Nov 7, 2022, 4:30 pm – 6:00 pm
A71 Louis A. Simpson Building & Zoom
Open to the Public



Event Description

Refreshments will be served.

The rice theory is the idea that historical rice farming shaped southern China into a very different culture from the wheat-farming north. Why would rice matter? Traditional paddy rice required about twice as many labor hours as wheat, which led rice farmers to share labor. Paddy rice also relied on irrigation networks, which required farmers to coordinate their water use and flood their fields at the same time. These elements gave rice villages tight, interdependent social ties. I will present data showing that northern and southern China have cultural differences that fall along the historical borders of rice and wheat. I will also show new data where we coded how much space 7,000 people were taking up in Starbucks. Within China and India, people in rice-farming regions took up less space than people in wheat-farming regions.

Thomas Talhelm is an Associate Professor of Behavioral Science at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. Thomas studied Spanish for a decade before a research program sent him to China. Since then, Thomas has lived in China for seven years as a Princeton in Asia Fellow, a freelance journalist, and a Fulbright scholar. When he should have been doing research, he founded a social enterprise called Smart Air, which makes low-cost, open-data-backed air purifiers to help people in China and India protect themselves from air pollution. 

Paul and Marcia Wythes Center on Contemporary China