To highlight the difference in social interactions, Yan Zhitui notes that when southerners receive guests, they do not go out to greet them or salute them, instead they clasp hands when they finally meet up with one another. While it is only indirectly suggested, this implies that there are rigid social customs that require experience in the south, but when in the company of those with the same customs, there is a great deal of affection and warmth. This occurs again when the southerners say goodbye to one another, not with the easy smiles and casual style of those in the north, but with tears and emotion. In these cases, it is clear that the south has more emphasis on emotion and emotional connections with people. In the north however, despite the more casual attitude and lack of stringent formality, there is more of an emotional distance. In that respect, it should be noted that salutes, which are related to military regimes, are used in the more militarily-inclined north.
One of the other important differences that emerges in the northern versus southern cultures pertains to the appearance of great civility and refinement. Whereas in the north where all indications are that people are less emotional and a bit more distant (although friendly and genuinely warm) personally, they do not generally strive to appear wealthy, refined, or something they are not. In the south, however, there is a much greater emphasis on the projection of refinement. As Yan Zhitui notes, “In the South, even the poor concentrated on their external appearance; their clothes and carriages had to be expensive and smart even if that meant their wives and children suffered hunger and cold" whereas in the north, they did prefer to have “fine silks and jewels" but they were fine with letting other markers of refinement such as horses and servants go (110). With these elements of social appearances in mind, it should also be noted that women, in line with the idea of great civility, were objects of beauty and charm and less associated with function and utility as northern women who were more in charge of family affairs and better with “weaving and sewing and all sorts of needlework." According to Yan Zhitui, there is almost diametrical opposition culturally between these two regions, especially socially.
In “A Northerner’s Defense of Northern Culture" there a number of casual blows the northern speaker strikes at his southern counterparts, many of which are distinctly related to differences in culture, traditions, and behavioral customs. What is most striking about this piece, at least initially, is the very title. By using the word “defense" in the context of culture, it is immediately clear that this northerner in particular feels on the defensive to begin with. This does not seem as though it would be surprising, given the intellectualism that dominated in the south, and the speaker in this piece makes it clear that he too, just his fellow northerners, are quite capable of being well-spoken. As Yuanshen finishes speaking, the narrator of this piece says that the two southerners, when they “heard how eloquently Yuanshen spoke…were at a loss for how to respond. They broke into a sweat and could utter no sound" (110). What becomes clear when encountering this reaction is that northerners are on edge as they are perceived to be without eloquence or refinement in the view of their southern neighbors. Given the ideas about refinement, even in appearances, discussed by Yan Zhitui, one can understand this defensiveness of culture. While northerners may not project the same image of great refinement, he is suggesting that it is there, albeit expressed differently.
The matter of eloquence discussed in this “defense" clearly demonstrates that northerners feel they are perceived as not having the same refined capabilities as southerners. Furthermore, what the speaker is suggesting is that despite the south’s claim to cultural superiority, they are actually loose, undisciplined, and not in line with their projection of refinement in their actual behavior, especially the behavior of their immoral leaders who are incestuous and adulterous. This is evidenced by the fact that one of the southerners is drunk, even during a time when serious matters are afoot. When he discusses how the southerners live together with birds like wild animals, he is further stating these ideas about unrestrained passion and emotion as well as decadence. The more controlled northerner’s feelings about the south reflect the more rational and functional existence those living in the north experienced. With the southern bounty and good weather, is the same wild spirit reflected in the cultural sense. The two regions are presented as opposite repeatedly; one is hot in climate, the other cold. One is fertile and hospitable, the other is more barren and ferocious. One emphasizes the projection of cultural refinement while the other emphasizes utility. With so many differences, it is no wonder some of these same stereotypes about northerners and southerners still persist.