You’ve probably read enough elsewhere about the designation here in China for foreigners, “Lao Wai,” so I don’t think I need to rehash it here.

But I’ve also mentioned “Northerners” in this blog, people who come to coastal southern Fujian Province from less prosperous regions–perhaps mostly from Sichuan and Anhui Provinces–to make money doing the crappy jobs the locals no longer need or want to undertake themselves and who, as far as these locals are concerned, are “to blame” for most major “street crimes” and so on.

(Uh, hello, USA, anything sound familiar there?)

But I finally got a deeper insight, a linguistic one, into the locals’ view of these “migrant workers.”

When we’re talking in English, my Wife has used the term “Northerners” with me when referring to these “outsiders.” In standard Mandarin, she and others have used the term “bei fang ren” (北方人), which I think any good translator would render simply as “Northerners.”

But in a recent conversation I overheard, I caught wind of a different name, “a bei zi” (啊北子), and I learned that this is the name used with a bit of disdain for these “outsiders” (who happen to be from the same country).

Any name for a group of people that has this “zi” (子) character in it implies inferiority (status or situational) of some type, as I’ve encountered it. Haizi (孩子) mean ‘child’, yangguizi (洋鬼子) means ‘foreign devil’, and so on.

If I had to translate “a bei zi” (啊北子), I’d probably use “Northies,” sort of like how those from South Boston are referred to disdainfully as “Southies” by those of greater social standing in the Boston area.

Of course this made me curious as to whether the “Northies” have a name for the locals around here, but if they do, no one I was talking with knew what it might be. The DID, however, know what people down in Xiamen call people in the Jinjiang region when speaking with a bit of mild scorn: nei di zi (內地子), which refers to their being “inlanders,” but the zi (子) character adds that tone of scorn we mentioned earlier. (The interesting angle to that story is that lots of people now leading the economic and capitalistic charge down in Xiamen are people sprung from this “inland” Jinjiang region. (And it’s not really “inland,” just “up the coast.”))

So there. If you thought all Chinese were somehow 100% united cohesively in some kind of pure “Us (China) vs. Them (the rest of the world)” official school of thought, this post is for you: now you know that Chinese of different regions and economic stations have disdainful names for each other as well.