Here’s a somewhat controversial question (depending on who you ask it to): Can you tell someone’s “race” by looking at their facial structure? That is to say could you tell the difference between, for example, a native Japanese / Korean / Chinese person just by looking at their face?
race – n.
- A local geographic or global human population distinguished as a distinct group by genetically transmitted physical characteristics.
- A group of people united or classified together on the basis of common history, nationality, or geographic distribution.
This is a question which I’ve found occasionally comes up in conversation with both Asian and non-Asian friends and I’ve never heard a definitive answer. To the latter group Asians generally tend to “look the same” (which will undoubtedly get you in trouble) while for the former it’s less clear cut ~ some people claim they can while others say it’s impossible. A quick Google search confirms that there are a variety opinions in both directions and there are even whole sites dedicated to the subject.
I scratched my head about this for a long while thinking that logically if a group of people come from the same hereditary genetic pool, based in a semi-enclosed geographical location with a shared heritage of thousands of years, then surely wouldn’t they end up with some similar physical characteristics which would be reliably identifiable, at least for a high percentage of the population?
As per the example here’s my rather un-scientific theory based on morphological observation:
Photo by Ernesto JT
Japanese people tend to have a longer / oval facial structure with wider / larger eyes and more pronounced noses. Japanese women often put on thick makeup giving them a pale white complexion.
Photo by Kam
Chinese people tend to have rounder faces than both Korean and Japanese people. China is a huge multi-ethnic country unlike Korea and Japan (which are more ethnically homogeneous) making it much harder to differentiate or generalize.
Photo by Dax Melmer
Korean people tend to have flatter faces with higher / squarer cheek bones and smaller eyes with single eyelids (opposed to double). A high proportion of Korean women have had cosmetic surgery somewhat confusing things.
Although I’ve found the above a fairly reliable definition trying to guess based on facial structure alone seems to be pretty hit-and-miss in reality. The success rate greatly increases when you included other observable indicators such as name, language, behavior, hairstyle and clothing. According to more scientific studies both East Asians and Caucasians are more easily identifiable by facial features than others.
Failing all that you could just ask which is probably a safer bet than trying to guess and risk upsetting anyone!
Can you tell the difference? (Note: any racist comments will be deleted).
Update (25/02/11): I found this fascinating graphic showing the composite ‘average’ face of women around the world from faceresearch.org. I think my descriptions above hold-up pretty well based on this.