The Myth of Round-eye

We English speakers have at our disposal an astounding variety of racial slurs. I don’t need to give a list here; we all know it to be true. I think one of the most interesting slurs is “round-eye” because it seems to be invented by the very group of people to whom it refers.

If you’re not familiar with the term, it frequently shows up on racist websites or websites that play up the East/West divide (but not on certain ones–more on this below). It is also used seemingly innocuously at times. It’s supposed to be a term that Asians use for non-Asians.

It may be obvious to many Asians, but as a white American, I didn’t notice anything strange about the way the term is used until after living in China for some time. The truth is, I’ve never heard any Chinese (or Japanese) refer to whites or any non-Asians as “round-eyes,” in Chinese or any other language. At times non-Asians in China might get called hairy, simian, uncivilized, or even evil, but never round-eyed.

not-slanted

Asian eyes: not slanted

The reason for this is simple. While non-Asians often see Asian eyes as “slanted,” Asians do not see themselves that way. If you ask a Chinese person about the difference between Chinese and white people’s eyes, for instance, they will tell you that white people’s eyes are often blue, but Chinese eyes are “black.” In addition, white people’s eyes are usually much deeper set, and all seem to have the “double eyelids” that the Chinese find attractive. What they don’t say is that “their eyes are rounder than ours.”

I think it’s pretty obvious where this racial slur came from. The logic went something like this:

Asians have slanted eyes, but we don’t. Asians’ most readily identifiable feature, to us, is their slanted eyes. So our most readily identifiable feature to them must be our non-slanted, or round, eyes. We can’t understand what they call us in their languages, but it’s gotta be round-eye!

The fact is that the Asians themselves just don’t see it that way. I’ll admit that I’m basing most of what I’m saying on my own personal experience in China, and to a lesser extent my experience in Japan. It’s possible that some groups of Asians use this term, maybe as a reaction to being called “slanty-eyed” by racists. However, I suspect that it is a wholly non-Asian invention, and that the most likely Asian groups to use it would be ones living as minorities in the West.


Related: Making the Chinese Face, Center of Civilization

87 Comments to “The Myth of Round-eye

  1. Adam P says:

    I remember a conversation I had about racial slurs with some friends once. I told them about the “Chinese, Japanese” rhyme with the up slant and down slant eye gesture. All the chinese people I was with were a little puzzled, but thought it was hilarious, which was not the reaction I had expected.

    It seemed that the idea of racism against Chinese people (in China) was just a ridiculous concept to them. Which I guess is probably the attitude white people have in Britain, “Oh, your attitude to me is racist, how quaint”. Although this is changing with the stirring up of the immigration debate.

  2. Shaun says:

    I agree with you. I’ve never been called “round-eye”, but I’ve been called “hairy” plenty of times in both Chinese and English

  3. 88 says:

    I don’t remember my comment after I clicked on that picture.

  4. Mark says:

    I guess the worst slur I’ve ever faced was “big poo-poo head pig teacher”.

  5. Lantian says:

    Nice post. I agree with whatever 88 said.

  6. Andrew says:

    Being referred to as hairy doesn’t particularly bother me. It is, after all just a statement of fact. I’ve had several chinese toddlers wander up to me, stroke my arm and say “毛,毛”. It would be difficult to accuse them of racism, and the look of discomfiture on the mothers’ faces was pretty funny too.

    Anyway, hairlessness is an example of neoteny isn’t it? That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it…

  7. Jeff says:

    Round eye comes from military slang, one caucasian person talking about another. A lot of White Americans were/are based in Asias military bases, that’s where it comes from. Yeah, I agree, I have never heard this term used except as a joke.

    In some locales plastic surgery to make the eyes round is relatively common although I don’t know what it’s called in Japan or Korea or Hawai’i for that matter…anyway there’s at least some awareness of eye roundness.

  8. zhuanjia says:

    I’m surprised that I still get referred to a lot quite as a big nose, quite un-self consciously (on the speaker’s behalf) . Just as Chinese don’t think their eyes are “slanted”, we don’t think our noses are big. My wife’s friends and our neighbours also commonly refer to me (in my presence) as the guilao.

  9. Matt says:

    Andrew, they’re just jealous of your testosterone levels.

  10. Da Xiangchang says:

    The last time I saw “round-eye” was when our hero got into a fight with Japanese biker gangs in Isaac Adamson’s Tokyo Suckerpunch. But the term doesn’t come across too much. I’m more conscious of wrong subtitles, when Americans import their racial classifications into Asian-themed movies. For example, in Eat Drink Man Woman, a mother was berating a daughter for marrying a “waiguoren,” and the subtitles said, “white man.” WTF!? It happened again in Last Samurai. Now, Tom Cruise is pretty pale (probably the palest of the Hollywood superstars), but so are the Japanese woman (Koyuki) and her kids that he stays with in the movie. But then the little kid says something in Japanese (“gaijin”?) and the subtitles say, “Will the white man take our life away?” or some crap like that. I mean, come on! 19th-century Asian kids using the racial categories of 21st-century American adults?! Of course, nowadays, Asians use “white men” also, but I think that’s more to due with the West’s world-wide cultural dominance than anything else. Forget “round-eyes”; I’m more curious as to how the current American racial terms–”whites,” “blacks,” “Asians,” “Hispanics”–came about, evolved, and became disseminated across the globe.

    (Those linked websites are, BTW, HILARIOUS. I don’t see them as “racist”–or, if they are, they’re benign. The Crafty Asian website with the ever-changing fortune-cookie sayings is one of the funniest things I’ve seen in a long time.)

  11. Jeff says:

    Of course they use 21st century English for translations. It was translated in the 21st century. I don’t understand. Do you want them translating in 19th century style? What would that prove?

    If you have a genuinese interest in American racial terms, they’re very well documented and you should have no problems learning how they came about, evolved, and were disseminated across the globe.

    Although personally I don’t think these terms were disseminated across the globe.

  12. John says:

    DXC,

    I don’t agree with your analysis of the translations you mentioned. While 外国人 officially means “foreigner” in the nationality sense, in practice it’s often used differently.

    If a Chinese person wants to say “white person,” they’ll usually say 外国人 (or 老外). If they want to say “Korean person,” they’ll say 韩国人. If they want to say “Japanese person,” they’ll say 日本人 (or worse). If they want to say “Indian person,” they’ll say 印度人. If they want to say “black person,” they’ll say 黑人.

    Regardless of the dictionary definitions/official translations, that’s how it usually works in practice.

  13. carol says:

    Chinese don’t say 印度人, they say 阿三 instead.

  14. John says:

    Carol,

    Chinese may call Indians 阿三, but they most definitely do say 印度人 as well (perhaps when they’re being more polite?).

  15. Alf says:

    Chinese girls complain all the time that there eyes are two small, and say they are envious that foriegner’s eyes are so big. This is pretty much the same thing as round and slanted. If east asians didn’t notice the diference between their eye shape and foriegners why would they get surgery to remove the “double eyelid”? This post makes no sense.

  16. Alf says:

    Damn I just clicked on that picture link. Got to love sleazy guys who post pics of KTV girls on line.

  17. Alf says:

    what’s 很pp mean?

  18. John says:

    Alf,

    Sorry man, I can’t really understand what you don’t understand, but trust me: the post makes sense.

    I find this kind of cutesy internet slang sort of revolting, but I’m pretty sure it goes like this: PP = 漂漂 = 漂亮

  19. DJW says:

    John, I have never heard of “round eye” either, but please note this is a purely US thing. No one in the UK talks about “round eyes”. There are a number of fundamental racial types in China as a result of centuries of assimilation, and the longer I live in China, the more I notice how many Western-type faces there are here. More and more Chinese are coming to look like Westerners in my eyes. That is why I am so surprised that they notice so immediately that I am not Chinese. But there is one type of Chinese that definitely does has very slanted eyes, and this is considered very beautiful in China and is known as 丹凤眼. What is more interesting to me is the discourse on skin colour in China. As you know, many Westerners like to get a sun tan, and we don’t necessarily admire pasty-coloured skin. I know I have admired many southern Chinese who have darker skin, only to find that the Chinese around me have immediately commented on the person’s dark skin as being unattractive. The “white” terminology is probably another stupidity we have the US to thank for. I am not obviously “white” as such in terms of exact colour, and many Chinese people are several shades lighter than I am, but many are much darker too. I think there must be more to say on this subject, but I don’t have any more to say myself at the moment.

  20. 'Who asked?' says:

    Andrew and Matt: Neoteny is a characteristic of smarter mammals, isn’t it? What are Asians supposed to be jealous of?

    Alf: Asian (not just Chinese) girls get surgery to add a ‘double eyelid’, not remove it. As you know it doesn’t change the shape of the eye, just makes it larger and more pronounced. But it’s definitely not thought of in terms of becoming more Western-looking. About a third of East Asians are born with an eyelid fold. Isn’t it more reasonable and a little less condescending to assume they’re the ones being emulated? Are white girls who get tans trying to be black girls?

    We should all try to be aware of the myths our native cultures tell about foreign people. In the case of the West, there’s this extremely insulting myth that Asians want to become white. They point to things like eyelid surgery, dyed hair, wanting fairer skin, learning English etc. as proof, when in fact if they wanted to be fair they’d find plenty of contraindicating examples. Asians prefer smaller noses and less pronounced brows (at least in women), they read their own classic texts at least as much as Shakespeare, they don’t usually like body hair. Meanwhile the same type of things that supposedly prove Asian self-hate are being done by Westerners as well, and nobody makes anything of it. Asians certainly look up to the West in a lot of ways, and rightly so because the West earned it. Some of the achievements of the West are impressive no matter what cultural perspective you’re coming from. It’s really perverse for Westerners to turn that respect, admiration, and friendly-feeling around and say Asians have no pride, no originality, etc. etc.

    (Some even point to modernization as evidence Asians have no self-pride, as though in order for Asians to keep true to themselves they have to forgo applying technology in their daily lives. The most insidious Western self-myth is that science and modernity somehow belongs to them. Certainly Westerners have been making the biggest advancements in human knowledge for the last 500 years, but we are all modern people, and when some Chinese or Japanese researcher synthesizes what Westerners have learned and comes up with something no Westerner has thought of, who does it belong to? When a car is designed and built in Asia by Asians, what right do you have to call it an artifact of Western civilization? I wouldn’t call either an example of something purely Eastern, but neither would a Westerner be fair in calling them ‘Western science and technology’. That kind of talk belongs to an era when civilizations developed in isolation from each other.)

    John: I don’t what the case is in China proper, but 白人 (white person) is often used in Taiwan and among overseas Chinese. I agree with DXC’s sentiment that Western protrayals of Asians often project a Western style of racism, or a Western fancying of Asian racism, that is inaccurate. I’m not suggesting that Asians can’t be racist/xenophobic/ethnocentric, just that Hollywood protrayals thereof are usually done in ignorance of how Asians actually behave and think.

    • Tara says:

      I have olive skin that will naturally tan if I spend more than ten minutes outside. It’s part of who I am. It is ridiculous and offensive of you to imply that the natural process of skin darkening in the sun is on the same level in any way as having plastic surgery done. It’s like comparing hair growth to Botox injections.

  21. eyes says:

    My Chinese friend would frequently say that western eyes are “bigger” than Asians. Many of them get surgery to make their eyes wider.

  22. Laska says:

    I though calling Indian people A San was a Shanghai thing. The rest of the country learned from old movies that “hongtou a san” referred originally to Indian policemen in the English concession of old Shanghai. Carol, when you here a san, you don’t think of Shanghai?

    I’ve heard a couple theories about the origin of A San. One theory is that the Indian constables were always subordinate to British officers, so they were constantly saying “Yes sir!” to their British superiors. “Yes sir” was taken into Shanghainese as “a san” as a kind of metonymic mockery.

    Another theory I’ve heard is that since they Indians couldn’t speak Chinese, they tried to speak English with the locals. They started all their sentences with “I say,” which sounds a lot like “a san.”

    Please let me know if you’ve heard any other theories.

  23. Laska says:

    Forgot to mention “a san” sounds a lot like “I say” in Shanghainese.

  24. carol says:

    Well,Taiwanese also say A San.

    I’m originally from China, so I think I have a Chinese face. However, almost all white people think I’m Korean. They told me my eyes are different from most Chinese’s. You can see my pictures by clicking my name. Please tell me if I really look like Korean. I’m quite confused.

  25. Alf says:

    My point was just that though chinese people don’t make the “Slanty” vs. “Round” distinction, they do make the distinction between “small” and “large” eyes which is basically, (but not exactly) the same as the western concepts. But round eye is a good term for white people. Anyway, I did a class once on what different cultures found attractive and my Chinese students told me that in America, the double eyelid was very important to beauty, so they had some feeling that it came from the west.

  26. adam says:

    john, this is a great post and a wonderful treatment of the subject of racisim/prejudice…

  27. Da Xiangchang says:

    John,

    “If a Chinese person wants to say “white person,” they’ll usually say 外国人 (or 老外)” is true, but this doesn’t make “外国人” synonymous with “white person.” Ask any Chinese person this question: if they see a mixed group of tourists–let’s say a few Arabs, a few Koreans, a few blacks, but NO whites–what would they call them? I’ll bet you 99% of the time of the Chinese would use ” 外国人” or “老外.” Yet how could this be when you say “外国人” or “老外” automatically means “white people” to Chinese? Well, IMHO, Chinese people use “外国人” to refer to white people not because they think “外国人” means “white people” but rather because most foreigners they encounter in China are white. This is like when Americans use “guys” to refer to any group of people, even if the group is all female; this, however, doesn’t make “guys” somehow “girls” or “women.” In other words, “外国人” is not “white person.” Only “白人” is “white person,” and that’s used FAR LESS so than “foreigner.”

    Besides, my earlier point wasn’t WHO the Chinese are referring to, but rather HOW they’re referring to them–i.e., the terms used to describe, say, what we in the West call “white people” but NOT the white people themselves. There’s a subtle difference. My irritation is when Western subtitles use Western terms to describe people when the original non-Western words use TOTALLY DIFFERENT TERMS, thus making it seem the whole world always bought into the Western racial classifications, which is total crap. (Which was why I didn’t like Last Samurai cuz I doubt medieval Japanese referred to Westerners as “white people.” I mean, ancient Japanese paintings drew the Portugese as having darker skin tones than the Japanese themselves and the Dutch having red faces!) Of course, you can say, “The subtitlers are just trying to make it accessible to modern Western audiences.” Well, that makes sense, but it doesn’t make the erroneous subtitles somehow correct. What’s next, having the Arab “infidel” being subtitled as “white people”?!!

  28. Sonagi says:

    Carol,

    I clicked the link and looked at your picture. Your face didn’t scream “Korean” to me.

    John,

    The young woman in the photo looks like she’s had an extreme version of the infamous eye surgery (the whole iris is visible), so her picture is not a good example of how Asian eyes really look. The whole topic of how we describe our own physical features and describe differences between members of the same ethnic group and members of different ethnic groups is an interesting yet touchy subject, isn’t it? Tell a North American that someone has “double-lidded eyes” or a “high nose” and you will get a puzzled look. In Korea, noses aren’t really big or small, but rather “high bridge” and “low bridge.” Koreans are also fond of mocking other Koreans’ large heads and short legs.

    Daxiang, do you have stats to prove that most foreigners are Caucasians? In Qingdao, 90% of the foreign population is Korean, and as John pointed out, Koreans and Japanese are referred to by their nationality and not simply called “waiguoren” or “laowai.” I was always amused when I’d be standing in line behind a Korean, and the cashier would switch from Chinese to English when it was my turn. It’s not that the cashier thought the Korean was Chinese. I could guess the nationality simply from the clothing and make-up before the Korean even started sputtering in awkward Chinese. Likewise, in Korea, Koreans called Chinese “jungguksaram” and Japanese “ilbonsaram” and everybody else “waiguksaram.” The practical meaning of “laowai/weguksaram” is “racially different foreigner.” There is a logic to this terminology. It is easier for northeast Asians to distinguish a Korean or Japanese than to determine the nationality of a person from another continent. Interestingly, the Japanese actually have two different words for “foreigner”: “gaijin” for Westerners and “gaigokujin” for everybody else. As for the subtitles you criticize, they were probably done by North Americans of Asian descent.

    • Millie says:

      You think that girl in the photo had surgery? XD I’m disappointed that you’d be fooled by a simple trick. If you check a couple of Youtube videos or blogs, they show you tips on how to make your eyes look gigantic–and all by using makeup, contacts, and taking pictures using specific angles. The latter was a trendy way of making yourself look cuter.

  29. So John are you saying I should quit saying “slanty-eyed” and start saying “black-eyed”. If that is what you are saying, I disagree. If that is not what you are saying then I am confused and this post makes no sense to me.

  30. DJW says:

    The whole reason for this post is the Western obsession with race as we watch our countries being colonised. Yes, Chinese people do maintain a variety of prejudices against foreigners, but they can be more easy going about it most of the time as there are only around 200,000 foreigners in a nation of 1,300,000,000.

  31. michael says:

    No sooner had I read this post than I was called “Big Eyes” by a Uyghur girl I’m fond of… not exactly “Round Eye”, but then again I wouldn’t know how to say that.

  32. Da Xiangchang says:

    Sinagi,

    Well, I’m not sure of the exact statistics, but foreign Asians aren’t as visible as non-Asian foreigners to the Chinese. So the stereotypical foreigner would be a white guy–hence, the catch-all “waiguoren.”

    And “North Americans of Asian descent” are Westerners, with Western values and thus utility of Western racial terminology. When I wrote “Westerners” earlier, I meant the old West, maybe during the age of imperialism when the racial terms were finalized, I think–”white man’s burden” and all that. Back then, all Westerners were white, but not anymore and will be far less so in the future. With declining birthrates, most Western countries need more immigrants, whether white or nonwhite; otherwise, they’re doomed to fail. Those countries that assimilates their immigrants well will prosper (like America); those who don’t won’t (most of Europe). Of course, China doesn’t have this problem, but even Japan does, and since Japan has NO immigrant-friendly, assimilation-type culture, it’s doomed to fail also.

  33. schtickyrice says:

    Given the obsession with racial identity in the West, it is easy to see how Asian perceptions of attractiveness when it comes to eyes and skin colour could be misinterpreted as self-hate and idolization of Western/white/causcasian ‘ideals’.

    Classical Northeast Asian ideals of beauty included fair skin long before any contact with Europeans. This is more about class than race. Manual labourers and peasants who toil in the field naturally have darker skin than the upper classes who spend most of their time indoors. This is equivalent to the redneck syndrome in the West. Traditional ideals of female beauty, with fair skin and bound feet, are essentially characteristics of the gilded cage existance of upper class women.

    If we must involve race in this at all, it would more likely involve the perceptions of the fairer skinned Northeast Asians toward the darker skinned Southeast Asians that they have conquered or subdued. Darker skinned southerners under the rule of their norther conquerers have internalized this prejudice and over time have come to project this bias onto even darker skinned peoples further south.

  34. Sonagi says:

    Well, I’m not sure of the exact statistics, but foreign Asians aren’t as visible as non-Asian foreigners to the Chinese. So the stereotypical foreigner would be a white guy—hence, the catch-all “waiguoren”

    That’s exactly what I was getting at. The typical foreigner is probably a northeast Asian, a Korean or a Japanese, in contrast to the stereotypical representative image of a tall, blond, white guy. Aren’t the Chinese, then, attaching a negative (negative as in ‘not affirmative’; a grammatical negative not a perjorative negative) racial attribute to the word “laowai”?

    Regarding your final point about assimilation in various countries, I somewhat agree. I’ve not been to Europe, but my impression is that Britain has been more successful than France and Germany in accepting immigrants and their descendents as part of British society.

  35. Richard says:

    “I was always amused when I’d be standing in line behind a Korean, and the cashier would switch from Chinese to English when it was my turn. It’s not that the cashier thought the Korean was Chinese.”

    No, but if the cashier knew only 2 languages, Chinese and English, there’d be no reason for her to address a Korean in China in English.

    If you only knew English and Chinese, would you start talking to an Arab person in the US in Chinese?

  36. Sonagi says:

    A few points in response to your post, Richard:

    (1) In the US, I initiate conversations with anyone in English. That includes people who are Chinese or Korean.

    (2) English is an international language, and thus, most Koreans have some ability to speak it. Koreans who arrive in China with no Chinese language skills use English or an interpreter until they learn enough Chinese to get by. Chinese, on the other hand, is not an international language. I did sometimes initiate conversations in Chinese with other foreigners in China, but I certainly wouldn’t do so in a non-Chinese speaking country.

    (3) Not all whiteys speak English as a native language. Some whiteys speak English as a foreign language just like Koreans and Japanese and other foreigners from non-English speaking countries.

    and most importantly:

    (4) I and most other whiteys I know speak more than enough Chinese to communicate with the cashier.

  37. Richard says:
    1. That’s nice. However, what matters is the proportion of whiteys who can speak English and can’t speak Chinese (intelligibly). If most whiteys in the area are fluent in Chinese, you’d have a point.

    2. Yet you speak English to a Korean in the US. Why wouldn’t the cashier speak Chinese to a Korean in China? BTW, you insistence on speaking English to a Chinese-speaker in the US would be pretty arrogant if

    3. You were fluent in Chinese.
    4. You believed that the person you’re speaking to would have trouble communicating in English.

    5. As you mentioned, English is an international language, so why wouldn’t the cashier speak English to you (who the cashier presumes to have a better knowledge of English than a typical Korean)?

  38. Sonagi says:

    (1) That’s a circular argument. How is whitey going to attain fluency in Chinese if so many Chinese speak English to him/her?

    I don’t have a problem with a Chinese cashier speaking the vernacular language of the country to a customer of any nationality. I would prefer that the cashier speak to me in Chinese, also, and not make an unnecessary racial distinction (note: I’m not calling it ‘racist’, just an unnecessary racial distinction.)

    2, 3, 4. Please read my previous post again. I said, “In the US, I initiate conversations with anyone in English.” The key word is “initiate.” It means “begin.” I initiate conversations in English regardless of nationality because it is the vernacular language of the country. I do sometimes switch into Chinese or Korean, but if the Chinese/Korean continues in English, I switch back into English regardless of the person’s proficiency. As a public school teacher, I have sometimes interpreted at parent-teacher conferences. Of course, I am DELIGHTED to have the chance to put my language skills to use, but like I said, if the parent chooses to use English, I respect that. Since the vernacular language of the US is English, everyone on our soil has a right of participation in English.

    Richard, I have about ten years of experience in Korea, China, and the US as a Korean-speaking Causasian, and four years of experience in China and the US as a Chinese-speaking Caucasian (I started learning Chinese in Korea). I’ve realized that some Asians just aren’t comfortable speaking their language to a non-native speaker with an “English” face. In the US or another English-speaking country, I use whichever language the Asian prefers. In Korea and China, I insisted on using the local language.

    The problem is that many Asians assume whitey can’t really speak their language. In China, I and other Chinese-speaking whiteys were always praised by Chinese and -get this- Koreans for being able to speak the language. Whenever a Korean would do this, I would point out, “But YOU can speak Chinese, too. Chinese is a foreign language for you, too.” They’d look at me with this expression of “yeah, but…” I’d get into a taxi with Koreans, and the driver would praise me for speaking Korean, but not my Korean companions. On the surface, this seems like whitey is being treated better, but in fact, the praise reflects the fact that we are held to a MUCH lower standard, and this bothers me. The more we speak and accept English, the more we perpetuate the notion that whitey can’t learn Asian languages.

    (6) It is very polite to speak a foreign language with someone who is unable to communicate in your language. It is impolite to force a foreign language on someone because of their race. The cashier is making an unnecessary racial distinction. English is an international language but it is not an official language of China and thus does not have equal standing with Chinese.

  39. hei long says:

    Well said, But its true that a lot of westerners even one’s who have lived in china for 5 or 6 years still cant speak Chinese well and would prefare english to be spoken, not me I love the Chinese lanuage.

  40. Sonagi says:

    typo correction: original quote: I’d get into a taxi with Koreans, and the driver would praise me for speaking Korean, but not my Korean companions.

    Should read: I’d get into a taxi with Koreans, and the driver would praise me for speaking CHINESE, but not my Korean companions.

  41. Richard says:

    About 1) China doesn’t exist to serve your Chinese-learning needs.

    I would expect a Korean to have an easier time learning Chinese than a native English speaker, just as I would expect an English speaker to have an easier time learning Latin than a Chinese speaker because of the huge number of loan words (OK, English & Latin are more similiar than Korean and Chinese, but you get the point). My Japanese girlfriend could pass as a native Chinese speaker if she had to give a speech and I marked out the intonations for her. She most certainly wouldn’t if the speech was in English (and we communicate in English). However, I agree that it is racist if they’re going off of racial assumptions.

    Finally, once you become a shopkeeper, you can follow your policy. However, the shopkeeper is following a simple heuristic: Speak in what you think is the customer’s native language (if you know it). For instance, in the Hispanic currency exchange that I go to to get my phone cards, I get spoken to in English. However, if a Hispanic-looking person enters, he/she gets addressed in Spanish. Now, since this is the US, the default language for a native Korean would also be English, but if this currency exchange was in Mexico, the owner knew I was from the US, and could speak English, he’d address me in English but address the Korean in Spanish. It’s simply good business and the right thing to do. Proprietors who know their customer’s native language yet insist on speaking English to said person in the US earn my scorn.

    PS About my circular logic: I was merely echoing yours.

  42. Sonagi says:

    1) I expect Chinese people to speak to me and other non-northeast Asian foreigners in Chinese because we live in China, not to help us learn Chinese. It is about ACCEPTANCE as part of society and not marginalizing someone into a foreign language. By speaking Chinese in China and English in the US, I am being consistent. Foreigners in either country may choose to marginalize themselves by not learning the local language, but that is their loss, not mine.

    2) No, I don’t get the point. As fluent Korean speaker who first started learning Chinese in Korea alongside native Koreans, I’d like to address assumptions about similarities between Korean and Chinese:

    a) About 40% of Korean vocabulary can be written in Chinese characters. However, aa) basic vocabulary describing household objects, body actions, opposite adjectives, weather, animals, … are ‘pure Korean,’ not surprising since these words would have been created long before Koreans had any exposure to Chinese. A Korean learner of Chinese doesn’t hit the cognate goldmine until intermediate level.

    bb) some Sino-Korean words are ‘false friends;’ they differ from Chinese. For example, a bicycle in Korea is 自转去, pronounced “ja-jon-gaw” not 自行车. English and Spanish do have false friends, too.

    cc) The pronunciation of most Sino-Korean words differs enough, nevermind the fact that two totally different writing systems are used, that a speaker of one language would not understand even 5% of a conversation in the other. That is not the case with Western European languages. An English speaker who didn’t know a word of Spanish could pick out cognates and could comprehend a newspaper pretty well.

    dd) The BIGGEST difference is in syntax. English and Spanish share a very similar syntatical structure. Chinese and Korean do not. In fact, Chinese and Korean follow the same basic SVO order while Korean is SOV. This isn’t a big deal for simple sentences, but for more complex sentence patterns with multiple clauses, it can be difficult to transform thoughts in one language into another. An excellent example is this sentence pattern I learned in Chinese class in Korea:

    Chinese: 我让他练习汉字

    English: I had/made him practice Chinese characters.

    Korean: I him Chinese characters practice made.

    The Koreans were much slower on the draw than I was because it was more mental work on their part to turn a Korean thought into a Chinese utterance. English speakers enjoy a significant syntactical advantage over Korean speakers.

    ee) I wouldn’t expect you or any non-Korean speaker to be well-versed in differences among the languages. However, non-tonal Korean sounds NOTHING like Chinese, and Koreans in China certainly know that Chinese and Korean are structurally and grammatically so different, so Koreans praising Caucasians is silly.

    3) The shopkeeper bit. I appreciate that the shopkeeper who tells me in English “45 yuan” means no harm. That’s why I used the word “amused” to describe my feelings in the original comment that spurred this debate. As for “proprietors who know their customer’s native language yet insist on speaking English to said person earn my scorn:”

    a) Does knowing “hello” “goodbye” and numbers meet this criteria? If so, then virtually every Chinese employee under 40 we encounter in stores, restaurants, public transport, and elsewhere can greet and say numbers in English, yet most clerks and other employees spoke to me in Chinese. There is nothing scornful about a Chinese who knows a bit of English speaking Chinese to a foreigner in China, unless the foreigner is fresh off the boat or a tourist and doesn’t know a word of the language. Ditto for proprietors in the US or anywhere else.

    Richard, we obviously disagree about the use of token foreign language to foreign nationals. It’s not about right or wrong. It is a simple difference of opinion, and let’s leave it at that.

  43. John says:

    Sonagi and Richard,

    Yeah, this little side discussion was off-topic from the get-go. I have another post that discusses this exact topic called English only, please — this is China.

  44. Constance says:

    You know I’m really sick of all this crap that people keep saying about how ALL Asian people get eye surgery because they all have small slanted monolid eyes. I mean sure, there are probably people out there who have monolids and small slanted eyes but that doesn’t account for the entire population. I’m Asian or more percisely Chinese but that doesn’t mean I have a monolid or that I have small slanted eyes. I naturally have a double fold that doesn’t disappear when I open my eyes and so does everyone else in my family. It really depends on where you go in Asia. We can’t just go around generalizing this and that about a population when we’ve only seen a small portion of it. I mean take me for example, my eyes are actually round almost to the point of circular, kind of like weird walnuts and their an almost dark greenish brown. Does that mean I have small slanted monolid black eyes? I think not!

  45. maxiewawa says:

    I am half Chinese, half Australian. So as a consequence, I have ‘big’ eyes, and also had to put up with all my mum’s loud Chinese friends throughout my childhood.

    One “compliment” I used to get as a kid was,

    “哇,他的眼睛好大哦!“ (Wow, his eyes are so big!)

    I never realised it was a compliment, and was sometimes heard to respond (in English):

    “Oh yeah? Well your eyes are all thin and slanty, but I’m too polite to mention it!”

  46. mozmex says:

    Hi, I’ve never liked racial terms (as my people people have been victims of this), but recently in the past 6 years I’ve noticed quite an astounding amount of insensitivity on my Anglo neighbors’ parts, seems they think it’s funny to make racial jokes…granted that laughter is spontaneous but that doesn’t make the jokes right.

    My Japanese friend and I (he is 3rd gen from Hawaii) use the “round eye” term to refer those of the White Conservative community who are homophobic, bible thumping fear mongers that want everyone to have the same belief system that they do. So, I know “round eye” is wrong, but we figure let’s give have them earn the badge of “Round Eye” through their actions/words.

    BTW, none of my Japanese national friends even know the term exists…I am not sure what they use to refer to Anglos and their brethren, but I do know they use koko-jin to refer to people of African ancestry sometimes…is koko-jin wrong?, or is it just like when we say “negro” in Spanish?

  47. Mark says:

    I’ve heard many Chinese people talking about how westerners have “big eyes”, too. I think in this context they basically ARE saying “round eyes”, because that’s how they’re referred to in Chinese. Similarly, I’ve never heard a Chinese person say that westerners have “big noses”, as we would say. They say we have “high noses”.

    I’m not sure how much of this issue is culture and how much is just from the fact that stuff is expressed differently in Chinese.

  48. John says:

    Mark,

    I don’t think it’s the same thing, because Chinese people frequently say that other Chinese people (particularly women, like the one pictured in this post) have big eyes. It’s just not a racial thing.

    And I have heard the big nose comment (though not often).

  49. panda says:

    yea…everybody is created to be different.

  50. Steve C says:

    This post reminded me of a short article by Ms. Wu on the All-Look-Same website called The Mysteries of the Oriental Eye:

    (Scroll down the Ms. Wu archive and you’ll find it)

    Also, I went to a high school with a student body that was predominately Asian-American (in Gardena, California). I’m white, and the Asian kids would teasingly refer to me as big nose, or would refer to my height (my nickname was 木) but I don’t ever remember being called ’round eye.’ Interestingly enough, I heard the Asian kids call other Asians names like “dime slot”, referring to someone’s perceived ‘slanty’ eyes. But these kids were American, so they were probably just mimicking white American racial slurs.

  51. Scott says:

    Here in Taiwan, kids often ask me (in Chinese) why I have so much body hair. I tell them that it’s there to keep the mosquitos off of me (it does help, actually!). They also ask me why my nose is so big, but I haven’t come up with a good answer yet.

    I suspect that the phrase “round eyes” got written into the script of some Hollywood movie in the 40s or 50s, and got into the vocabulary in that way.

    • kriketykatnip says:

      tell them so you can breathe more air. lol. i’m jewish and always thought the slur was hilarious

  52. amanda says:

    My husband stands over 6 feet, has huge blue eyes. With a single eyelid! Its the darndest thing. No asians in his family tree ( that we know of ) I love his eyes. I love my childrens eyes they inherited. It makes me very angry when people say he has ” small eyes” just because he doesnt have a double eyelid! They are huge and beautiful. Bigger in fact than most double lidded peoples. But in this western society anything seen as different from the white norm is ‘wrong’ and minimalized.

    Though I admit, when he and my daughter smile with a single eyelid their eyes disappear !

  53. kwok-yin says:

    I guess it is not so true for everyone else, but for the most part my family only refers to white people as “round eyes” versus saying american or caucasian.

  54. nice says:

    In my opinion i dont find round eyes beautiful, to its thier own eh ! no pun intended….

    remember the “scary” round eyes of those run away bride in georgia ? those are one of the example of western eye.

  55. Joah says:

    Pretty crap how you said you don’t need to give a list there, but put a link to a list filled with inflammatory, hate-filled, not to mention speculative racial slurs.

  56. Ima Lush says:

    Actually, Asians do not prefer “round eyes”… In fact, that’s considered a sign of unattractiveness… Because goldfish have round eyes… and maybe certain breeds of dogs (like the shih-tzus & pekings!)

    But there are the awareness of slant eyes and beady eyes… and believe me, those are discriminated. Actually, slant eyes are okay, given if they are “large” (not round). Round eyes can be referred to “hooded eyes” or “droopy eyes” which is used to describe westerners (esp. the English).

  57. Ima Lush says:

    Also, far-east Orientals with really (suspiciously) large eyes are usually fake by surgery. That really only applies to 2 kinds: Japanese & Koreans.

    Large, natural eyes are more commonly found within the south-eastern types… particularly with the Indo-Asian groups. (They also have longer, thicker lashes too.)

    Chinese people are a toss-up. You have the long (slanty) Mongolian eye shape; then you have the larger, almond shaped eyes. In rare instances, you have the very large (western), but still almond-shaped, eyes.

    That’s just my visual observation.

  58. whoretta says:

    Just to clear something up: the original poster posted under double eyelid a link to “epicanthic fold”.

    That “fold” is not the double eyelid. There is a scientific name for double eyelid, which is the crease on the eyelids, but I do not remember it. An epicanthic fold is actually found in most Asians, some Central Asians, some African peoples, and Native Americans but hardly ever in Caucasians. The epicanthic fold is what makes an eye “Asian”. It is the bit of skin covering the inner corners of the eye. One may have an epicanthic fold and a crease at the same time. The double eyelid surgery Asian people often do actually preserves their ethnicity, since the crease is found in roughly 50% of Asians. However, to remove the epicanthic fold to reveal the inner corners of the eyes is considered as ‘westernizing’ the eye.

    P.S., the commenter above me is somewhat correct. Creased lids are very common in Southeast Asians (Cambodia, Malaysia, Vietnam, Phillipines), somewhat common in South China and Thailand, less common in Japan, and rare in Korea and Mongolia. These are my personal observations by the way. I hope no one finds it offensive!

    And about the origin of “roundeye”, I’m 99.9% sure that it’s Western in origin. As far as I’m concerned, most (if not all) cultures regard larger eyes as more or less attractive. So, White people “invented” or coined this term on themselves, since it isn’t derrogatory at all.

  59. yeahyeahyeah says:

    that girl on the picture looks gross im asian, and i have double eyelids and im sure that the girl had double eyelid surgery

  60. Master says:

    I dated a Japanese girl once. She was born and raised in Japan, and had only been in North America for a month.

    Lying together one night, she playfully stretched my eyes, making them slanted. I assumed she was trying to make me look asian. I laughed, and said: “Now I’m Japanese!”

    She pulled away and looked confused; she had no idea what I was talking about. I tried to explain about the eyes, and she adamantly disagreed. “No. It’s same.”

  61. Ding Dong Wang says:

    Thanks John. I’ve always been asking Chinese people how to say “round-eye” in their language and I never got an answer, I thought they were just trying to save face, but for once the truth is good news.

  62. Scott says:

    “…the Chinese around me have immediately commented on the person’s dark skin as being unattractive. The “white” terminology is probably another stupidity we have the US to thank for….”

    “…The whole reason for this post is the Western obsession with race….Given the obsession with racial identity in the West…”

    So racial predjudice originated in the West? Where in the West?

    When did the era of racial harmony end in non-Western continents?

  63. Jerad H. says:

    I don’t know why some of you want to act as though the racial terms “white” and “black” are entirely American creations. After all, the Portuguese and Spanish were the ones who called Africans “negroes,” meaning black, long before the US was even established. Even then, it would be foolish to assume that was the first instance where people ever referred to each other according to skin color. I do know that today it is probably the easiest racial classification for Americans because so many of us are of mixed origin. For example, I’m actually of Welsh, English, Scottish, Irish, German and Swedish descent. Therefore, unless someone wants to classify me as a European-American, it’s easier just to call me white.

  64. Jerad H. says:

    “…the Chinese around me have immediately commented on the person’s dark skin as being unattractive. The “white” terminology is probably another stupidity we have the US to thank for….”

    I know that it is chic to associate all bad things with the US but it is ludicrous to portray the racial terms “white” and “black” as entirely American creations. After all, the Portuguese and Spanish were the ones who originally called Africans “negroes,” meaning black, long before the US was even established. Even then, it would be foolish to assume that was the first instance where people ever referred to each other according to skin color or other generalized physical attributes.

  65. It drives me crazy when people call Chinese people “slanty-eyed.” When my Dad did this, I hold up a Jay Chou CD, point at his face, and say, “These are single eyelids.” Then, I point at my own eyes, and say, “These are double eyelids.” I don’t think he really got it, but since I draw people as a hobby, I can differentiate while drawing a portrait. I think he was even more confused when I explained that not all Chinese have them, though.

    Celebrities will pay for surgery to get double eyelids, though.

  66. gary says:

    i’m sad that asians want to change their eyes…i think they are beautiful…love yourself

  67. Donny says:

    The fact is for East Asians:

    50% of Chinese have natural double eyelids 50% of Japanese have natural double eyelids 25% of Koreans have natural double eyelids.

  68. jear says:

    i want to know some really good anti-caucasian jokes. anybody have a good one?

  69. margopogo says:

    Exactly what I feel/think.

    Asians never say “round-eye” as a racial slur. Except maybe really really westernized “AZN” american gangster kids or something like that.

    This “slur” was definitely created by White people, or American/Canadian born Asians. I also checked that site and round eye is not used by Japanese! What the hell?

  70. Donald says:

    I was stationed in Okinawa Japan for four years with the U.S. Navy, and there were many Bars and restaurants on the outskirts of okinawa that had signs in the windows that said word for word “no round eyes”. I saw it first hand, I was there for four years, i saw it alot. It does exist, although I never heard someone speak it, only written on signs.

  71. Lanski says:

    Round Eye comes from Vietnam! My uncle said his English speaking translator in Vietnam would say that to him and he would call him zipper head(joking with each other of coarse)!

  72. Mike Rowland says:

    I have lived in the Pacific rim for almost all my childhood and for many years of my adult life. I have been called round eye by many Asians. Most of those Asians lived in the US, but they were Asians. The truth is most Asians that called me names usually called me something a lot worse than round eye. I have also seen several Korean children, in Korea, use their fingers to open their eyelids to a rounder shape and say they were American. As for racial terms Black or White, biologically speaking there are three pure races: Caucasoid, Negroid, and Mongoloid. Caucasoid means peoples of the Caucasus. Mongoloid means people of Mongol and Negroid mean people who are black.

  73. Korango says:

    Good article, but coming from a non Asian living in Korea for nearly 4 years, Im gonna have to disagree with you about a few things;

    Asian people do see their eyes as different. I have brown eyes which are the same color as most Asian’s eyes and they constantly talk about how large and round my eyes are and how they wish they had them (not everyone says that).

    They do refer to non Asians as “round eyes”. Don’t try bs and say that they don’t. I here older folks using it before. Yes, they do say that.

    They have derogatory terms for Asians with very slanted eyes and they see it as a undesirable trait for the most part. I like very slanted eyes.

    Everything I say is true as I write this sitting in the middle of Korea with Korean wife sitting in the living room.

    If you have any questions about this topic feel free to ask me. Later!

  74. Myra says:

    As an Asian woman with larger, almond-shaped eyes, I never had a reason to think my eyes were so different from anyone else’s until this past week. Which is when I sat in a training session presented by our Hawaiian-Japanese product buyer who was also presenting an oval, eye shaped part, and a hispanic co-worker mimicked the slant-eye gesture when she wasn’t looking.

    It so happens that a hispanic girl next to her saw it and exclaimed “Omg, stop” and quickly smacked her on her arm. When I made a complaint about it later to my supervisor, the offending coworker turned on the waterworks, said she was simply pointing to her eye, and how dare I think that she was making that gesture. She then escalated this issue to the ( Caucasian) president of our company….who proclaimed that the company isn’t racist, and she defended her vigorously. To make matters worse, the other hispanic would not back up my complaint….saying that she had simply tapped the other girl’s hand to stop her from being rude while the presenter was talking! I was told that my complaint was creating a toxic environment and I was harshly dressed down verbally in front of my supervisor, the offender and the witness, and I was given a verbal warning.

    Keep in mind, I was only looking for an apology and was not threatening legal action. And I had never conplained about racism prior to this incident. Now I am a pariah in my office and considered (toxic) for speaking out. That is the reality for Asians in America….regardless of your eyelid size.

  75. tyson says:

    I think you hit the nail on the head. White people are racist and asians aren’t…

  76. Jackie says:

    Myra, you’re a troublemaking snitch. Just give her a personal lecture and leave it at that.

    • Thomas says:

      And Jackie, you’re one miserable, insecure disgrace. What Myra did was the right thing, she took action against an unprofessional employee. In a professional setting, that Hispanic employee should have been fired on the job and the company liable for an extremely heavy fine.

      If one were to poke fun at an African American’s dark skin and broad nose, at a Caucasians hairy, freckled skin and ugly giant nose or those, you know, or call a Hispanic an illegal alien, how do you think it would go? Even in jest?

  77. Sparrence says:

    I have only heard ’round eye’ used by whites in jest. The real racial slurs that oriental (not asian – they are Indian and Pakistani) people use for us are much worse. One of them that Chinese use, translates to calling us ‘barbarians’. Interesting that we are the barbarians when we’ve been using cutlery for centuries, we don’t slurp straight from a bowl, we don’t chew with our mouth open and spit unwanted pieces of food straight back onto the plate, or cough without covering our mouths, or spit in public. We have proven medicine, instead of grinding up endangered animals for unproven remedies, or simply as aphrodisiacs. We don’t blowtorch the hair off live intelligent animals like dogs and monkeys and eat them. We don’t bind our children’s feet up so the bones grow deformed and it hurts them to walk. Sure if we did all these things then we could be called barbarians.

  78. Hi says:

    Sparrence, you’re not exactly aware of European history are you. Europeans and Americans were literally barbarians just wandering around the forest when China was already developed and civilized.

  79. sarah says:

    Many north Europeans have epicanthic fold, almond eyes like asians. The term round eye can only accurately apply to every race except asian and white.

  80. Ben says:

    It’s a joke. We wonder what they are calling us when we go in an asian restaurant and they start talking. It’s partly a joke about our own self-importance…”they must be talking about us”!

    But the distinctive racial feature of asians is technically called the epicanthic fold. It’s not exactly a slanted eye, but it’s not a racist myth either.

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