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Randomwire - Est. 2003

Facial Structure Recognition

Here’s a somewhat controversial question: 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?

racen.

  1. A local geographic or global human population distinguished as a distinct group by genetically transmitted physical characteristics.
  2. 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, with strong opinions in both directions.

I scratched my head about this for a 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 a rather un-scientific theory based on morphological observation:

Japanese

Photo by aelena

Japanese people tend to have a longer / oval facial structure with lower cheekbones, wider / larger eyes and more pronounced noses.

Korean

Photo by Byoung Wook

Korean people tend to have flatter faces with higher / squarer cheek bones and smaller eyes with single eyelids (opposed to double).

Chinese

Photo by Steve Webel

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.


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, and fashion.

According to more scientific studies both East Asians and Caucasians are more easily identifiable by facial features than others and the graphic above shows the composite ‘average’ face of women around the world. I think my descriptions above hold-up pretty well based on this.

Failing all that you could just ask which is probably a safer bet than trying to guess and risk upsetting anyone!

9 Responses to “Facial Structure Recognition”

  1. Asian Trolley Dolly

    I work in a prominent Asian airline that employs natives of all three of these nationalities.. we operate flights to all 3 countries regularly.. and I can tell you that it’s completely futile to guess where these girls are from just by their facial structures and features. Japanese girls don’t necessarily have the smallest faces or put on the most make-up.. you’d be hard-pressed to find Chinese girls with round faces; you’d probably spot those in equal proportion on both Chinese and Japanese routes.. and the Korean girls, geez it’s hard to figure out what they originally looked like but the ones who sport squarer/stronger jaws usually turn out to be Korean.

    As for me.. I’ve had Japanese passengers ask my supervisor if I was Japanese because they didn’t believe I wasn’t, Chinese passengers frequently give me looks of disbelief when I can’t speak their language, and Koreans too – although they usually seem less offended at the thought that I’m not Korean after all.

    Heck even back in my home country, no one ever guesses I’m local. I just have to be.. Korean.. or Japanese, or half-Japanese.. or Eurasian. Or something. And you folks on the other side wonder why you’re having such a hard time figuring out where we’re from. :-) We laugh about it all the time!

    Having said that.. the main difference is definitely in grooming, followed by how these girls carry themselves.. the rest is pure perception, man. Def not a subject worth sweating over.

    Reply
  2. raishawn

    I hate it when people say that ‘they all look the same!’ talking about ANY race, I personally think we are all unique no matter what our race looks like!!!

    Reply
  3. Random

    I’m 100% Chinese but people often mistaken me as Japanese and even Malaysian, so I don’t really think you can actually tell whether someone is Chinese, Korean etc.
    by just looking at their facial structure.
    Therefore its best to just listen to what language they’re speaking (it works easier than the facial observation)

    Reply
  4. ivan

    i am 50% indonesian, 25% dutch 12,5 spanish 12,5 chinese. i have been mistaken for being a native american, nepalese, malayian, singapore, japanese and some more. when i travel i allways able blend” in with the crowd.

    Reply
  5. Nicole

    I feel as though the hardest nationalities to place in distinct ethnic facial feature would be those in south and Central America. Unlike many countries with a slavery history or countries that have allowed refugees during times of war, they manage to have distinct groups of people. But in Brazil, panama, and the Dominican Republic, there are no racial demographic annuities. Like how we have “black/african American, black non-hispanic, hispanic, white, Asian/pacific islander”. Brazil has a huge population of people with a Japanese background, of course african (typically west and south west), the native/indigenous Brazilian population, and of course Portuguese. These people have largely managed to blend and it is very common to find someone of multiple racial and ethnic backgrounds living in brazil. Panama and the Dominican Republic are the same way minus the large influence of Asian immigrants.

    Reply
  6. Christina

    My father has been mapping our ancestry for quite a few years now, based only on verbal family history, stating that we were Polish-German-Hungarian . However, a conversation with my maternal grandmother about five years ago revealed that she had an uncle who emmigrated from Russia (Russian-Jew) to Poland with his family. After doing a little research of the origin of surnames it turns out that my great-grandparent’s last names (the same with the exception of “i” vs. “e” on the end) originated in Russia (which explained why my dad hit a dead-end in Poland). Suddenly it made sense…from my great-grandmother, grandmother, mother, me and my daughter (VERY strong maternal genes!)…I had never found “us” in the Polish faces on my father’s side. This facial chart was one of many sites I used to show my father the difference in characteristics…and the bad news that he had to start all over again!

    Reply
  7. Jose

    I think people could have the ability to tell not only differences in ethnic characteristics, but also what someone is, etc. I, however think it’s even more possible if someone has an interest in ethnicities and culture, such as myself. Travel helps as well. And yes, while Asia is the most vast continent in ethnicities and countries, you can really tell the difference between French, German or English (though the last two share similarities due to the Germanic make-up of Anglo-Saxons), as someone had stated. In fact, Europe may be a smaller continent, but you could really tell which ethnicity someone is, if you just look. Europe has many cultures and ethnic characteristics. I think it’s more of regionalism rather than simply continental, because ethnic groups from a certain region, tend to have more similar ethnic characteristics (ie. Polynesia; Mediterranean) since nearness makes sense, but then it is possible for some further differences depending on a country’s history.

    Reply
  8. nox_lumen

    Why is it so hard to tell ethnicity? People traveled more than you may think back in the day. By the 1200, vikings had gotten as far as Asia as well as over to “Vinland” aka Newfoundland and left settlements all over in between, one of the most famous being Normandy, a bribe from France to stop them from raiding the rest of the country. You also have in Europe the crusades, pilgrimages, and ever shifting borders, not only allowing the black plague to travel, but also genetics. Then there were the newbies, Jews, gypsies, and Moorish coming in from the middle east and Africa leaving marks both culturally and genetically through Europe and just when you think you know whats going on from them in the facial evolution of the continent, the Mongolian hoard got as far as parts of Russia, but the genetic markers hardly stopped spreading west. Add to that the “Black Brit”, a through back from the days of slave trading who’s ethnicity could come from anywhere on the African continent and periods where rape or dalliance with whoever the socially undesirable at the time were just not spoken of, and it gets hard for even Europeans to tell who came from where. And for that matter, how many times was Poland taken over BEFORE Hitler?

    Think it gets easier with Asia? Try again. Buddhism spread as effectively in the east as Christianity in the west, only traveling monks could have families too. Then just when the dust settles, Japan, Korea and China fight like sisters for so long it gets hard to track, one period trading fashion tips and gossiping over tea about the hottest new minstrel or the latest book being transcribed, the next, rounding up the troops for conquest of each other, taking slaves and concubines as they go. In more recent years they have come together on media projects like anime and dramas, meaning that in the middle of the ethically local cast are those who are ethnically from other countries but grew up speaking the language, and now you need a bio just to tell if you see the idealized local beauty or idealized neighbors.

    Lets also remember that Africa is an entire continent with it’s own war and trade and religion, some of it being imported from the east. If you start to look closer, there may be regional differences, but where did those faces start? And how much influence did they get from European colonization or eastern enlightenment? Without going there it’s harder for me to tell since they don’t seem to make as many films as Asia, but since they were part of the slave trade (willing or not) it could narrow down ancestry for some of the displaced Africans that now have been in other countries for so many generations they just consider themselves “African-”. Then again, maybe not.

    And then there is America, the great melting pot, and anybody can wed anybody. then the hippy free love movement set in and single mothers were no longer considered a dirty word.

    So, after millennial of trade, war, and religion, and travel, is there anyone who is purely on ethnicity or another?

    Reply
  9. Ken Mitchell

    Regardless of any ethnic differences, perceived or otherwise. I find all of the average faces very pretty. My personal observation is that people of mixed ethnic parentage can be strikingly good looking. Perhaps this is evidence of evolution by natural selection!

    Reply

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