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Open Discussion: Do All Asians Look Alike?

Posted September 8th, 2009 by Peter · 24 Comments

Xi Xi Mo says: “Certain people seem to think that all Asians (usually of the same gender, of course) look alike. For instance, I’ve been mistaken by some American students  for other female Asian students when we look absolutely nothing alike beyond the fact that we all have black hair.”


Ask a Korean has an article offering their view on the matter:

This is even a topic of interest in the Next “Gener.Asian” of churches.

Have any of you ever been mistaken for another Asian person? If so, is this a common occurrence? How does it usually make you feel?

Thanks Xi Xi for your observation!

Last 5 posts by Peter

Tags: Open Dialogue · People · Relationships

24 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Nobody // Sep 9, 2009 at 6:24 am

    In high school people would get me mixed up with someone else all the time. The girl they usually got me confused with looked nothing like me. She had different coloured hair, was significantly taller and wore glasses. The only we had in common (besides being Asian) is we have the same surname. On some occasions it worked to my advantage because she would get into trouble for things I did and one year they gave me her award for a subject I didn’t even do.

    The worst was when we had Japanese exchange students at our school. A lot of people thought I was one, despite the fact that I had been attending that school for ages and I wore the same school uniform has everybody else.

  • 2 ricecake // Sep 9, 2009 at 10:50 am

    I get this at work occasionally. I have a colleague, and I had talked to him about something. Then, in a separate meeting, he was talking to one of the other Asians in my group, and kept saying that he had told him something, and kept referring to him by my name. It took several tries to explain to him that he was not me.

    On a similar note, there is a site that tests you on your ability to tell apart Korean, Chinese, and Japanese people, art, etc. The site is and it was harder than I expected. As a Korean, I thought I was pretty good at telling people from the various countries apart, until I took the tests.

  • 3 Kiihay // Sep 9, 2009 at 3:11 pm

    This sort of thing happens to me all the time even though I have yet to meet another asian girl that looks anything like be besides the dark hair. One time I was downtown taking pictures and a complete and utter stranger came up to me and started talking to me like I knew her. Finally I smiled awkward and asked her if I had ever met her. She told me a story and I just shook my head.

  • 4 Fili An // Sep 9, 2009 at 4:04 pm

    I’m mistaken quite often for other western foreigners in Hong Kong with apologizing statements saying “all westerns look alike”.

    It’s a matter of perspective, I guess.

  • 5 Alpha Asian // Sep 10, 2009 at 6:09 am

    It definitely goes both ways. I’ve gotten non-Asians mixed up on occasion. I’ve been mixed up with another Asian dude, and I don’t think helps that I’ve got a common first and last name combo.

    Sometimes the average Westerner gets mixed up with a celebrity in Asia, because their only exposure to whites is through the movies. I think there’s a youtube vid of some white dude getting mobbed in China, cuz they think he’s Michael Phelps.

  • 6 Chanster // Sep 10, 2009 at 8:18 am

    Well let me put it this way. I have been told that I look like Margaret Cho and Lucy Liu. Last time I checked, even though Margaret Cho has lost a lot of weight, she still, in my mind, bears no resemblance to Lucy Liu. With that said, yes I think this is a common thread with many ethnicities and every different race will have that same comment about another race.

  • 7 OP // Sep 16, 2009 at 2:36 am

    Just wanted to add that picture is totally unfair to asian girls. You’ve put to 2 rather average looking asian girls compared to a white girl who is way above average for a white chick. I’m sure if you had a group of average looking white girls in a picture its hard to tell the difference straight away as common features are brown hair/eyes as well.

  • 8 Rebecca // Sep 16, 2009 at 10:12 pm

    I don’t know why personal experience is even questioned in this case. I can’t tell English, French, or Germans apart. I can’t even tell the difference between whites and Jews, or even whites and Middle Easterners (after all, they are all Caucasian). This post makes it seem like whites are deliberately trying to belittle Asians by saying that they all look alike, when they are being honest.

    What this topic should really be about (and what I thought it was about initially when I read the title) is the way Asians make a big deal about how they are NOT Chinese, they are Korean, Japanese, Vietnamese, etc. Or any other combination. I think it is more of a political debate that a racial of cultural one. It reminds me of when the Royal family of England was called the “house of Saxe Coburg Gotha.” The Kind was German and cousin of the Kind of Germany. They made a big deal about their shared Saxon heritage, but then WWI broke out and suddenly Germany wasn’t even part of Europe. The point is, Asians have a problem with being mistaken for a different nationality because of conflicts between countries. The East Asian countries are more similar than they are different.

  • 9 meh // Sep 20, 2009 at 2:41 am

    Ha this is so true that others often think asians all look alike. Well if that’s the case, all white people look alike, and all black people look alike.

  • 10 JL // Sep 20, 2009 at 10:41 pm

    yeah people keep mixing me up with “a better looking jackie chan”

  • 11 Eurasian Sensation // Sep 21, 2009 at 10:45 pm

    Something funny once happened to me in Hong Kong, when me and some Chinese friends were looking to buy some gadgetry in an electronics mall. Having looked unsuccessfully in a number of shops, we finally walked into a shop and asked a guy if he had what we were looking for. He said, “You just came in here 10 minutes ago and asked me the exact same question!”

    @ Rebecca (#8), you seem to have totally missed the point of this discussion. It’s not about whether or not Chinese look like Japanese or Koreans, but about people who can’t tell individual Asians apart. Read it properly first.

  • 12 oceansdepth // Sep 25, 2009 at 11:31 am

    I agree with the blog that was posted up on this topic. If we put a room filled with hundreds of blondes (with the same type of hair and color) with green eyes, for example, a lot of people might think “Wow. everyone in this room looks alike!”,
    regardless, of their facial features. . . It is probably because people are picking up singular features in a person.

    I think its understandable someone thinks like that, however, its NOT cool if you tell asian people “hey! y’all look alike” or “I just can’t tell you guys apart”. Because it does make you sound stupid…

  • 13 Catherine // Oct 1, 2009 at 12:23 am

    My thesis adviser twice greeted one of my Asian female classmates by my name and when I started a new position at my old company (replacing an Asian co-worker who’d left), my new colleagues thought I was her.
    In both cases, I looked nothing like either woman. The first one had a different hair style and a much darker complexion and the second was TINY… probably 30 pounds skinnier than me.
    Generally, I am inclined to give people the benefit of the doubt. After all, I myself once mistook another white guy for my husband (but caught myself before I ran up to him and smacked him on the ass), another Asian couple for my parents (but caught myself before I ran up to them and smacked them on the backs) and another black guy for a college friend (but didn’t catch myself before I called him the wrong name).
    But, seriously, it was WEIRD. Especially the first instance — my adviser and I already had countless one-on-one conferences by that point. And in the latter case, I’m surprised that my colleagues couldn’t tell me and my old co-worker apart… unless they thought she’d really let herself go and gained 30 pounds and were just being tactful about it or something.

  • 14 Julia // Oct 13, 2009 at 5:55 pm

    This happens all the time. :(
    Everyone thinks my friend Taylor and I are sisters just because we are asian. We don’t even look alike!
    I’m tall, she is petite. I have oval face, she has square. It gets pretty annoying.

  • 15 Julia // Oct 13, 2009 at 5:59 pm

    Oh, I forgot to add that she is Korean and I am Filipino.

  • 16 Jolie // Dec 14, 2009 at 6:27 pm

    I’m EURASIAN, clearly mixed, and have often been confused with full Asians who are half my size in both height and weight. Seriously, most whites just home in on the eyes, and just because they’re almond-shaped they assume that all of us look alike.

    One of my friends is full Asian (from Hong Kong). She is vastly overweight, has long, straight black hair, tanned skin and the tiniest eyes I’ve ever seen on an Asian. My hair is brown, wavy, I’m pale and my eyes are double-lidded. We don’t look ANYTHING alike AT ALL and people ask if she’s my sister.

    Interesting that you picked a picture where the two Asians really DO look alike though.

  • 17 Kinda // Dec 15, 2009 at 12:18 pm

    White people have way more variation, even apart from hair/eye color. Some are hairier than others. Some have freckles or spots. They’re more varied in face structure and types of noses.

    Asians generally have a more unified layout. It doesn’t help that so many Asian men are light on body/facial hair either. It’s not a good or bad thing. It’s just the way it is.

  • 18 Adam // Feb 7, 2010 at 11:18 pm

    I read somewhere that asians do indeed look like other asians because they share more common ancestry. Genghis Khan’s lineage is like 8% of all asians and considering the geography, asians did a lot less spreading (and mixing i believe) than europeans, resulting in asians looking more similar to each other than other groups.

    Like Kinda said, it’s not good or bad, just the way it is

  • 19 Chinamerican // May 7, 2010 at 10:00 am


    Agreed. If they didn’t open their mouths, my parents can’t tell the difference between an Irishman, a Briton, a Canadian, and an American.

    Also, Korean people think I’m Korean but I’m actually Chinese. It’s sort of uncanny.

  • 20 Derbst // Oct 22, 2010 at 6:50 pm

    You are too young to decode it.

  • 21 Anonymous // Nov 1, 2010 at 4:27 pm

    @Julia, Yes this happens so often!!! I had this Korean-American friend of mine who looked nothing like me, but this random person walks up to us and says, “Are you guys sisters?” Seriously, it gets annoying sometimes. She doesn’t even look like me! She is way taller, darker skin, shorter hair, and overall nothing like me.

  • 22 The Voice of Reason // Nov 1, 2010 at 4:37 pm

    Going along with the fact that Asians did root from the same culture, Asians were also not very commonly mixed with other cultures. Because of this purity, Asians don’t have as broad of a gene pool. On the other hand, Caucasians have mixed with other types of Caucasians, resulting in more of a variation in their gene pool. But just because Asians don’t have as varied of a gene pool does not mean that they all look alike. Asians can bring out some very different traits from each other. As someone said before, it’s a matter of perspective. Besides, we are all different and unique in our own, special way. :)

  • 23 Sueng // Feb 23, 2011 at 9:33 am

    One time I saw an asian with really dark brown hair, I KID YOU NOT!

  • 24 ridonnnn // Aug 5, 2012 at 6:58 am

    I really bristle at the OP’s use of “American” when they really meant “non-Asian” or how a lot of Asians refer to whites, but think that American is a more PC term.

    ANYWAYS, I’ve been mistaken for other Asian women all the time. It used to piss me off, but I realized two things. One, these people obviously don’t interact THAT much with this person. Two, I have the same problem with white males. I met them once or twice and see them in the hallway and get them confused with each other.

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