in the seminar, Cross-cultural psychologists often contrasted East Asia with the West, but this study showed large psychological differences within China. He first proposed that a history of farming rice made cultures more interdependent, while farming wheat made cultures more independent, and these agricultural legacies continued to affect people in the modern world. Talhelm and his collages then tested 1,162 Han Chinese participants in six sites and found that people who grew up in rice-growing southern China weremore interdependent and holistic-thinking than people from the wheat-growing north. He illustrated this with his test on friend distinctions, in which he found clear distinctions between friends and strangers within the rice culture. He further pointed out that this tight friends relationship was hard to break. It meant duties more than merely trust and friendship. From this perspective, he noted that responsibilism as a more suitable word than collectivism.

To control for confounds like climate, his group tested people from neighboring counties along the rice-wheat border and found differences that were just as large. The results also showed that modernization and pathogen prevalence theories did not fit the data. He mentioned his observation in Beijing as a dramatic illustration. In his observation, local people were more likely to change themselves to suit the situation while foreigners were more willing to change the environment to watch their need. He pointed out that people behaved interdependently and were still rely on environment, which was not conform to the modernization theories.


(Note taker: Yiqing Sun)


Posted on 13 February 2017