20080224-Bao_Xishun1 tallest man.jpg
Bao Xishun

Genetic studies of 28 of China's 56 ethnic groups, published by the Chinese Human Genome Diversity Project in 2000, indicate that the first Chinese descended from Africans who migrated along the Indian Ocean and made their way to China via Southeast Asia.

DNA studies have shown that all Asians descend from two common lineages: 1) one more common in southern Asia, particularly among Vietnamese, Malays and New Guineans; and 2) one more common in northern Asia, particularly among Tibetans, Koreans and Siberians.

An exhaustive analysis of the genes of 8,200 ethnic Chinese has revealed subtle genetic difference in Chinese that live in northern China and those that live in southern China. A study by Liu Jianjun of the Science, Technology and Research Agency of Singapore, published in the American Journal of Human Genetics, revealed variants between the two groups that are somewhat consistent with those of historical migrations to the two regions.

In December 2009 Lui told Reuter, “This genetic map...tells us how people differ from each other, or how people are more closely linked to each other...We don't know what these variants are responsible for. Some have clinical outcomes and influence disease development. This is what we are interested in genetic variation." The scientist also found genetic difference between Chinese dialect groups. Liu told Reuters, “Different dialect groups are definitely not identical...language is a reflection of our evolution, that's why you see the differences."

In September 1998, an international scientific team demonstrated that the peoples of northern and southern China cluster into distinct regional genetic populations that share inherited characteristics. Lee Hotz wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “Those groups, in turn, can be divided into even smaller, separate genetic groups. Yet, overall, they all are descendants of a single population group that may have migrated into China eons before humans learned to write or forge metal tools, the new research suggests.” [Source: Robert Lee Hotz, Los Angeles Times, September 29, 1998 |]

Websites and Sources: Book: Understanding the Chinese Personality ; Understanding Chinese Business Culture ; Status of Chinese People Blog ; Chinese Human Genome Diversity Project ; Opinions on Asian Fetish ; Wikipedia article on the Mongoloid Race Wikipedia ; Essay on Humor, China and Japan

Chinese Physical Characteristics

Nearly all Chinese have black hair and brown eyes. One elderly Chinese man told Newsweek, "We all have black hair and yellow skin. Not like you Americans, with rice and wheat all mixed up with other grains." About 90 percent of Chinese have flat faces, flat noses and shovel shaped teeth. About 95 percent of all Chinese are lactase deficient. This means they have problems digesting milk products.

People classified as Asians are physically different in some ways from people of European descent. In almost all cases Asians have straight, black hair and dark eyes. They also tend to have less body hair, less facial hair, flatter faces, smaller noses, wider cheekbones, and "shovel-shaped" incisor teeth (front teeth whose back side has a slightly scooped out shape)..

Asians are less likely to get some diseases than Westerners and more likely to get others. Many Asians get acne at a later age than Westerners. Fewer Asian men go bald than European men. There also appears to be less Asians with grey hair, but it is not clear whether this is because they get grey hair at a later age or dye their hair. Many Asian children find red and blonde hair and hairy arms and legs to be fascinating when they encounter it the first time and can’t resist tugging on it or rubbing their hands on it.

Northern Asians are generally stockier and have lighter skin and thinner eyes than southern Asians. All skin contains about the same number of melanocytes but the amount of melanin they produce varies. Dark skinned people produce more melanin and light skin people produce less.

Some people think that differences between Asians and Europeans have existed for some time. While holding a cast of a Peking Man skull, Chinese archeologist Jia Lan told National Geographic, "This skull has some characteristic of modern Chinese people. For instance, the nose bone of Peking man was low and cheeks were flat, as in Asians today."

Tall Chinese

The average height of the Chinese male was 168 centimeters (5 foot 6 inches) in the 2000s. But Chinese are getting taller. The average Chinese child in the 2000s was six centimeters, or around two inches, taller and three kilograms or seven pounds heavier than in the 1970s according to the Chinese Health Ministry. The increases have largely been attributed to improved health and nutrition. Until recently most Chinese males were “hard and thin.” Now many urban dwellers have “boss bellies.”

There are now many Chinese over six feet tall and some over seven feet (See Yao Ming and Basketball). Tallness in China seems to be a good example of the saying if you are one in a million in China there are a thousand others just like you. When foreigners visit Beijing they often surprised by how large the people are there. One sports agent told Sports Illustrated, "If foreigners think the Chinese people aren't big, it's because for years they've seen only people from Guangzhou or Hong Kong. It’s true that south of the Yangtze River most people are short. There they say to big guys---they call them 'long guys'---'You’re wasting clothes!' But people north of the Yangtze can be very big."

For a while a 2.36-meter-tall Chinese man named Bao Xishun was listed as the world’s tallest man. In March 2007, at the age of 56, he married a woman half his age and half his height. According to the Guinness Book of Records the world’s tallest man in 2007 was a 2.57-meter-tall Ukranian named Leonid Stadnik. According to the Guinness Book of Records the tallest woman ever was Zeng Jinlian of Yuijang village. She died in 1982 and was 8-feet-1¾inches tall. She began to grow abnormally at the age of four months and was over five feet when she was four. Her feet measured 14 inches.

Where Are the Tallest People in China

Quan Cheng posted on in 2019: I visited a middle school in Shandong, China, and there are many young men and women who are 180–190 cm tall. Why does it seem like people in Shandong are taller than the rest of China? Why are Shandong Chinese girls so beautiful with their shining faces and tall figures? Is 177cm considered short for a 20 year old guy in Northeastern China? Why are most Chinese there taller than me? Why are Northern Chinese people generally taller than Southern Chinese?

Patrick Koh asnwered in September 2021: 17-18 year old Chinese guys in Liaoning are on average 177.3 cm tall, while those in Guangdong are only 170 cm on average. So, why are Liaoning Chinese so much taller than Guangdong Chinese, even though the Guangdong province has been wealthier? Yes, North always seem taller. As China prospered with bigger GDP and more food for the country, it actually has one of the biggest if not the largest increase in height over the last few decades. Some say it’s 70% genes, 30% environ/ diet. So China eating well, more protein, and no longer underfed peasants have seen a big jump in recent decades. From 1985 to 2019, Chinese males saw the biggest rise among all the 200 countries surveyed, while that of women ranked third. Lancet says Chinese have been gaining in height in the past 30 years - average height of 19-year-old Chinese males is 175.7 centimeters.

Anonymous posted on in 2019: Shandong province seems to produce the tallest heights in all of East Asia. The ancient Longshan people who lived in Shandong are thought by archaeologists to have been the tallest people in the prehistoric era before their absorption into the Huaxia people who in turn became ancestors to the Han Chinese. The Northeast provinces of Liaoning, Jilin, and Heilongjiang are not far behind although this is because they were largely populated by Shandong immigrants during the Chuan Guandong period. [Source: Anonymous,, 2019]

Meng Vang Xiong, who lives in Chongqing, wrote in in 2019: Why is height discrimination so serious in Northern China? I'm 178 cm tall and people here keep asking me why I'm "so short for a foreigner." To this another person answered: Seriously? You must be hanging out with some pretty tall Chinese people then. I have worked and lived in China for almost 15 years so I’ve been around the country. Now, I’m an Asian-American male standing at 165 cm tall and sadly I have known for most of my life the pain of being a shorter man. Nonetheless this didn’t stop me from meeting the love of my life who is a beautiful southern Chinese girl standing at 171 cm tall. 171 cm may not sound tall for a Chinese girl, especially a southern Chinese girl, but believe me, it’s considered tall down under.

Most of the women in the city I live in average at 160 cm. Regardless, I’ve lived in Beijing for several years in the past and yes, northern Chinese are usually taller than their southern counterparts. Average for many northern ladies are 170 cm. Northern men are even taller such as Shandong men about 175 - 180 cm tall....Anyway, don’t need to pay too much attention to it. To be successful in China, one must get used to a lot of direct comments that would be considered rude or private back in your home country and will make you uncomfortable. For example with me, people in China will often comment that I’m too fat and I should lose weight. In China, I need to get XXL shirts. Back in the US, I’m a size L. LOL

Liang Xiao posted in 2017: Hello, I'm from Shandong. Chinese people know that Shandong people are tall. That's true. The average height of males in Shandong is 175.44. The average height of women in Shandong is 169.45. Compare the average height of Chinese people: 169.7 for men and 155.8 for women. Note that this is the average height of an adult. Here is the data for 18 year old high school students in 2012: Males 175.3, females 163.2.

David Kwon, who traveled to China and Korea, wrote in 2019: Chinese males between the age of 18-22 in Shandong and Northeastern China have an average height of 176-178 cm. Does that make them the tallest in East and Southeast Asia? Yes it does. The tallest Asians are generally from Northern China. It's mostly due to their genetics and environment. You'll find a lot of 6 footers in Northern China, Central, and even some provinces in Southern China like Shanghai. The interesting part is that the Chinese living around the Bohai rim are still growing and they could possibly match Northern Europeans in the future.”

Where Are Prettiest Girls in China

Sichuanese women are regarded by some as the most beautiful in China but also as temperamental, tempestuous and loose. Some say Shandong has the prettiest girls. One person posted on I’m a Shandong girl. In my opinion, there are many pretty girls in China, such as in Chongqing, Chengdu, Shanghai etc. It is unreasonable to have a consequence that there is a place or certain city which could have most prettiest girls in any country in the world. There are some famous actors or actresses born in Shandong. For instance, the famous top actress Fan Bingbing, and actor Huang Xiaoming. They both from Shandong province so that we could say there are many beauty genes in Shandong's gene pool.” Another person posted: Generally the prettiest girls are found in “the south bank areas of the Yangtze River, such as Sichuan, Hunan, Jiangsu and Zhejiang.”

Robert Wu, former Engineer, posted on in 2018: I traveled extensively in China and found some beautiful women and some plain looking women among mostly average looking women in any given location. With that as my baseline, I found women of Hangzhou to be way above average. One day, I was in a bus traveling in the city of Hangzhou. Looking at the streets, I was astonished to see about 50% of women to be pretty. There is a adage about the best things in life in China: To be born in Suzhou (as the most beautiful people are found in Suzhou), Live in Hangzhou (as the city by West Lake is the most beautiful city in China), eat in Guangzhou (as the food and cuisine is the best in China), and die in Liuzhou (as it has the mature trees to make the best coffins). I did not find as many pretty women as a percentage of the population in Suzhou as in Hangzhou, so I do not completely agree with this adage. But as Suzhou (in Jiangsu Province) is only about 100 miles from Hangzhou (in Zhejiang Province), the adage is not too far off, in my humble opinion.

Wei Fan wrote in 2020: Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. You would probably get almost a hundred different answers if you ask this question a hundred times to different Chinese individuals. For me at least, I find myself disproportionately attracted to women from the far south of China, places like Guangxi, Yunnan, Hainan, Guizhou, and Guangdong. I prefer their more exotic SE Asian like features such as larger eyes with double eyelids and thicker lips. A lot of people say that Sichuan, Chongqing, Jiangsu, and Dongbei have the prettiest women, but to me they all look too northern, too pale, and not exotic enough for my taste. I have nothing against people who prefer Northern Chinese looks, after all each and every person is entitled to his or her own opinion. However, don’t act like the guy named Li Shu Yan below who tries to show his preference for Northern Chinese by defaming and demonizing the southerners. That’s a very shameful and low-life thing to do imho.

Xitong Zou, who was born in China, wrote in 2018: “Beauty is so subjective I don’t think there is a correct answer for this. A girl some people might find ugly others might find beautiful and vice versa. And especially when you get into fashion + makeup there’s so many ways to enhance your appearance as well. In a country of 1.3+ billion people and over 50+ ethnicities there is no right answer for this. Anyone can enhance their appearance by putting on makeup, better fashion sense, better hairstyle, not wearing glasses etc Personally, I think Shanghai has the girls with the most fashion sense - although I cannot say anything about their natural beauty at all it is a city full of transplants after all.”

Physical Strength and Endurance of the Chinese in the 19th Century

Of the vitality of the Chinese, Arthur Henderson Smith wrote in “Chinese Characteristics” in 1894: “In many aspects they are physically a marvellous race, unmatched incomparable. A traveller might penetrate from one end of the Empire to the other, and see few signs of disease, and as compared with the enormous population, scarcely any signs at all. But let a foreign dispensary be opened anywhere, whether in a great city or in a small hamlet is immaterial, one will soon learn what is the physical condition of the people. The record of the cases treated at any foreign dispensary and hospital in China resembles an index to a comprehensive work on the theory and practice of medicine. Nearly all the familiar diseases and lesions are to be found, and many new modifications, not elsewhere observed. The Chinese have a splendid physical vitality; but do they or do they not need foreign medical science? [Source:“Chinese Characteristics” by Arthur Henderson Smith, 1894]

“A few years ago the writer was travelling on the Grand Canal, when a head-wind prevented further progress. Strolling along the bank, we found the peasants busily engaged in planting their fields. It was May, and the appearance of the country was one of great beauty. Any traveller might have admired the minute and untiring industry which cultivated such wide areas, as if they were gardens.

“But a short conversation with these same peasants brought to light the fact that the winter had been to them a time of bitter severity. Floods and drought having in the previous year destroyed the crops, in every village around people had starved to death — nay, were at that moment starving. The magistrates had given a little relief, but it was inadequate, sporadic, and subject to shameful peculations, against which the poor people had no protection, and for which there was no redress. ' Yet nothing of all this appeared upon the surface. Elsewhere the year had been a prosperous one, the harvests abundant, and the people content. No memorial in the Peking Gazette, no news item in the foreign journals published in China, had taken account of the facts. But ignorance of these facts on the part of others certainly had no tendency to alter the facts themselves. The people of the district continued to starve, whether other people knew it or not. Even the flat denial of the facts would not prove an adequate measure of relief. A priori reasoning as to what the Chinese ought to be, is one thing; careful, observation of what they actually are, is quite another.”

Chinese Toughness in the Eyes of a 19th Century Orientalist

Arthur Henderson Smith wrote in “Chinese Characteristics” in 1894: “It seems to make no particular difference to a Chinese how long he. remains in one position. He will write all. day, like an automaton. If he is a handicraftsman, he will stand in one place from dewy morn till dusky eve, working away at his weaving, his gold-beating, or whatever he may be, and do it every day, without any variation in the monotony, and apparently no special consciousness that there is any monotony to be varied. In the same way Chinese school children are subjected to an amount of confinement, unrelieved by any recesses or change of work, which would soon drive Western pupils to the verge of insanity. The very infants in arms instead of squirming and wriggling as our children begin to do as soon as they are born, ' lie as impassive as so many mud gods. And at a more advanced age, when Western children would vie with the mpnkey in its wildest antics, Chinese children will often stand, sit or squat, in the same posture for a great length of time. [Source:“Chinese Characteristics” by Arthur Henderson Smith, 1894. Smith (1845 -1932) was an American missionary who spent 54 years in China. In the 1920s, “Chinese Characteristics” was still the most widely read book on China among foreign residents there. He spent much of his time in Pangzhuang, a village in Shandong.]

“It seems to be a physiological fact, that to the Chinese, exercise is superfluous. They cannot understand the mania which seems to possess all classes of foreigners alike, to walk, when there is no desire to go anywhere, much less can .they comprehend the impulse to race over the country at the risk of one's life, in such a singular performance as that known as a “paper hunt," or the motive which impels men of good social position, to stand all the afternoon in the sun, trying to knock a .base-ball to some spot where it shall be inaccessible to some other persons, or, on the other hand, struggling to catch the same ball with celerity, so as to “kill" another person on his “base!" Why any mortal should do acts like this, when he is abundantly able to hire coolies to do them for him, is, we repeat, essentially incomprehensible to a Chinese, nor is it any more comprehensible to him, because he has heard it explained many times.

“One of the most perfect exemplifications of the automatic nature of Chinese physical activity with which we are acquainted, is the process of rnalletting for a dentist. Those who have been compelled to submit to this form of torture, know how difficult it is in any Occidental land to get a person to mallet, who shall deliver his strokes in an even succession, and of a uniform weight. It takes long practice Upon a long line of victims, before anything like a steady average is maintained. Now watch the nearly automatic operation of the “boy," in the office of the first dentist toward which harsh fate drives you in China. The boy is a very nearly ideal machine, arid he never knows that he is using his nervous system at all, as perhaps indeed, he is not!

“The same freedom from the tyranny of nerves is "exhibited in the Chinese endurance of physical pain. Those who have any acquaintance with the operations in hospitals in China, know how common, or rather how almost universal it is, for the patients to bear without flinching a degree of pain from which the stoutest of us would shrink in terror. 'It would be easy to expand t his topic alone into an essay, but we must pass St by, merely calling attention to a remark of George Eliot, in one of her letters. “The highest calling and election, 1 “she; says — irritated no doubt, by theological formulas for which she had no taste — '' is to do without opium, and to bear pain with clear-eyed endurance." If she is right, there can be little doubt that most Chinese, at least, have made their calling and election sure.

Ability of Chinese to Seemingly Sleep Anywhere

Talia Avakian wrote in Business Insider: “Naps are a common activity in China and you’ll often see people see people sleeping on the train, bus, car, or in unconventional places on the street. The activity is so well known, that there is a website — Sleeping Chinese — dedicated to photographing the nation’s habit of sleeping in unusual places. [Source:Talia Avakian, Business Insider, September 3, 2015]

Describing an altercation he witnessed at the McDonald’s in Beijing, Peter Hessler wrote in The New Yorker, “The drunk couple began arguing loudly. Suddenly the woman stood up, brandished a newspaper, and smacked the man on the head. Then she stormed out, right past Playland. Without a word the man folded his arms, lay his head down on the table, and went to sleep.” Often it seems this ability is simply the result of exhaustion from everyday life. In “Riding the Iron Rooster”, Paul Theroux wrote: "The cycle of frenzy and fatigue...seemed a Chinese way of living, working very hard, with tremendous concentration...and then stopping suddenly and going to sleep. Often in trains, two chattering and gesticulating people would crap out and begin to snore like bullfrogs."

Arthur Henderson Smith wrote in “Chinese Characteristics”: “In the item of sleep, the Chinese establishes the same difference between himself and the Occidental, as in the directions already specified. Generally speaking, he is able to sleep anywhere. None of the trifling disturbances which drive us to despair, annoy him. With a brick for a pillow, he can lie down on his bed of Stalks, or mud bricks or rattan, and sleep the sleep of the just, with no reference to the rest of creation. [Source:“Chinese Characteristics” by Arthur Henderson Smith, 1894. Smith (1845 -1932) was an American missionary who spent 54 years in China. In the 1920s, “Chinese Characteristics” was still the most widely read book on China among foreign residents there. He spent much of his time in Pangzhuang, a village in Shandong.]

“He does not want his room darkened, nor does he require others to be still. The “infant crying in the night" may continue to cry for all he cares, for it does not disturb him. In some regions, the entire population seem to fall asleep, as by a common instinct (like that of the hibernating bear) during the first two hours of summer afternoons, and they do this with regularity, no matter where they may be. At two hours after noon the universe at such seasons is as still as at two hours after midnight. In the case of most working people at least, and also in that of many others, position in sleep is of no sort of consequence. It would be easy to raise in China, an army of a million men — nay of ten millions — tested by competitive examination, as to their capacity to go to sleep across three wheelbarrows, with head downwards, like a spider, their mouths wide Open and a fly inside!

Lack of Sympathy for People with Physical Problems in 19th Century China

Arthur Henderson Smith wrote in “Chinese Characteristics” in 1894: “ The Chinese are conspicuous for a deficiency in sympathy. “One of the manifestations of this characteristic of the Chinese, which earliest attracts our attention, is their attitude towards those who are in any way physically deformed. According to the popular belief, the lame, the blind, especially those who are blind of but one eye, the deaf, the bald, the cross-eyed, are all persons to be avoided. It appears to be the assumption that since the physical nature is defective, the moral nature must be so likewise. So far as our observation extends, such persons are not treated with cruelty, but they excite very little of that sympathy which in Western lands is so freely and so spontaneously extended. They are looked upon as having been overtaken by a punishment for some secret sin, a theory exactly accordant with that of the ancient Jews. The person who is so unfortunate as to be branded with some natural defect or some acquired blemish will not go long without being reminded of the fact. [Source:“Chinese Characteristics” by Arthur Henderson Smith, 1894]

“One of the mildest forms of this practice is that in which the peculiarity is employed as a description in such a way as to attract to it public attention. “Great elder brother with the pockmarks,'' says an attendant in a dispensary to a patient, "from what village do you come?" We have seen a man greet friend whom he met for the first time after New-Years, with the words, “Pockmarks, I salute you!" It will not be singular if the man whose eyes are afflicted with strabismus, hears an observation to the effect that "when the eyes look asquint, the heart is askew;" or if the man who has no hair is reminded that "out often bald men, nine are deceitful, and the other would be so also, were he not dumb.'' Such freaks of nature as albinos form an unceasing butt for a species of cheap wit, which appears never for an instant to be intermitted. The unfortunate possessor of peculiarities like this must resign himself (or herself) to a lifetime of this treatment, and. happy will he be, if his temperament admits of his listening to such talk in perpetual reiteration, without becoming by turns furious and sullen.

“The same excess of frankness is displayed toward those who exhibit any mental defects. "This boy," remarks a bystander, "is idiotic." The lad is probably not at all "idiotic," but his undeveloped mind may easily become blighted by the constant repetition in his presence of the proposition that he has no mind at all. This is the universal method of treating all patients afflicted with nervous diseases, or indeed with any other. All their peculiarities, the details of their behaviour, the method in which the disease is supposed to have originated, the symptoms which attend its exacerbations, are all public property, and are all detailed in the presence of the patient, who must be thoroughly accustomed to hearing himself described as "crazy," "half-witted," "besotted in his intellect," etc., etc. In this connection should be mentioned a most conspicuous trait of the Chinese, whose notions of “propriety" are so grossly violated by what they see of Occidental society.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Chinese government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated September 2021

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