From what I’ve seen of Fuzhou and Shenzhen (both in the south-east of China), Chinese people are not nearly as physically homogenous as I assumed they would be. From my brief glimpses at Chinese media before I moved here, I believed that most Chinese people were pale white, thin, short, with almond-shaped eyes, tiny noses and sleek, totally straight black hair. I’d read about how the overwhelming majority of Chinese people were ethnically Han and assumed there would be little variation between them.
As a younger, stupider and more ignorant person, I once said that all East Asian people look the same. As I got older, I realised how much I hated it when people said that all black people look the same and realised how closed-minded I had been. I started actively trying to recognise individual differences between East Asian people, learning to see the differences between a Japanese and Chinese person, for example, and appreciate different nose shapes and skin colours amongst people from a single nation.
In the elevator on my way up to the 31st floor (san-shi yi-low) where I live in my apartment building, I look at the advertisement posters on the wall showing ghostly white, super skinny Chinese men and women eating at KFC and brushing their teeth. Then I look at the people standing in the lift with me and see just how unrepresentative these advertisements are. Just like in the West, the people used to advertise products don’t tend to have ‘typical’ faces and bodies. Most people I see in Fuzhou have light brown skin. Many of them look similar to south-east Asian people from countries like Thailand or Cambodia. I’ve seen noses that remind me of the faces of some West African people I know: they are flat and wide with round nostrils. No-one’s eyelids bear the shape of a white British person’s but I’ve seen many different kinds of narrow eyes here. Not everyone is short here: yes, there are some comically tiny old women and most people are pretty short but I’ve seen super tall women and men who are definitely over 6 foot tall. Everyone has black hair but not everyone’s is dead straight.
In short, there is no single ‘Chinese’ look and this idea that China is largely ethnically homogenous may be true but that does not mean that all Chinese people look the same. What the media sells you doesn’t truly represent a country. Only by coming here have I managed to deconstruct my ideas of what a 'typical' Chinese person looks like and that's actually quite sad. Wish I could tell pre-China India to fix up and get woke! But every day is a journey.
Side note: I've been assuming that I've everyone I've seen in Fuzhou is Chinese when I may well have been looking at the faces of people from other countries. I'm still learning to fine-tune my East and Southeast Asian nationality radar!
Thanks for reading. My next blog will be slightly different, look out for it!