East Asians


These items are from “100 Questions and Answers About East Asian Cultures.” You can get all 100 answers in print or digital format by ordering from Amazon.

Why are Asian cultures so varied?
What is the “model minority myth?”
What is traditional Chinese medicine?
What is China’s “one-child policy?”
Do Hmong people live in East Asia?
Is Christianity the same in East Asia as in America?
What does “save face” or “lose face” mean?
What is behind the emphasis on respect for elders?
Do East Asian governments oppress people?
Are mixed marriages discouraged?
There’s Japanese kendo and judo, Korean taekwondo, and Chinese kung fu and tai chi. Does Asian culture encourage fighting?
Are chopsticks used throughout Asia?
Do Asians like American culture and want to be part of it?
What are manga and anime?
Do Asian parents try to control their children’s lives?
Why do some East Asians apologize so often?
If a person knows one East Asian language, is it easier to learn another?
Why do Asians eat so much rice?
Are East Asians reluctant to mix with others in a foreign country?


Why are Asian cultures so varied?
Like other continents or regions such as the Americas, Europe, or Africa, East Asia has many cultures. For example, China recognizes 56 ethnicities and has many subcultures. People from one country can be offended if assumed to be from another, given their painful historical conflicts. Even within one country, people have regional and geographic differences, just like in the United States. East Asians do, however, share some basic values such as Confucianism, respect for elders and education. Back to top

East Asian CoverWhat is the “model minority myth?”
This is the belief that a particular ethnic, racial or religious group achieves greater success than the population average. In the United States, this myth most often refers to Asians. Concerns are that the myth implies that some people get ahead because of the group they are in, or that group members who do not succeed are inferior. The myth also ignores the history and ongoing experiences of discrimination these groups face and masks socioeconomic diversity within these groups. Amy Chua, author of “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom” and “The Triple Package” has declared eight groups to be superior. Critics say she is perpetuating the myth. Back to top


What is traditional Chinese medicine?
Traditional Chinese medicine is not a single treatment or therapy. It is many practices connected by some shared concepts. They include herbal medicine, plants, diet, exercise, massage and techniques such as acupuncture. It has been effective in pain management, for the common cold and cough, and treating contusions and sprains. While traditional Chinese medicine has been used for thousands of years, the Western medical community has been slow to embrace it. Back to top

What is China’s “one-child policy?”
Beginning in 1979, this policy sought to control population growth by limiting couples in which one spouse was an only child to one child of their own. The policy allowed two children for couples who were both only children and had exceptions for ethnic minorities and rural couples whose first child was a girl or disabled. The policy caused the birthrate to fall too far, the average age to rise and—coupled with social preferences for males, female abortion and infanticide—a gender imbalance. The policy was relaxed in 2013. Back to top


Do Hmong people live in East Asia?
Long ago, the Hmong lived in southern China, but moved to the hill and mountain areas in Southeast Asia. They are ethnically Chinese. They have maintained their customs and language while living in Myanmar, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam. Most Hmong in the United States emigrated after the Vietnam War. The American CIA recruited the Hmong to oppose the Viet Cong in what had been called the “Secret War.” After the United States pulled out of the war in 1975, the Hmong were persecuted for their involvement and many fled to Thailand. In the late 1980s, many were brought to the United States as refugees and sponsored by the Lutheran Church. The largest concentrations are in St. Paul, Minnesota, and Fresno, California, where the government set up resettlement areas. Back to top


Is Christianity the same in East Asia as in America?
Certainly the beliefs are the same, but there is a big difference in participation. About 75 percent of Americans say they are Christian. In most East Asian countries, Christians are less than 5 percent of the population, according to The World Factbook 2013-2014. The exception is South Korea, where about a third of the population is Protestant or Catholic. The National Chinese Christian Congress said in 2013 that Christianity was increasing in China, despite reports of persecution and a crackdown on house churches. Back to top


What does “save face” or “lose face” mean?
Think of this as public humiliation for loss of reputation or stature. One can lose face when publicly corrected or confronted, especially by a peer or subordinate. One gains respect when bolstered or affirmed. With origins in China, this is more keenly a part of East Asian tradition than that of America. When the need to save face is strong, it can be difficult to openly admit mistakes or discuss problems. Even in one-to-one conversations and negotiations, people can feel the need to save face. When confronted with a situation of this nature involving an East Asian, consider feelings and not just the facts. Back to top


What is behind the emphasis on respect for elders?
Many other parts of the world share this value. In East Asia, Confucianism encourages filial piety. This philosophy teaches people to acknowledge the care they received as children and to respect the elders and their ancestors. Respect often carries over to non-parental elders in social and business situations. There has been some concern that, with modernization, this value may be declining. Back to top


Do East Asian governments oppress people?
The range of freedom in East Asia is as wide as its array of governments. According to Amnesty International and Freedom House, Japan, South Korea, Mongolia and Taiwan value freedom. The organizations said political arrests, imprisonment, and censorship keep the People’s Republic of China low on the list. They reported that the most oppressive regime in East Asia is North Korea. Back to top


Are mixed marriages discouraged?
There were mixed marriages in East Asia even before the United States existed, but it has been controversial. Now, these marriages are increasing. According to the Chinese Ministry of Civil Affairs, the number of marriages between Chinese and foreign nationals, including Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macau, increased from about 11,000 couples in 1980 to 53,000 couples in 2012. Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare reported that one in 20 marriages in 2003 were mixed. About 80 percent of the time, the husband was Japanese and the non-Japanese spouse was frequently Chinese, Korean, Filipino or American. Most of South Korea’s mixed marriages are a Korean man marrying a non-Korean woman. Back to top


There’s Japanese kendo and judo, Korean taekwondo, and Chinese kung fu and tai chi. Does Asian culture encourage fighting?
Many martial arts don’t focus just on fighting. They came about as a form of self-defense, self-control and fitness, rather than for attack. Kendo is a traditional Japanese style of fencing that strives to coordinate physical, emotional and mental dimensions. Judo actually translates to “the gentle way.” It stresses defense by using opponents’ offensive energy against them. Taekwondo works on control of one’s mind, self-restraint, kindness, and humility. Kung fu describes an individual accomplishment reached after hard work, which is strongly linked to Buddhism through humility and restraint. Tai chi works on the concept of yin-yang, or duality and balance. It is mainly a meditative exercise rather than a fighting form. Back to Top


Are chopsticks used throughout Asia?
Not necessarily. Chopsticks originated in China around 1200 B.C. when cooks used them to retrieve food from the bottom of pots. Chopsticks moved from stove to table and became popular in China, Japan, Korea and Vietnam. People in Indonesia, Thailand and India don’t traditionally use chopsticks. Some Southeast Asian restaurants run by people who don’t generally use chopsticks offer them to Americans who believe this will help them eat more authentically. Back to top


Did karaoke begin in Asia?
Karaoke originated in Japan in the 1970s and means “empty orchestra.” In karaoke bars, patrons sing along to recordings of the instrumental parts of popular songs. Karaoke has become a popular way to socialize and relax in other Asian countries, as well. Karaoke came to the United States in the 1990s. Back to top


Do Asians like American culture and want to be part of it?
This varies from country to country and person to person. Feelings can be influenced by politics, economics and confidence in the home country’s culture. The popularity of American culture in East Asia is declining. A 2012 Pew study found that 69 percent of Japanese said they liked American movies and television. This was down from 2002, but still in the top of the 20 countries surveyed. China, at 43 percent and dropping, was at the top of the lower third. A 2004 Rand report of South Koreans called “Ambivalent Allies” said, “the more secure they are about Korean culture, the less favorable their opinions are toward the United States.” Back to top


What are manga and anime?
Manga, a type of comic, developed in Japan. Manga have evolved stylistically and have become popular around the world. With roots in manga and Western cartoons, anime is a style of animation that was started by manga artist Osamu Tezuka after World War II. Tezuka was inspired by pre-war Disney cartoons and the character Betty Boop. Today, many manga have big heads and large expressive eyes. With their complex story lines and some adult content, manga have a broad appeal that ranges among children and adults. Back to top


Do Asian parents try to control their children’s lives?
Confucian principles of elder respect and collectivism intersect in parent-child interactions. Children are traditionally expected to defer big decisions to elders, and parents take a family interest in important issues such as education and marriage. The degree to which younger generations listen to their more experienced parents is variable and is affected by culture and personalities. This is changing, too. Back to top


Why do some East Asians apologize so often?
When Asians say “sorry,” it may not be an apology. Sometimes, “sorry” means, “excuse me,” or “pardon me.” If someone steps in front of you and says “sorry,” they are just saying, “excuse me.” This is another manifestation of humility, which is an important part of Asian cultures. Back to top


If a person knows one East Asian language, is it easier to learn another?
Not really. Many of the languages have influenced each other, but they are not related linguistically and belong to different language families. Japanese and Korean use Chinese characters.That is where many of the similarities end. While some grammar patterns are similar, the languages sound very different. Chinese is a tonal language, whereas Japanese has little inflection. Back to top


Why do Asians eat so much rice?
Most of the world’s rice is grown in Asia and eaten there, where it has been a staple for thousands of years. The Irrigated Rice Research Consortium reports that rice consumption per person has declined in China as people have added meat, dairy, fruits and vegetables to their diets. Rice consumption, however, has been growing in sub-Saharan Africa and in the United States and Europe, where people are adding fiber. Back to top


Are East Asians reluctant to mix with others in a foreign country?
The short answer is no. One reason people leave their country to study or work in a foreign country is to meet and experience new cultures. However, when encountering a culture that is so different from their own, such as in the United States, people still like to be with people who share their language and cultural identity. This does not mean they are reluctant to mix. International guests often speak of wanting to make new friends but don’t know how to make American friends. Make the first move. Ask to join them or invite them to casual situations, such as coffee or an event, and plan on more meetings. Back to top

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