World of Weibo

A Napoleon complex?

The controversy over the average height of Chinese men

Tom Cruise is 170cm tall (about 5’6). Ryan Seacrest is 173cm and Justin Bieber is about 175cm. Yet they all tower over the average Chinese in height.

Last week China’s internet went into overdrive when the State Council released the latest report on the nation’s nutrition. This happened to include a summary of the average height of males and females over the age of 18 across the country. The report notes that the average height of Chinese men and women was 167.1cm and 155.8cm by the end of 2014, up just 0.4cm and 0.7cm respectively from a decade ago. For perspective, Jack Ma, who is only 166cm tall, is about average (in height terms) in China.

After the results were released, netizens expressed disappointment that the average Chinese man is still shorter then 170cm. Why the fixation? Because the average height of Japanese men, some netizens helpfully pointed out, was 170.7cm according to other global surveys. The Koreans, meanwhile, were 173.3cm.

Some argue that the average height statistics shouldn’t be taken too seriously because they don’t take into account regional differences. People from the north are generally taller than those in the south. For instance, the average height of a Shandong male is 175.4cm, while Shandong females measure 169.5cm. In comparison, Guangdong males are 169.8cm on average and females measure in at 159.8cm.

“China is too big. Those from the south have dragged down the country’s average,” one despondent netizen noted.

But some also question how Japan has managed to raise its average height by 10cm during the postwar era (in 1964, the average height for men was only 160cm). Xinhua reckons that the Japanese have shifted from a carb-heavy diet to higher dairy consumption. Moreover, the country has also heavily promoted physical education amongst young students, which may have helped to enhance their bone structure.

“The growth in height among Japanese people is the result of engaging regularly in physical exercises. Of course, food is also very important. For instance, fish, vegetables and other high quality food also have a direct impact on height,” says Tsunekazu Takeda, president of the Japanese Olympic Committee.

Small wonder then that many netizens blamed China’s food quality for the shortness of its people. “You don’t have to look at the statistics, just look at the quality of infant formula between the two countries,” one netizen wrote, referencing the tainted milk scandal that emerged in 2008.

“Other countries nourish the next generation, we torture our next generation with unsafe food,” another wrote.

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