Let’s say you run across an East Asian guy and you want to guess which ethnicity he is. Instead of blurting out, “Are you Chinese? Japanese? Korean?” Simply ask him. (I thought this page offered some stereotypical differences of Asian men.) If you somehow forgot your sensitivity cap or your too far away, then keep these tips in mind (here is a test for those who like tests):
(South) Korea is a relatively small country with a population of 50 million people. It’s on a peninsula surrounded by unfriendly neighbors. Due to history, the Koreans hate the Japanese.
Physically, Koreans are generally taller than the Japanese. They also seem to lack the all-important double eyelid. For some reason, the double eyelid is an attractive quality and a popular surgical procedure. (Personally, I always found Korean females lack of a double-eyelid attractive.) A family friend always told me that Koreans have “flat faces” like dishes.
Until I reached university, I didn’t even realize Koreans existed. I figured anyone with a last name of “Lee” or “Chung” was Chinese and those that I did see, I’m sure I confused them with the Japanese. Given the relatively small population, I believe Koreans look relatively similar.
Culturally, the population seems pretty open to Christianity. A Korean professor from undergrad told me that in Korea the Christian population is 20-25 percent but for some reason outside of Korea it’s 90 percent. Koreans always seem to be the more insular of the three groups. They seem to travel in packs, go to their own (dance) clubs, restaurants, and churches.
Japan: In comparison, Japan is a slightly larger country with 130 million people. What’s important to remember is that Japan is an island nation. Until the modern era, the Sea of Japan has protected the country from foreign invaders and kept the Japanese “pure.” For instance, the Mongols who conquered much of Asia and Europe twice failed to cross the Sea of Japan. The Japanese place a big premium on racial purity.
Physically, the Japanese are shorter than the Chinese and the Koreans by 1-2 inches. All people from that part of the world like fair skin so it’s pointless to say which is “the fairest of them all.” Up until recently, Tokyo was at the forefront of fashion and style in East Asia. Thus, you could count on the Japanese to be incredibly hip and colorful in their style.
The Japanese are infamous for their bad teeth. This article offers an explanation of why anyone would want to pay to look like a “snaggle-tooth.”
Tempermentally, Japanese people are excessively polite. Apparently sneezing and blowing your nose in public is rude. Even in the modern times, they still do a fair amount of bowing. Bowing! Closely related, the Japanese have a habit of “head bobbing” when they seem to be trying to get out of the room. For instance, the lady will bob her head, take a step back, then say, “Hai!”, followed by another head bob. Repeat until you’ve slithered out of the room.
Culturally, the Japanese are a rather sexist society. Women have a tough time cracking the glass ceiling. Sometimes I hear that there aren’t enough workers in Japan. Maybe the guys who run the country should encourage the women to get out of the kitchen and get a job.
China is the largest country in East Asia with a population of 1.35 billion people. It covers a vast expanse of land and includes a number of ethnicities. Keep in mind that’s 10 times larger than Japan and 26 times the size of South Korea.
China (9.6 million sq km) is roughly twice the size of the European Union (4.4 million sq km). While it seems obvious to say that Germans and Greeks look pretty different, somehow people want to give a blanket statement of how Chinese people should look.
China has people who come in a variety of shapes and sizes. There are people from the north who are generally taller than those from the south. Those from Western China seem to look somewhat Caucasian or mixed. Even those from the big cities can be kind of strange looking because there is a lot of mixing between people of different regions.
Since China is so big, I believe you should expect to see Chinese people at all income levels. For instance, China is known to require the use of Chinese laborers when it offers contracts to African countries. Thus, it’s common to see Chinese construction workers building roads or at construction sites.
Culturally, I find the mainland Chinese to be the most … socially awkward. China is the most recent of the three countries to develop so the people lack certain habits that seem socially normal in the West. I think a lot of this has to do with living in crowded cities. The largest Chinese cities (including surrounding areas) are both dense and populous. Guangzhou, Beijing, and Shanghai are 44 million, 28 million, and 20 million, respectively. A “medium sized” city is in the 5-10 million range. A large population allows anonymity and encourages people to be the worst selves. For instance, expats have reported seeing Chinese people walk about Shanghai doing their errands in their pyjamas.
Chinese people don’t seem to understand the concept of forming a line or queue. If a window opens, you can be sure the Chinese will huddle in a crowd and push and shove to get to the front. Even walking down the street, you can expect someone to push you out of their way without saying, “Excuse me” or “Pardon me.” When I pass through Chinese airports, I always look for the people intent on cutting the line (jumping the queue).
Another thing the Chinese seem to do a lot is spitting. I’ve heard you shouldn’t stand too close to buses or trains because you might get hit. Heck, even walking down the street, you may have the misfortune to walk into someone’s saliva trajectory. Admittedly, I once was guilty of such habits.
Anyways, I’m afraid of summarizing because I will be putting all my stereotypes in one place. Given the size of China and the diversity of people, you should probably start your guessing with “Chinese”.