“Are you from…?”

Interestingly, while cultures and traditions vary across different countries, one eerily thing persists across the spectrum.

“Are you from China?” — the one famous question that annoys every single soul hails out of Japan, Korea, Vietnam, etc. I suppose there is no faster way to see me cringe than asking me that question. I would answer in my proud tone, “No, I’m from Vietnam”, to the dismay of finding out that some people do not actually know where it is. To people who do not know, below is the world map with where Vietnam is located in red. Beautiful country, worth a visit.

Credits: http://geology.com/world/map/map-of-vietnam.gif

Credits must be given to China for its wise, and simultaneously necessary, policy of expanding to other countries. The rise of the Chinese market is astounding, somewhat a miracle. To some, it is on its accord path of become the next world top superpower. To me, this means more people asking me whether I’m Chinese when I’m abroad, America or Kenya.

The global presence of one country can probably be linked with the number of embassy it has around the world. Usually, an embassy of China in a country means that China has somewhat a relationship with that country. Therefore, I decided to dig up some number of countries’ embassies around the world and made some charts.

Interestingly, while China does not have a significantly higher number of embassies around the world compared to other major economies, it does seem to outnumber by a large margin compared to other East Asian countries [1]. The chart below shows that China is behind U.S., Germany and France in the number of embassies across the globe.

At the same time, it outnumbers other Asian countries [2]. Compared to China, the number of embassies of my country, Vietnam is a tiny figure.

With the much higher number of embassies around the globe compared to other Asian countries, China has a much more overwhelming presence abroad. As people are quick to generalize, it is then reasonable for a person to assume that any Asian person they see is Chinese. I mean, what are the odds of meeting a Vietnamese person in Kenya?

With over 50 millions Chinese oversea, the number of embassies to accommodate its people is understandable. I made a heat map below indicating the concentration overseas Chinese around the globe, with country of higher concentration of Chinese living abroad having a lighter blue shade [3].

In no particular order, the top countries with more than 1 million Chinese living overseas are:

  1. United States
  2. Canada
  3. Peru
  4. Myanmar
  5. Thailand
  6. Malaysia
  7. Singapore
  8. Philippines
  9. Indonesia

While it might be intriguing, I shall not dig into the economic or politic reasonings and outcomes of the fact that China has vastly surpassed the other Asian countries in the number of its embassies or the fact that I have no idea why there are one million Chinese in Peru. Instead, I give my interpretation of the daily life implications for a non-Chinese Asian given the above.

As Chinese presence are everywhere, everyone — and I mean everyone — seems to fall in a state of “assuming-Chinese”. For the locals, especially where Asian countries are not very well represented, Asians usually become synonymous with Chinese. For the non-Chinese Asians, there is a constant discontent of being thought of as Chinese. They start scanning the other Asians and also assuming other Asians to be Chinese and avoid them. For the Chinese, due to the high probability of another Asian being Chinese, they also start assuming Asian as Chinese. Then, everyone is assumed to be Chinese and Chinese suddenly become somewhat a negative label. It is understandable that fueled by conflicts over territory in Asia, it became a limbo state of “us vs. Chinese”.

We could laugh it off easily. Some other people seek to not offend anyone in such situation:


With its rapid expansion around the world and its rich history and cultures, China is a beautiful nation. However, Asia is bigger than just China and Asian people are more than just Chinese. Not everyone is aware of such fact.

So, next time if someone asks you “Are you from China?” or says “Ni hao”, maybe take time to stop and tell them you are not Chinese and tell them the tales of your country. For example, for us Vietnamese, crossing the road is a local delicacy that is highly recommended to all international friends.

The original video can be found here

[1] Data from this website. R script is posted here

[2] While Vietnam is not among the top economies yet, I am including it out of personal interest.

[3] Data from Wikipedia. R Script and dataset can be found here. Please note that the data for some countries are not updated in the past few years but are included anyway.

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