Are Chinese all the same?

"Come on, they are all Chinese!",
A publication by Wolf Isabella

Italy, 17th February 2019


1 – Introduction

2 – A scientific theory

3 – Are there any “but”?

4 – Conclusion

1 – Introduction

Over the years, it happened very often to me to encounter in many jokes, both by person and in “memes”, on Asian people, like “Come on, they are all Chinese!” or “They all look the same”. And even though they were kinda funny, what aroused my curiosity was the fact that those jokes were very numerous even outside Italy and were present even towards different ethnicities and this made me wonderon the reason behind this phenomenon. Indeed, for a Western not used to the contact with Asian people (the same way for Asian toward Westerns)is very difficult to recognize the physiognomic differences. Why?

2 – A scientific theory

To this question there are many answers, one among them is the theory of the “Cross-race effect” of Gustav A. Feingold, exposed in his essay “The influence of environment on identification of persons and things” (1914).

With this name, it’s indicated the tendency to more easily recognize the face of people belonging to the ethnicity with which one is more familiar with (and that often coincides with the one of belonging). In the same way, this tendency translates in finding similar all the people belonging to another ethnicity, unfamiliar to us. Therefore, the foundation that lays at the basis is that our ability to recognize the distinctive characteristics between the individuals is directly connected to the familiarity with that ethnicity.

To clarify, it’s the same thing that happens with music kinds: a person ignorant on classical music wouldn’t be able to distinguish if the composer of a piece was Mozart or Beethoven, the same way as one ignorant in rock music wouldn’t be able to recognize the difference between Led Zeppelin and Plink Floyd. Often, one can hear the sentence “All the song of the X kind all soundthe same”; this happens because his ears aren’t used to listening to that music and he doesn’t recognize the difference between the various artists and their different styles, meanwhile a fan would be able to recognize everything, in great detail, “with his eyes closed”. The same thing goes for people and their physiognomic characteristic, different from ethnicity to ethnicity.

Is this tendency an acquired character or is it part of our genes? In our genes, there is the developing of a mechanism of facial recognition, but which one is not known: it’s an ability that we develop with time, by observing since children the different people that surround us (usually belonging to the same ethnicity) and the attempt to distinguish one another. Indeed, in the case of foreign children adopted by parents of another ethnicity, they will develop only the ability to distinguish the people of the adoptive ethnicity and not of the native one; the same way as it happens to people that move for many many years to very far away places, they will start developing the ability to distinguish the people belonging to new ethnicity.

Every ethnicity has different distinctive physiognomic characteristics, but I want to point out that here we aren’t talking about how “evident” these differences are, but that there exist different factors of facial analysis: the different hair and eye color would seem more evident than the different form of the nose or of the face in general, but the first ones are factors very easily changeable and not totally trustworthy; so we shouldn’t think that those are the only factors that we “Westerns” use in the facial memorization of our fellow men. The fact that the other factors are less evident (to us) influences our ability to identify the little differences of the individual, even with the expression of emotion and lead the person to uniquely rely on stereotypes and to classify according to them. It can even happen to wrongly identify a person as belonging to a certain group because of the categorical analysis without recording his details. When later, the same person finds in front of him another foreigner with the face similar to the first one, he will perceive the feeling of “already having seen him”. It has been then proved, that this phenomenon occurs to every ethnicity, indiscriminately.

    It’s obvious that this inability of recognition could lead to many problems towards people of different ethnicities. In such a globalized like ours, in which populations and cultures collaborate and confront one another in contractual relationships, it can be clearly seen the negative impacts of the Cross-race effect. Consequences of this phenomenon in the case of negotiations between people of different ethnicities and cultures include: reduced emotional intelligence, negative evaluation of trustworthiness, reduced communication abilities, lack of empathy and a lower ability to judge the overall situation of the negotiation. In order to resolve this problem, there are the cultural mediators, whose work is exactly the one to be a liaison between the two parts and avoid conflicts and incomprehension and resolve everything for the better.

    Some people then hypothesize that the general effects of the Cross-race effect will little by little fade away, since our society is more and more subject to the contact with the other cultures, but I personally believe that it will only attenuate, but it won’t disappear. Indeed, the use of stereotypes is an unconscious and necessary behavior that we use even in many other fields and that helps us face the situation even when the one presented to us is completely different from all the others. So, I believe that we will keep relying on stereotypes.

    Conclusion? It’s not that the Chinese all look the same, it’s us that (still) haven’t developed the ability to recognize their differences.

    3 – Are there any “but”?

    The women shown in the picture are 18 girls participating in the beauty contest Miss Daegu (South-Korean city) 2013. How it can be noticed, it effectively seems that all the girls have the same face (even more obvious in the GIF). This picture has made a big fuss on the internet and on the social networks and it has been later revealed that the pictures were retouched with Photoshop by the same person, but even that the participating girls had all undergone some plastic surgery.

    What I want to talk about now is the phenomenon of plastic surgery in South-Korea, not because it contradicts in any way the Cross-race effect, but to underline a social problem that has partially influenced the idea that “Chinese” all look the same. Indeed, despite in this part we will only talk about South-Korea, this is a phenomenon that nowadays has developed in China too, but there the clinics still aren’t good enough and this brings many clients to go to the more competent Korea.

    A pair of numbers to understand the entity of the phenomenon of which we talking about:

    • the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons affirms that 20% of South-Korean women has undergone a plastic surgery.
    • according to the National Tax Service, there were a total of 1414 plastic surgery clinics registered in South-Korea in September 2017.
    • according to the New York Times, the South-Korean government awaits an increase of a million “medical tourists” by 2020, a fifth of whom are for plastic surgery. In 2014 the annual revenue in that sector was $107 million.

    This is, without doubt, an increasing phenomenon, but what are the reasons behind it?

    First of all, one must understand that, in their culture, beauty is highly considered. Indeed, if a person is beautiful, he is even considered intelligent, perceptive and trustworthy, with good intentions and a big heart, meanwhile, ugliness and imperfection are associated with many negative characteristics like laziness, incompetence, etc. This isn’t only a disadvantage in the love fields (how happens for us too), but especially in the social and work field, since a more good-looking person can get more easily hired, awarded, promoted, etc. This has led the same parents to gift for the graduation or for the birthday of their sons a plastic surgery because they know that in that way their sons could have more success in their future. In addition to this, there is the extreme development of Korean sanitary system, its minimum costs and its specialization on the plastic surgery sector. Without even considering that, for different reasons, the beauty standards that nowadays have consolidated in Korea are very specific: white skin, double eyelids, small face (not bigger than the face), round forehead, etc.

    This way, people that want to become more beautiful will conform to this precise standards, giving even more the impression, to people external to this culture, to look “all the same”.

    That this implicates serious social problems is obvious and that’s why the Korean Ministry of Health and Welfare has promoted “blind recruitment” systems (meant as without seeing the candidate picture) and the reduction of advertisement on public transports and on stations.

    This way, people that want to become more beautiful will conform to this precise standards, giving even more the impression, to people external to this culture, to look “all the same”.

    That this implicates serious social problems is obvious and that’s why the Korean Ministry of Health and Welfare has promoted “blind recruitment” systems (meant as without seeing the candidate picture) and the reduction of advertisement on public transports and on stations.

    Exclusive video of a Chinese wolf

    “Do I look like the others?”

    4 – Conclusion

    I hope, with this article, to have opened the eyes to you readers, to have made you understand something more about this strange phenomenon, to have mitigated that stereotype towards “Chinese” and to have aroused in you a little curiosity towards the Far East.

    Remember that no judgment has been made on the populations and cultures treated, just findings of fact and I strongly recommend all you readers to do the same and don’t judge negatively only because it’s different, but to comprehend what lies deep within.

    If you have any doubt or if you want to share any curiosity on the matter, the comment section is all yours!

    Thanks for reading!


    Wolf Isabella



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