East Asia Workshop: Politics, Economy and Society

East Asia Workshop: Oct. 17th, Thomas Telhelm, “The Rice Theory of Culture: Evidence that Historical Rice Farming Shaped Culture in Southern China”


East Asia Workshop: Politics, Economy and Society presents


“The Rice Theory of Culture: Evidence that Historical Rice Farming Shaped Culture in Southern China


Thomas Telhelm

Assistant Professor of Behavioral Science

University of Chicago


4:30-6:00p.m., Tuesday, October 17th, 2017

Pick Lounge, 5828 South University Ave.

*Light refreshments will be provided*



Cross-cultural psychologists have mostly contrasted Asia with the West. In this talk, the speaker will give evidence that there are significant cultural differences within China and within India. By testing 1,162 Han Chinese participants in six sites, the author found that people in southern China are more interdependent and holistic-thinking than people in the north. The author proposes that rice farming’s irrigation and high labor requirements gave southern China a tight, interdependent culture. In contrast, traditional wheat farming required less labor and less coordination, giving northern China a more free-wheeling independent culture. A separate study in India also revealed differences between traditional rice-farming and wheat-farming areas.


About the speaker

Thomas Talhelm studies how culture affects the way we behave. One of his recent major projects was studying how rice and wheat agriculture have given northern and southern China two very different cultures. His research has appeared in a variety of publications including Science, Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, and Current Directions in Psychological Science.

Thomas lived in China for five years teaching high school in Guangzhou as a Princeton in Asia fellow, as a freelance journalist in Beijing, and most recently as a Fulbright scholar and an NSF Graduate Research Fellow. While living in Beijing, Thomas founded Smart Air, a social enterprise that ships low-cost air purifiers to help people breathe clean air without shelling out thousands of dollars for expensive purifiers.

Thomas earned his Ph.D. in social psychology from the University of Virginia and a B.A. with Highest Honors in psychology and Spanish from the University of Michigan.


*To learn more about the workshop, please visit our workshop website: http://cas.uchicago.edu/workshops/eastasia/

*Subscribe or unsubscribe to the workshop mailing-list at: https://lists.uchicago.edu/web/info/east-asia

*Questions and concerns can be addressed to the student coordinator Haitong Xu (xuhaitong@uchciago.edu) and Yang Xiang (xiangalan@uchicago.edu)


Faculty sponsors:

Xi Song (Sociology), xisong@uchicago.edu

Dali Yang (Political Science), daliyang@uchicago.edu

Dingxin Zhao (Sociology), dzhao@uchicago.edu


The East Asia Workshop is sponsored by the Council on Advanced Studies in Humanities and Social Sciences. Persons with disabilities who believe they may need assistance please contact the student coordinator in advance.

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