Something that I remember seeing in forums and other internet small niches was a running stereotype that Asian people in general are short, or at least shorter than other types of races and groups of people in general. From my travels throughout East Asia recently , traveling to Japan, China, and South Korea for my business I think the stereotype is only half true.
What I have always felt is that myths, legends, and stereotypes all have some element of accuracy or truth to them. Just from a quick look at the article on Wikipedia for the average heights of adult males and females for different nations of the world shows that there are large height differences between the people of different nations. In the past for this website, I have mentioned that there is a noticeable size difference between the native people of Vietnam and say The Netherlands, being 6′ 0″ and 5′ 5″ respectively.
[Note: The picture was taken from the Wikipedia article on height from different nations. It states...Troops of the Eight nations alliance in 1900, shows British and American soldiers significantly taller than continental European soldiers. Left-to-right: Britain, United States, Russia, British India, Germany, France, Austria-Hungary, Italy, Japan.]
Let’s assume that the term idiopathic short stature, which basically means in ordinary language that a person has the genetic propencity to be on the short side, is not true. I wrote in a previous post entitled “What The Experts Really Mean When They State “Genetics Determine Height”, And Are They Right?” that shows through examples with immigration changes, the phenomena in the two Koreas, the rapid height increase we see in the Netherlands in the last 100 years, a comparison of the diets of the people of China and Japan over the last 20-30 years, and the conclusion was that much of the short stature we are finding is not really because of “genetics” as a medical professional like an endocrinologist would say, but it seems that much of it could be from nutrition. What seems to really be the cause of what some people think as genetic or idiopathic short stature has been a group of people’s evolutionary adaptation to the local geography they settled in, which can be applied in certain situations leading to ideas like Bergmann’s Rule, Allen’s Rule, and Cope’s Rule. This is why you see on some places like Islands, you get either island gigantism or island shrinkage. You find mini-elephants and giant lizards (Komodo Dragons) in some islands of the world.
In my recent months traveling and visiting the countries of East Asia, I can say that on average, they are shorter than the caucasian aka white people you might find in say Canada, the USA, Australia, or Northern Europe. In my time in South Korea, the tallest people I see on a regular basis are non-Koreans being European or American White. The tallest Korean I can remember has been around 6′ 8″- 6′ 9″ and this happened maybe twice but the tallest person I’ve seen so far was probably Dutch or Danish who was probably over 7′ 0″, maybe 7′ 1″. The tallest Japanese I saw on the two days I visited there was probably only 6′ 2″ but I was only in the country for a very short while and only went for a business reason so didn’t get out of the hotel much. From the Wikipedia website, the numbers say that for males, South Koreans are about 5′ 8.5″, Japanese are about 5′ 7″, and Chinese are around 5′ 7.5″. However I do note that the numbers for the Chinese were from 2001, 11 years ago and if we factor in the fact from a previous post which showed that the young kids of China has grown upwards of over 6 cms in the last 20 years, I would say that the real average height of Chinese adult males today is more likely 5′ 8″- 5′ 8.5″ too. Some countries like South Korea or Japan which are very orderly and everyone follows directions make me feel that the numbers we see are very accurate, Other countries like India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, where the government and order is not there I would be less confident in the average height numbers. For Southeast Asian countries, the numbers can be even lower like in Vietnam, the Philippines, Cambodia, Laos, and Nepal, all within the 5′ 5″ -5′ 7″ range. So, if we were just comparing say Caucasian White american males with adult males who are native to their asian countries, we could say that there is a height difference between the two groups.
However, then we would be very inaccurate in categorizing and labeling groups on people on such a vague concept as “race” since the term race itself is very hard to define. I could ask a social anthropologist who studies race relations “What exactly is race? and how do you know if a person is in a specific race?” What I mean is where are the exact boundaries that push a person from one race to another? President Obama has a Nigerian blood father and a White American mother with Native American blood. Why would he not be considered mixed blood and only African American? Isn’t that bias to not consider his mother’s side of the family in terms of their ethnic history? Would being 1/4th NIgerian still make him African American or is it just that his facial features and the tone/color of his skin must go past a certain color shade thresh-hold before he goes from being labeled “black” to “white” or at least “mixed”.
The fact is that those Wikipedia numbers can be completely wrong and can be quite misleading. I have personally edited posts and articles on Wikipedia before (it’s easier than you think) and it would not be too hard for a person who is very zealous about their nationality to fudge those height numbers a little. I know from talking with my coworkers that the South Koreans are sometimes very fanatical and proud of the fact that they are on average taller than their neighbors the Japanese and Chinese. I think it makes them feel better about themselves for being a smaller nation with smaller amount of land.
However, the other numbers for average height in countries in Central America and South America shows that the average height in those places can be just as low (if not sometimes even lower) than the numbers from the Asian nations. The average height for Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, 5′ 8″, 5′ 7″, and 5′ 4″ respectively, although I suspect that Mexico value is far too low and should be higher.
What is clear is that the world is getting taller, every single decade. For a lot of the developing countries right now, with every single decade that passes, the average height of the adult males increase 1 inch. That is because the quality of life and life expectancy and healthy levels of the entire world is going up in general.
I wrote in a recent post called “How Tall Is The Height Of Jesus Christ?” and I said that the best guess was that Jesus’s height is around the 5′ 0″-5′ 2″ range but after looking at more values from the modern world, I would be willing to actually say that Jesus was probably shorter than that initial guess, maybe around the 4′ 8 – 4′ 10″ range. What is interesting is that in a recent documentary I watched, the analyst who believe the Shroud of Turin shows that the Shroud of Turin held a man that was around the 5′ 11″-6′ 0″ , which would have been an extremely tall male in the time of Jesus in Palestine where Jesus lived. However Jesus has alway been described as an average sized man and he was a carpenter so his body during his first sermon, around the age of 40 would have been slouched over a little. The point is to show that the height of groups of people has not been mostly genetic, but has shifted up and down throughout human history as a consequence of nutrition and eating habits. Now, it is true that it is not likely a person will be 12 inches taller than one’s parents, but it is not unheard of children being taller than both of their parents by an average of say 4-6 inches, due to being born in a better, healthier, more food rich nation. However, these children will go on to have children which will be only say 2 inches taller than them, and then due to the randomness on how people of different height meet, fall in love, mate and have children, the height of generation to generation of kids will not be increasing as an overall trend, but will just go up and down.
This implies that in my research and guess, the common stereotype that “asians” are short due to their short genes is only partly true. Their genetics is more likely from the result of their geography. I don’t think that the races have evolved after only a few thousands years of evolutionary divergence would put something like a genetic cap on a race’s height potential because it would not make any sense. From an evolutionary point of view, why would nature choose to put a height cap of a certain race lower than another? There is advantage for the shorter group, but there is for the taller group.
We are finding that the younger generation of Chinese and Indian increasing in height at a great rate, and some are as tall as their caucasian american counterpart. However, on average they are still shorter. What I would guess would happen is that once the lifestyle conditions and food nutrition quality increases to a higher level, the height difference will be minimized. However this will not be done in terms of years to years. This will take in terms of scale generation to generation. We saw that with the Dutch who were sprouting up like Bamboo after just 4 generation, and we are now seeing it in asian nations. In 4 generations, that would be enough divergence that evolution can do some work and slowly push the height of an entire group of people up.
So…The asians are shorter, but they are not the shortest in the world as a group of people. That height lack can be corrected through lifestyle changes for successive generations.