"They all look the same to me!"
August 27, 2001 11:40 PM   Subscribe

"They all look the same to me!" Just by looking, can you tell a Chinese person from a Korean? Or a Japanese? Take the Asian Aptitude Test and find out.
posted by phichens (45 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I scored a 6 out of 12, which put me 1 point above average.
posted by phichens at 11:41 PM on August 27, 2001

i'm skeptical. three out of the 12 have some form of dyed hair and they all seem to be making faces.
posted by kathryn at 2:02 AM on August 28, 2001

"Genius - You may have a career in this."

So, where do I go to get a job looking at asian people? No really, I'd like to know.
posted by kevspace at 2:07 AM on August 28, 2001

i got 6 out of 12 as well. some of those faces were tough, esp. the ones making faces at the camera, cause it made it hard to see their eyes, which is usually the deciding factor for me.

still, i find it funny that i got mistaken for japanese a couple times when i was staying in hokkaido one summer (i'm an extremely white person, but i found that many of the people in this northern island had lighter skin than mine). and what i thought stranger, the (in my mind) very obvious chinese people in our group were =also= mistaken for being japanese. what's that about?
posted by meep at 2:32 AM on August 28, 2001

Note that all of these people are in New York, so are they really Korean, Chinese or Japanese, or are they just descended from Koreans, Chinese or Japanese?

Iny case, what kind of 'aptitude' is this? It's like trying to tell which state people are from, or which European country, or which part of Africa.

It's not even fun.
posted by Poagao at 2:35 AM on August 28, 2001

I bombed with 3 out of 12, which makes me 'hopeless - might as well flip the coin'

so is this site perpetuating racist thinking or is it a celebration of the differences? can anyone here say from experience or observation that asians are more prone to making and/or being on the receiving end of racial classifications than caucasians, africans or any other race?
posted by mb01 at 2:52 AM on August 28, 2001

Number 11 looks like a white guy

This is kind of interesting. I've always maintained that I could tell the different kinds apart, (at least the women, whom I spend more time looking at :P).

Most of Asia, except Japan is populated by Han people, Ethnic Chinese, so they do look pretty similar. I think Japanese do look pretty distinctive though.

It seems I ended up voting the more 'plain' people as Chinese, and the more Wild as Japanese. The ones I couldn't tell I put as Korean :P I got 5 right the first time, and 8 the second, although I didn't do anything other then look over the results once (Actually, I took the test again because I wanted to see the results window again)

One thing that sucks is that if you want to take the test again, you need to give a new UID. That kinda sucks, and will probably cram up their database with crap…
posted by delmoi at 3:18 AM on August 28, 2001

Well, this just confirms what I already knew: I'm just another white guy who can't tell which country an Asian is from.
posted by zztzed at 4:30 AM on August 28, 2001

Before I lived overseas I could not tell the difference between Japanese, Chinese and/or Koreans. After awhile it became a little easier but not exact. I have contests with my girlfriend, who is Chinese, and some of the time she cannot tell the difference either. I think some of the most difficult to tell are SE Chinese. If they are part Indonesian and part Chinese, which are they? Japanese and Thai?
posted by Stretch at 4:55 AM on August 28, 2001

Now that I took the test I understand the difficulty. I suspect that some of them are second or third generation. A few of them had Euro features. Okay, now that I have been beaten, I will crawl back into my hole....
posted by Stretch at 5:01 AM on August 28, 2001

Most of Asia, except Japan is populated by Han people, Ethnic Chinese

Um, hello -- India? Pakistan? Sri Lanka? The Philippines? Indonesia? Malaysia? Saudi Arabia? Iraq? Iran?

Even if you'd said "most of Southeast Asia," you'd still be wrong.
posted by lia at 5:18 AM on August 28, 2001

If you really want to scare yourself about the things your head does without your knowledge, try one of these Implicit Attitude Tests.
posted by muckster at 5:41 AM on August 28, 2001

I got Inversely Amazing which may be just as hard as getting them all right. (now let's see if we can spot the american)
posted by samsara at 6:00 AM on August 28, 2001

Ok, who wants to be the first to post the caucasian counterpart? Tell the difference: American, British, French or Canadian.
posted by goto11 at 6:06 AM on August 28, 2001

I got 8 out of 12, but I can't decide if this makes me perceptive or latently racist.
posted by briank at 6:22 AM on August 28, 2001

i scored really low. ordinarily this would bug the hell out of me. but when i taught in portugal and spain a coupla years ago, i was assumed to be irish* because of the red hair and paleface. even thought i sounded irish (i'm from chicago). lesson: anyone can be mistakenly exocitcized anywhere.

*i was approached by an actual irishman at one point who tried to identify with me by bellowing "fuck the IRA!" my companion (also of irish descent, just as clued out as i) chirped, "don't they make sportswear..?" i giggled. we left.
posted by patricking at 6:48 AM on August 28, 2001


Americans: They're fat.
Canadians: They're wearing flannel.
French: They look trendy or gay.
British: They have spiked hair.
posted by mrbula at 6:58 AM on August 28, 2001

The last conductor of a regional symphony in WI was from Korea, and he once told an audience how to tell the difference: "The Japanese man - nice suit, newest cell phone; very very rich. Chinese man - very studious, always carries book, he is very handsome; Korean man you will know because he is very very handsome!"
posted by mimi at 7:01 AM on August 28, 2001

Um, hello -- India? Pakistan? Sri Lanka? The Philippines? Indonesia? Malaysia? Saudi Arabia? Iraq? Iran?

Good point, lia. Also, no Han people or ethnic Chinese in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Israel -- yes, it's in Asia!!!, most of Turkey, most of Russia, as well as majority of former Soviet Union republics, which are now independent state-nations, are in Asia.

I don't know why most American refer ONLY to Chinese/Japanese/Koreans as Asians.
posted by Rastafari at 7:14 AM on August 28, 2001

1 correct. Beat that! It called me an "inverse genius" or something. I was a little surprised, but I think I can deal. I have trouble discerning male/female a lot, so hey.
posted by whatnotever at 7:27 AM on August 28, 2001

Maybe the terminology should be Northeast Asians, Mid-East Asians and Southeast Asians. Or Pacific Rim Asians. I am going to run out of labels on my labelmaker on this one. Also, aren't New Zealanders technically Asian - Australasian?
posted by Stretch at 7:36 AM on August 28, 2001

All I see is a bunch of Americans.
posted by moses at 7:49 AM on August 28, 2001

I am going to run out of labels on my labelmaker...

And therein might lie the problem - too many labels.
posted by Option1 at 8:03 AM on August 28, 2001

I was feeling pretty confident going into this.

the Japanese guys I've met all like to dye their hair. The Koreans I've met tend to built more like TV Americans. The Chinese I've met don't dress too outlandishly but have a sense of humor.

So definitely 1, 4, 7, and 8 were Chinese. 3 and 11 were Japanese. The rest I got wrong. 6 out of 12.
posted by otherchaz at 8:29 AM on August 28, 2001

Canadiens may soon be identifiable by sporting Jim Bruer eyes.
posted by adampsyche at 8:47 AM on August 28, 2001

Wow, Muckster, the Implicit Attitude Tests are very cool. Consider putting them up on the front page. I didn't learn anything I didn't already suspect (I have a strong association between men and science and women and liberal arts, a moderate preference for white people over black people, and I prefer myself to others moderately), but it's always interesting to run yourself up to the limits with these kinds of things. (Oh, and I'm not proud of my implicit attitudes, I just have them ;-) ).
posted by daver at 8:52 AM on August 28, 2001

I got 8 out of 12 -- I plead the "they were making faces" excuse for not scoring higher. In general, I have an easier time telling Chinese from Japanese than Chinese from Korean. In fact, one of my Chinese co-workers says that even she finds that difficult. Makes a kind of sense, considering Korea's history.

But I think typically "Thai" people look very different, or at least the few I know do. Something different with the epicanthic fold...
posted by Pyth at 8:57 AM on August 28, 2001

that reminds me of the "gay or eurotrash?" quiz i found years ago - i nailed almost all of them (except for the frat boy rings) by looking at the =shoes=. all the eurotrash were wearing inappropriate shoes.
posted by meep at 8:59 AM on August 28, 2001

Interesting. I happened to check out the John Cleese Learning Channel docu-thing about the human face last night. They had the story of the woman who had mis-identified the man who had raped her. She was a white woman who had been assaulted by a black man. One factor, so the show said, was that different races have trouble differentiating between individual members of another race, because they are unused to seeing certain types of features.
posted by Kafkaesque at 9:03 AM on August 28, 2001

Yes, the implicit attitudes tests are awesome, please post them to the front, Muckster.

BTW, meep, here's the gay or eurotrash? quiz.
posted by lbergstr at 9:11 AM on August 28, 2001

I didn't do as well as I thought I might - I've done business in Tokyo and in Hong Kong a fair amount, and was fairly certain I could "recognize" the difference between Chinese and Japanese faces (as someone pointed out above, Koreans are far closer ethnically to the Chinese, so I was prepared to get them mixed up...). Even allowing for that, I still only got 5 out of 12 right. I'm not sure where or when I'd ever be in a situation in which this kind of misidentification would be an issue, but it is interesting to have one's perceptions so challenged...
posted by m.polo at 9:15 AM on August 28, 2001

I got 5 of 12 and I'm sure that means something about me being a racist, self-centered American. Of course, since I'm a racist, self-centered America, I don't care what others think.
posted by tobey at 9:54 AM on August 28, 2001

I have lived in Hong Kong for six months and Tokyo for the last six and a half years. I have also been to Korea a couple of times.

I can often spot your typical Japanese in Hong Kong by the clothes and the hairstyles. I can also spot Koreans in Tokyo, especially girls (that last woman looks very Korean). It's clothes and styles, but it's also the way people carry themselves. Japanese and Chinese move very differently from one another. There are also things like that Koreans wear distinctive oval glasses, or Japanese girls cover their mouths with their hands when they laugh or do peace signs to cameras etc. It's culture.

Racial differences are impossible to see in individuals, only in general. There are many Chinese that look Japanese and vice versa. Given that they are all Americans anyway and are dressing and acting American it's no wonder people's scores are so low. (I got 4)
posted by dydecker at 10:04 AM on August 28, 2001

Um, I always thought I was pretty good at distinguishing Asian faces, but I scored a 4 of 12. And I'm Chinese-American. Bah.
posted by evilmaryellen at 10:16 AM on August 28, 2001

I'm Asian, I live in Asia, I scored a 6 -- they all looked American to me.
posted by lia at 10:37 AM on August 28, 2001

Here's an interesting mental exercise for examining how people think about categories.

First, ask yourself if a penguin is a bird. Obviously, the answer is yes.

Second, ask yourself if a sparrow is a bird. Again, the answer is obviously yes.

Now, visualize a generic bird. Is what you visualize more like a sparrow or a penguin? For most people, it's more like a sparrow, even though a penguin is just as much a bird as a sparrow. Hardly anyone has penguins in their mind as "typical" birds. In fact, as birds, penguins are so atypical that children need to be told that yes, they're birds.

For this test, I suspect people were intentionally chosen who did not look like "typical" examples of their ethnicity. The deck was loaded with penguins.

I used to work with a woman whose parents were Japanese and Korean, and another friend and I had narrowed it down to "Korean and something else, probably Japanese" before we got around to asking her. She just looked the part. She was a sparrow, a "typical" example. Had she been a penguin we might have had more difficulty.

It reminds me of the end of This Is Spinal Tap, where the band is playing Tokyo. Of course this wasn't shot in Japan (they didn't have the budget for that), it was shot in LA. And the audience is mostly Chinese. If you pay attention to that scene, you can tell, especially once you've been clued in. Some individuals don't look particularly Chinese, but the overall impression is definitely there.
posted by kindall at 10:58 AM on August 28, 2001

The point of the test is that unless you have other cultural factors to help you (e.g. dress, mannerisms, voice, etc.), you can't tell just by looking. Japanese, Chinese, and Koreans mostly are all of identical ethnic stock.

The fact that you can't tell doesn't make you a racist; just the opposite. Claiming you can tell the difference is what really worries me.

This is partly how Japanese justify their continued oppression of Koreans and, to a lesser degree, Chinese in their nation: by claiming difference where there is none.

Kinda reminds me of how the Nazis claimed they could tell who was Jewish by measuring a person's head. It's nonsense.
posted by mjane at 11:01 AM on August 28, 2001

My sister was was quite proud of herself for figuring out (without using the cast list) that some of the actors in Joy Luck Club aren't Chinese.
The relevance of this comment is extremely doubtful.
posted by Octaviuz at 11:14 AM on August 28, 2001

The point of the test is that unless you have other cultural factors to help you (e.g. dress, mannerisms, voice, etc.), you can't tell just by looking. Japanese, Chinese, and Koreans mostly are all of identical ethnic stock.

Identical ethnic stock, yes, but on a pretty broad level; people from different neighboring countries look physically different depending on their colonial and trading history. Malaysians and Indonesians, for instance, look much more traditionally malay than Filipinos because the Philippines did more trade with China and was colonized for much longer (by Spain).

Japanese from the northern parts of Japan look different from their countrymen from the south, and they (generalizing here, of course) look distinctly different from the Chinese (the years of cultural isolation perhaps). Not that the Chinese look alike either, there are noticeable differences from province to province. Koreans will usually seem more Japanese than Chinese, but there are still (generally, again) differences in eye shape, skin color, face shape.
posted by lia at 12:33 PM on August 28, 2001

I got 8 out of 12.

The only male Asians I know of with blonde hair are the ones I have seen at the Japanese grocery store at the corner of 3rd and Stuyvesant. I don't think that living in China or Japan would make you any more "skilled" (if this is a skill) at figuring out a person's ethnicity just by looking at their face. I think the best place to learn about ethnic identification is NYC. [London might come in at a distant second.] New Yorkers come in every possible shape, size, eye-slants and accents.

Can anyone tell the difference between a Belgian, a Dutch and a German?
posted by tamim at 1:03 PM on August 28, 2001

I got it perfect somehow. I did expect to do decently, but not that well. I'm sure most of it was luck, as like someone earlier pointed out, a lot of these pictures don't look like your typical examples.

I'm 100% Chinese and was born in Hong Kong, but I moved to San Francisco when I was 4. I still visit different parts of Asia very often, and I feel I have a good sense of what country most Asians are from (I mean between Chinese, Koreans, and Japanese). Thai is relatively easy to spot, their skin is usually significantly darker. I'd be in the dark between Indonesians, Malaysians and the countries around there though.

mjane, I disagree with you. People from China, Korea, and Japan do have subtle physical differences that may be hard to describe. Usually it's in the features of the face and also their size. How is it racist to think that people from different countries can look different? I think it's pretty sick to compare it to Naziism - the difference between Asians is not something as trivial (and false) as the size of a person's head, it's a combination of many features that are much harder to spot. Not to mention that the issue with Nazis and Jews is still technically religion, while what we're talking about here is in fact race, and therefore physical differences can apply. I'm not saying that not being able to tell makes anyone racist, either... What the hell does physical recognition have to do with racism? It's just a matter of how much you've been around Asians and your exposure to them.
posted by swank6 at 1:37 PM on August 28, 2001

What the hell does physical recognition have to do with racism? It's just a matter of how much you've been around Asians and your exposure to them.


Pick a guy from the middle of China who's only been around Chinese people all of his life, show him a picture of a pale-skinned, freckled, red-haired guy and ask him if said person is from Ireland, Germany or Puerto Rico. I know people from all three of those places who look like that.

Actually, I wouldn't have been able to tell either -- it was a lesson in my ability to recognize people closer to my own ethnic background when I found myself startled after meeting my college classmate José for the first time. I expected a lilting Irish accent and got a heavy Puerto Rican one.
posted by chuq at 2:02 PM on August 28, 2001

The Nazis did not view Jewishness as "technically a religion." They saw it as a race, and they used it as justification for all sorts of atrocities. They didn't just use the head-measuring thing, they also compared features like eyes, proportion of nose (remember how Jews were supposed to have big noses?), breadth of brow, etc. It's called phrenology, and it's a classic example of pseudo-science. You're right that had the Nazis just stopped at noting difference physical characteristics, that would be quite innocent. But what they did was make up difference and then assign value to them - e.g. "shifty" eyes of Jews means they're not trustworthy.

Isn't that sort of the same racism that prompted Japanese atrocities like the Nanjing massacre? You should see the propaganda posters. They were all about racial differences. The Japanese are always colored really white, and the Chinese are brown, brown, brown.

Also, during WWII, U.S. publications like Life Magazine would do these features like "How to Tell a Chinaman from a Jap" - because the Chinese were friendly, don't you know, while the Japanese were evil - and you wouldn't want to mistakenly beat a Chinaman to a bloody pulp thinking he was a Jap! John Dower's War Without Mercy has a ton of examples like this.

There is no doubt that some people can tell the ethnicities of some other people; that in itself is not racist. But claiming that the Japanese "race" is distinct from the Chinese "race" which is distinct from the Korean "race" smacks of justification - inventing differences that really aren't there.

I say again, utter nonsense. Three hundred years of isolation (in Japan's case, at least) is not enough time for evolution to erase thousands of years of shared racial and ethnic identity.

Oh, and I am half-Japanese, half-white. I've had Koreans insist that I was Korean (even asking me, "Are you sure?" when I said I was not.) I've had Chinese people say I look Chinese. And when I go to Japan, almost everyone thinks I am full-blooded Japanese until I open my mouth and my crazy Californian accent comes out.

So. We all see what we want to see.
posted by mjane at 2:08 PM on August 28, 2001

I got 2 out of 12.

"Inversely Amazing" Not easy to get all that wrong.

Amazing. Although I often find in these sort of quizzes, whatever I think is the right answer is wrong.. perhaps I should deliberately try and fail?
posted by wackybrit at 2:55 PM on August 28, 2001

Ok, mjane, I will concede the WW2/Nazi thing to you, since I just don't know enough to really debate about it... From what you say you are probably right. I'm not saying that the Japanese, Chinese, and Koreans are different "races" - of course there hasn't been enough time for anything like that to happen. But there HAS been enough time for small physical differences to develop, whether it be through diet, behavior, or whatever. Obviously, it is not an absolute and there are a lot of Japanese that look Chinese, Koreans that look Japanese, and so on. But in general, there are some traits that exist among each nation that are distinct - how else could people recognize ethnicities well?
posted by swank6 at 3:55 PM on August 29, 2001

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