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Northern Chinese Hoard Hundreds of Cabbages for Winter

2017-11-11 12:52:55 hayley Liu

Discussing the lifestyle differences between northern and southern citizens is a long-lived heated topic on Chinese social media. The latest one dominating the headlines is northerners' annual cabbage-storing ritual.

The initiator of this round of public debate is a video released by media startup Pear Video, which quickly went viral over the weekend. The video got more than 28,000 comments and 52,000 likes on Weibo.

The one-minute film was shot in Dongcheng District that covers the eastern half of Beijing's urban core. It is a place where Beijing locals are concentrated. In the video, vegetable retailers were busy helping customers weigh and load up Chinese cabbages. A grandpa bought the equivalent of 165 pounds and loaded them on the back of his tricycle. Another aunt said she buys 110 pounds every winter.

These are common scenes during the two-week run on cabbages in northern China each year. For lots of Chinese seniors, hoarding cabbages before the arrival of winter is an annual tradition. The stockpiling begins in every November, when farmers deliver tons of newly harvested cabbages to city sidewalks for a sale.

In modern China where BMWs, upscale malls and produce-packed supermarkets are commonplace, the habit of cabbage stockpiling speaks to an era of scarcity that still haunts some senior citizens. They vividly recall the hungry winters decades ago, when cabbage was the only vegetable that sustained the masses through the icy months in northern China.

Cabbage is cheap and easy to store, thus a perfect choice for financially less off families. Another good thing about cabbage is that it goes with everything: it is estimated that about 100 different dishes can be made from cabbage, which explains why a compulsory course for Chinese housewives 20 years ago was to learn how to vary evening meals by using cabbage. From stir-fried cabbage with garlic to stewed pork with cabbage, from cabbage and tofu soup to pickled cabbage, northern Chinese find it difficult to dislike cabbage.

To protect cabbage from rot, the heads are individually wrapped in newspaper. Every two or three weeks, people check the green mountain for signs of decay and reshuffle the pile, moving those on the bottom to the top. Some people drape them in old blankets.

With growing wealth over the past few decades, greenhouses have been built in northern China, and southern vegetables are transported to the north on a daily basis. Many people no longer hoard cabbages as fresh vegetables are available all year round. But for many senior citizens, stockpiling cabbage is a tradition they would rather keep alive. It has nothing to do with food and starvation, but nostalgia for simpler bygone days.

However, southern Chinese see the hoarding of cabbage in a less emotional way, as they were surprised by northern citizen's "huge" appetite. Many Weibo users living in south China said they bought one head at a time and needed two days to finish it.

China is a vast country in which climate and geographical conditions in the north and south vary markedly. It's only natural to find people in different places to have different lifestyles.

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