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Interchangeable Asian Cultures
Masuka: Yo, what's up with you today? You're throwing off my Chi.
Dexter: You're not Chinese.
Masuka: I'm not?
Dexter

Non-Asians mistaking that all Asian peoples are of one particular ethnicity. It is most commonly applied to East Asian countries such as China and Japan, but confusion may set in between South Asian countries as well, like conflating India with the Middle East.

Asia is a large and culturally diverse place, but East Asian cultures often get lumped together into one general mishmash. This is not unique to Asia, however, as most people will do the same to African and European countries as well. People who are generally unfamiliar with the intricacies of Asian cultures will often confuse the country of origin of various phenomena, such as karate being a shortcut term for any Asian martial art, when karate is specifically Okinawan/Japanese in origin. In places where the Asian and Nerdy trope exists, Asians from a variety of different cultures will be lumped together in the same stereotype.

It's something of an ongoing controversy over whether people should be able to identify the ethnicity of Asian people based on their physical characteristics. Audiences sometimes react negatively when an Asian actor plays a character with a different ethnic ancestry, such as an actor of Japanese descent playing a Korean, because it carries the implication that Asian ethnicities are not physically distinguishable. However, other people (such as Margaret Cho) insist that ethnicity is not always so obvious to the naked eye, and that telling a Thai from a Tibetan can be as difficult as telling a Dane from a German.

Part of the problem is that many Americans, as in the case of African-Americans and Latinos (and, to a lesser extent, whites), insist on treating "Asian" itself as one big ethnicity. An especially common variant of this trope is "All Asians Are Chinese" - which, again, is understandable, both because Chinese (specifically, Cantonese) have been the most prolific immigrant group in the United States and because so many East Asian cultures (Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Thailand, Laos, etc.) were either culturally influenced by China or have languages that sound similar to a Chinese language.

Related to They Just Didn't Care and As Long as It Sounds Foreign. A Sub-Trope of Mistaken Nationality. Stepfather to the Far East. Compare Identical-Looking Asians, which is when a character in-universe fails to distinguish Asian individuals from each other.


Examples

    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • Hei, the protagonist of Darker Than Black is (probably) Chinese, but briefly poses as a Korean in the second season.
  • In Gosick, most of the Sauville residents guess wrongly on Kazuya's country of origin, the common answer among them being that he's Chinese. One kid even calls him "Mr. Chinese" despite Kazuya's vehemence and, when they introduce themselves properly, comments that his name is weird. This is hardly surprising, given the relative lack of international travel during The Roaring Twenties.
  • Rurouni Kenshin;
    • An apparently Japanese man turns out to be a Chinese feng shui practitioner.
    • Inverted when Kenshin finds a Western man waiting for him at home, he greets him with a "Bonjour." Turns out the man is actually German.
  • In Black Lagoon, Revy refers to Shenhua as "Chinglish" and is corrected and told that Shenhua is in fact, Taiwanese. Note that Revy is Chinese herself, though Chinese-American. And a New-Yorker at that. At one point in the story where another Chinese characters tries speaking to her in Cantonese Revy replies that she doesn't understand a word of it.
  • Likewise Inverted in Azumanga Daioh. In order to show off her English skills, Yukari goes up to a blonde, blue-eyed man and starts speaking English to him. Turns out he's German.
  • Inverted in Axis Powers Hetalia; at least twice, England is mistaken for an American. Germany and Prussia also sneak into America disguising themselves as Americans.
    Random man: Hmm...you look kinda German to me, you couldn't be...
    Germany: Hahaha! Well that's because I'm German-American! I'm just crazy for hamburgers! *American smile*
  • Inverted in one Ijiwaru Baa-san (Granny Mischief) strip: the title character watches a television report about the Apollo 11 lunar landing, and congratulates the first foreigner she sees in broken English. Unfortunately, said foreigner was Russian. Granny tries to pass off her action as "all foreigners look alike" while her neighbors accuse her of being offensive on purpose.
  • Inverted in Hajime No Ippo. Takamura says of a blond boxer that they know how to make them tough in America. When told he's Australian (America isn't even in the same division), Takamura just stutters "but... but he's white!"
  • Played With: Magic Knight Rayearth has Fuu pointing out how the various aspects of Fahren seem to be a bizarre mishmash of various Asian countries; which she then lists. Princess Asuka is not amused by the strange person from another world talking about countries she's never heard of.

    Comic Books 
  • There's a French comic where this is both evoked (a Chinese mook tells his [white] boss he can easily pass for a Korean) and inverted (another mook tells the boss that to Orientals, all whites look the same).
  • One of the dumber early Silver Age Captain America stories had Cap going to Vietnam and confronting a general who is a giant sumo wrestler. A sumo wrestler, the national sport of Japan, as a high officer in Vietnam less than 20 years after the despised Japanese occupation, sure.
  • Invoked in the first issue of Steelgrip Starkey and the All-Purpose Power Tool when a Jerkass construction foreman tries to identify Sharri Barnett's ethnicity using a variety of slurs (she's Filipino).
  • In the Teen Titans tie-in to Infinite Crisis, Risk ignorantly calls his Japanese teammate Bushido a "Chinese kid." Mirage quickly corrects him, but he dismissively replies "whatever."
  • In 1942 the US State Department developed a comic book for US personnel in China called "How to Spot A Jap." The book relied on stereotypical depictions of Japanese.
  • There's the Marvel character Leiko Wu, who is a Chinese woman with a Japanese first name.
  • The DC Comics Alternate Timeline Crisis Crossover event Flashpoint was criticized when a map of the world was released that listed an "Asian Capital" in China, since it fell into this trope.
  • An Animesque Avengers cover had Spider-Woman dressed as a Sailor Senshi, Cannonball dressed as a Super Sentai character and so on. The problem? The issue is set in Hong Kong, not Japan. The issue's artist, Mike Deodato, even made sure to distance himself and make it clear he did not illustrate the cover.
  • Lady Shiva, the fighter who taught Bruce Wayne the art of unarmed combat in the Batman comics, is usually depicted as Chinese and is sometimes given the improbable surname of "Wusan", but her title of "Shiva" is Hindu and describes the name of an Indian god (and a male god, no less). Just to add to the confusion, Shiva has in the past been drawn as a Caucasian woman, even when it's clear from the context that she is supposed to be Chinese, and actually grew up in Detroit Michigan.
  • In an old issue of Justice League Europe, The Flash bonded with the Japanese heroine Doctor Light. During their discussion, Flash said that his girlfriend Linda was also of Asian (Korean-American) descent, but quickly corrected himself and stated that he didn't mean to imply that all Asians are alike.
  • Early Iron Man Comics had the Mandarin (who is Chinese) using Karate (which is from Okinawa/Japan).

    Film 
  • 7 Faces of Dr. Lao:
    Fat Cowboy: ...Looks like a Jap to me.
    Toothless Cowboy: Naaaw. He's Chinese.
    Fat Cowboy: How do you know?
    Toothless Cowboy: 'Cause I ain't stupid!
  • Mentioned in Falling Down, when a police officer being asked to translate snarks that he is Japanese, unlike the robbed store owner who is Korean. This example is especially hilarious, as the Japanese cop was played by a Korean actor, while the Korean storeowner was played by a Chinese actor.
  • In Brain Smasher A Love Story, the Chinese assassination team is constantly having to say, "We are not Ninjas!" They are happy the one time someone else says it first. "They're not ninjas. They're Chinese." So happy that they don't beat any one up there.
  • Invoked in Harold And Kumar Go To White Castle, where Harold (who is Korean) is repeatedly mistaken for Chinese/Japanese. Kumar is Indian, but mistaken for Arab in the second movie (interesting, because there is much less of an ethnic link between Asian-Indians and Arabs than between Koreans and Chinese or Japanese).
    • Surprisingly, being correctly identified as Korean in the second film proves to be bad for Harold, as the inept Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security immediately assumes he's North Korean.
  • The Zero Gravity short film Cha Cha Chinaman drops this in at the beginning of Part 2.
  • Some people criticized Memoirs of a Geisha for casting Chinese and Korean actors in Japanese roles.
  • In Goldfinger, Harold Sakata (Japanese) plays Oddjob (Korean), even though in the book Goldfinger's Korean Mooks hate being called "Japs" by Americans.
  • In Angels Revenge, Keiko has a Japanese name and wields a katana, but is introduced as being from... Vietnam. Technically it's not impossible, but given the general intelligence level of this movie as a whole, it's far more likely that They Just Didn't Care.
  • The Mask of Fu Manchu shows all the peoples of Asia rallying behind the resurrected spirit of Genghis Khan who would lead them to conquer the West. Never mind that most Asians, including the Chinese, would view Genghis Khan as a foreign invader rather than a beloved leader.
  • In Christopher Lambert's J.F. Lawton's The Hunted (not to be mistaken for the more popular film of the same name) the very Chinese John Lone plays uber-ninja Kinjo. It isn't so bad at first, unless you can tell the difference between Hong Kong and Japanese accented English; but when the script calls for him to exchange dialogue with actual Japanese actors in Nihonggo, his lack of fluency becomes painfully obvious even to someone who only knows 3 words of Japanese.
  • In Bend It Like Beckham, Indian lead Jess gets yellow-carded when she reacts to being called a "Paki," which is a considered a horrific racial slur. Also, when her father complains about not being allowed to play cricket in his youth on racial grounds, she points out that Nasser Hussain is (at the time the film was made) captain of England. Her father says "He's a Muslim. They're different" — a line which there is an Ironic Echo of later in the film in an inversion of the trope, when her father disapproves of Jess having an English boyfriend:
    Jess: He's not English, he's Irish!
    Jess' father: It's the same thing!
  • The Karate Kid reboot movie is actually about a boy going to China and learning kung fu. The boy never does anything relating to the Japanese karate. It's basically an Artifact Title, though the it's at least handwaved in a Title Drop where Cheng uses it as an insult.
  • Played around with in the courtroom drama True Believer. A man on trial for murder was identified as the killer in a lineup. His defense attorney tries to get the cop who supervised the lineup to admit that all of the other people in it were Chinese, while the defendant is Korean, which could have helped set him apart from the decoys. The question is stricken by the judge, however, who rules that the detective is not an expert in ethnicity and could not distinguish between them by sight alone.
    • Also, he was accused of committing a murder to get into a Chinese-American gang, which no one seems to find odd.
  • In the original Iron Man comic book, Tony Stark met professor Yinsen in Vietnam during the Vietnam war. Now, Yinsen is a Chinese rather than Vietnamese name, but the comic book character comes from a fictional place called "Timbetpal," so it's at least possible he is of Chinese descent. However, the origin of Iron Man was later retconned so that he met Yinsen while both of them were being held captive by terrorists in Afghanistan. The Iron Man 1 movie follows the retconned origin story, except that in it Yinsen comes from a village in Afghanistan and clearly looks like a man of Middle Eastern descent (he's played by the Iranian-American actor ), but inexplicably he still has a Chinese name.
    • They tried to handwave this by parsing it as Yin Sen, making it look like two names. However, this does not make it any more of an Afghan name than before.
  • Played for comedy in Black Dynamite, in which Vietnam War veteran Black Dynamite recalls a mortally wounded Viet Cong child and repeatedly calls him Chinese. He doesn't seem to be aware that Vietnam is not in China. And later in the movie, Black Dynamite is revealed to be a fluent speaker of Mandarin.
  • Gung Ho is about American factory workers and Japanese auto executives learning to work together. The phrase "gung ho" is actually derived from Chinese words meaning "work together." Ironically, it was coined as an Americanism by soldiers in WWII who were fighting the Japanese.
  • Lampshaded and mocked in The Tuxedo after his character, Jimmy Tong, comes close to getting the crap beat out of him by an angry bike messenger:
    Jimmy's friend: Hey, I thought all you Chinese people knew karate.note 
    Jimmy: Not everyone Chinese is Bruce Lee.
  • In Street Kings, Ludlow invokes this to goad the Korean gangsters into beating him up and stealing his car.
    Thug Kim: Konnichiwa is Japanese. It's insultin' to Koreans.
    Ludlow: How am I supposed to tell if you can't?
    Thug Kim: Fuck's that supposed to mean, white boy?
    Ludlow: It means you got eyes like apostrophes, you dress white, talk black and drive Jew, so how am I supposed to know what kind of zipperhead, dog-munching dink you are if you don't?
    Boss Kim: Yo. Do you know who the fuck we are?
    Ludlow: Yeah. A couple of panheads buyin' a machine gun out of a trunk.
  • Korean-American actor Will Yun Lee plays the Japanese villain Kenuichio Harada in The Wolverine.
  • Cannonball Run 2 brings back Jackie Chan who, in Cantonese, orders a drink at an American bar. Nonplussed, the bartender raises his voice: "Does anyone here speak Oriental?"
  • On a Western promotional poster for the Chinese film Hero, Jet Li's character holds a katana.
  • In the 1942 Jungle Book, the jungle of the title (which is in central India) includes an old Buddhist temple on a lake that is guarded by a gigantic cobra. This is justifiable, since, while Buddhism (except for Tibetan Buddhism) has pretty much disappeared from India in the modern era, there were many Buddhist temples in India in ancient times. The real problem has to do with Mowgli's village, where the women wear saris (common throughout India) but their husbands wear turbans (the traditional headgear of the Sikhs, who live only in northwestern India!). Of course, there has been intermarriage between Hindus and Sikhs, but even then it would be extremely unlikely for the villagers to wear both traditional costumes, or for them to be gender-specific.
  • In Sushi Girl, a Japanophile crook has built what he intends to be a Japanese-themed lair, but one of his comrades notes that the actual decor is "a little Ming Dynasty."
  • In Battleship, Hopper repeatedly thinks the Japanese Nagata should know the Chinese book The Art of War just because he's Asian. On the other hand, Chinese warfare was (and still is) extensively studied in Japan, and Medieval Japanese texts are full of references to the Chinese military tracts and the feats many heroes achieved to get access to them. Then there's the little matter that The Art of War remains a required reading in almost every Military Academy on the planet despite its agenote , so Hopper's expectations are quite justified.
    • On the other hand, Nagata understands the book far better than Hopper. Ironically, it's Hopper's misinterpretation of the text that saves the day.
  • In Cradle 2 the Grave, Jet Li plays a Taiwanese Intelligence agent named Su sent to the US to retrieve a stolen shipment of "black diamonds" (actually, synthetic plutonium). When Su and Fait go to see "Jump" Chambers, a crime lord currently serving a sentence in his luxurious cell, Chambers tries to speak to Su only to be informed by Su that he doesn't speak Korean. Chambers just shrugs, saying that one of his Korean hookers taught him a few phrases. In this case, it's obvious that Chambers just doesn't care.
  • Big Fish: Edward's flashback to his war career has him parachuting in to a deliberately vague military camp in Asia. The logos and uniforms are made up, the time period isn't given, and Edward pre-parachuting is even reading a book called "How To Speak Asian". The Asian actors in this scene also speak different languages; the puppeteer speaks Tagalog, the soldier who escorts him offstage speaks Mandarin Chinese, the twins speak Catonese, and the other soldiers speak Korean. This was done to keep the scene from setting itself in a specific war, and also possibly because Edward, as an American, might not be able to tell the difference between different Asian cultures.
  • Another Tim Burton film, Beetlejuice, has a subversion. The Deetzes order Chinese food for their first night in the Maitlands' rural Connecticut home. Delia, who is a highly cultured New York yuppie (or at least thinks she's highly cultured), is disgusted that the only Chinese restaurant in town offers Cantonese cuisine (from southeastern China) when she wanted Szechuan fare (from southwestern China).

    Literature 
  • In the James Bond novels:
    • In Goldfinger, the title antagonist describes Karate as "a branch of judo." In the same book, one of his Korean mooks fights several US servicemen for calling him a "Jap."
    • In You Only Live Twice, Tiger Tanaka insults Bond for talking about Ming dynasty Japanese art.
  • Carefully averted in the Jules Verne novel Around the World in Eighty Days. When Passepartout arrives in Japan, the narration makes a point of mentioning how different the Japanese and Chinese are in appearance.
  • Terry Pratchett's Agatean Empire (part of the Discworld) deliberately confuses Chinese elements (great wall, one syllable family names like Hong etc) and Japanese ones (Sumo, Ninjas) as well as Western pseudo-Oriental things such as fortune cookies and Willow Pattern plates. It is a parody, after all.
    • A possible straight example is Klatch, which is generally a Fantasy Counterpart Culture of the Middle East, or at least the Arabian Nights variant. But Klatchian cuisine is generally suggested to be Indian/Chinese. Possibly justified by the later retcon that Klatch is both a country and a continent.
  • From Our Dumb World's entry on Japan: "1942: Japan watches on in embarrassment as a confused U.S. first blames Chinese, then Korean, Taiwanese, Vietnamese, and finally even Hawaiian forces for the strike on Pearl Harbor." Also, from their entry on China: "1999: NATO mistakenly bombs the Chinese embassy in Yugoslavia, claiming all the buildings look exactly the same."
  • Portrayed in Snow Crash when a mafioso uses the slur "nips" when referring to Asians and another character corrects him, saying that the word is short for Nipponese and would only refer to the Japanese.
  • In Karen Chance's Curse the Dawn, a cross-dresser says "I'd bind my feet up like a geisha" in order to fit into a pair of designer shoes.
  • J. K. Rowling used fairly stereotypical names for most of the characters in Harry Potter, but Cho Chang ended up being accused of this trope (since she was described as Chinese, but while "Chang" is a common Chinese surname, "Cho" is a Chinese/Korean surname, or a Japanese given namenote ).

    Live Action TV 
  • Mash:
    • Japanese-American Pat Morita appears as a South Korean officer, while Japanese actor Mako appears as a Chinese doctor and a South Korean interrogator. There's a great deal of Fake Nationality in the series. Plus, this gem:
    Frank Burns: When are you going to learn about Chinese treachery? Didn't Pearl Harbor teach you anything?
  • Kung Fu: (Half) Chinese Kwai Chang Caine tries to explain the difference between a Shaolin monk and a Ninja with little comprehension from the white folk.
  • Parodied (but played straight) in Glee. In "Throwdown," Sue splits the glee club in two and takes the minority students. Being Sue, she calls African-American members Mercedes and Matt "Aretha" and "Shaft" respectively, before moving on to Asian-American Tina (Chinese) and Mike (Chinese): "Asian" and "Other Asian." This gets carried forward where, in the later episode "Ballads," when the club take names out of a hat to find their partners for ballads Tina picks "Other Asian." When they eventually become a couple everything they do, from dating to family meetings, is prefaced with the adjective "Asian," including "Asian Couples Therapy." Tina wonders why the couples therapy needs to be Asian. Later, when Sunshine Corazon (Filipino) considers joining the team, only to be mistreated by Rachel, Tina and Mike confront her and, when they are asked how they even heard about the situation, explain that the Asian community is very close.
    • Also played straight in that Tina is implied to be Chinese even though her actress, Jenna Ushkowitz is Korean-American. Mike is Chinese (like Harry Shum Jr, his actor) but the actress that plays his mom is Japanese and the actor that plays his father is Korean.
  • In Arrow, the Green Arrow villain Shado is depicted as being of Chinese descent despite being Japanese in the original comics. Her name is even Japanese, not Chinese.
  • Subverted in an episode of Touched by an Angel. An Asian woman is asked to act as a Chinese translator on a business trip to China, only for her to become offended and assert that she is Korean. Turns out, she really is Chinese, but was forced to flee the country after the Cultural Revolution.
  • In an episode of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, a Chinese actor was able to pose as a Japanese man in a con involving a fake Japanese sword.
  • Vincent Masuka on Dexter occasionally does this to himself, referring to all Asians as "my people" and setting up a Buddhist shrine for good luck, only shrugging after Dexter asks if the Japanese are traditionally Shinto. Also, the actor who plays Masuka is actually Korean-American.
  • A number of Chinese period dramas, especially those set in World War 2, feature Chinese characters impersonating Japanese people with little issue. For example, one show had two female Chinese freedom fighters successfully impersonating a pair of Geisha after stealing the women's kimonos and leaving them Bound and Gagged in a closet.
  • When Jack and Toshiko are sent back to World War II in Torchwood, Tosh is a little miffed to be mistaken for Chinese. Although the fact that she told them she's Japanese when Japan was an Axis power could have gone badly, if not for Jack's "she's a codebreaker for the Allies" explanation.
  • In an episode of Psych, Shawn takes a wushu lesson and tells the master that he always wanted to learn karate. The (Chinese) master is furious and tells him that wushu is completely different from karate, which Shawn, being a Jerkass, ignores. He also calls the master sensei, which is a Japanese word, as opposed to shifu.
  • The Pacific: episode nine features angry confrontations over the rights of the Okinawan civilians versus the Imperial Japanese soldiers ("A Jap's a Jap!" one Marine protests).
  • LOST: Happens in-story several times to Sun and Jin, who are Korean. Hurley refers to them as "the Chinese people" before he learns their true nationality. A flashback to the airport reveals a white couple making a reference to Memoirs of a Geisha (Japanese) in relation to them. Also, in "This Place is Death," when Jin asks Charlotte to translate, knowing that she speaks Korean, Sawyer assumes he means Miles (Chinese) and encourages him to help, to which Miles replies "Dude, he's Korean, I'm from Encino."
  • Invoked on FlashForward (2009), when a woman describes herself saying in her flash-forward that she needs to talk to "Agent Noh, or one of those names that's Vietnamese or Chinese or something..." Cut to Noh, who informs her with open annoyance that it's Korean.
  • Law & Order: Criminal Intent had an episode written to feature a wealthy Kashmiri family involved in that region's struggle for secession. The episode was, for one reason or another (presumably news-related) rewritten to be about a Tamil family involved in the Sri Lankan separatist movement. They didn't change the cast and they didn't change the character names, leaving some viewers wondering how a prominent Tamil political leader would be called Bela Khan (a Muslim name-she also wears a hijab at times, while the Sri Lankan Tamils are Hindus) and look like near enough to being white (the actress, Indira Varma, is only half Indian).
  • The Walking Dead episode "Vatos," provides the page quote.
    Merle: I nearly killed the Chinese kid.
    Daryl: He's Korean!
    Merle: Whatever, man.
  • Golden Girls includes a few instances of this, notably in the episode where Rose goes back to school to get her GED (with Dorothy as a class instructor). In taking attendance, Dorothy calls out the name "Jim Shu" and then mistakes it for a practical joke involving homophones ("Gym Shoe"). As Dorothy dismisses the name as a prank, an Asian American man stands up and identifies himself as "Jim Shu." Shortly thereafter, "Jim Shu" hits on Rose, who sits in front of him, by asking her to "meet me at Benihana after class" and later telling Dorothy that he couldn't "drink [enough] sake" to fool around with her. "Shu" is typically a Chinese name, while all of the character's "Asian" cultural references (Benihana, sake) are Japanese. Of course, the actor, Ralph Ahn, was Korean.
  • Played for laughs in an episode of Scrubs where the Janitor tricks JD into using the word "chink" in front of the Asian Franklin (it was the answer to a crossword puzzle). Throughout the rest of the episode every other Asian doctor in the hospital is shown glaring at JD as he walks past. JD then leaves a $30 tip at a Chinese restaurant.
  • On Sabrina the Teenage Witch, a Chinese food delivery man hears Salem talk and captures him, saying that a talking cat will make him enough money that he can move back to Japan. Salem wonders aloud why a Japanese man is working at a Chinese restaurant, only for the guy to sarcastically ask why a cat is talking.
  • A 1980 episode of The Muppet Show famously Flanderized the entire continent of Asia. Right after Kermit the Frog announces to the audience that the gang is going to be reenacting A Thousand and One Nights (or The Arabian Nights, as Kermit refers to it), a Chinese gong goes off, provoking laughter from the audience. Later, a random Muppet sings about going to Bombay and meeting a "sentimental Oriental" who is supposed to be a Hindu, but dresses like an Arabian harem girl and is played by the Ambiguously Jewish Muppet "Wanda." Furthermore, her love interest is a "whirling dervish," referencing the Sufi Islamic sect that exists in Turkey, Iran, and certain other countries, but not really India. Later, during the depiction of "Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves," Ali Baba and his horse are shown traveling through what looks to be a jungle - even though tropical rain forests are nowhere to be found near Arabia.
  • In Star Trek, the character Sulu was supposed to represent all Asian cultures, so Gene Roddenberry deliberately gave him a name that is not nationally specific, taking it from the Sulu Sea, which touches all the shores of Asian nations. He was eventually revealed to have a Japanese given name. He's been played by a Japanese-American, George Takei, and a Korean-American, John Cho.
  • Played for comedy in Eastbound And Down when Ashley Schaeffer entertains some Korean business executives with Japanese food and a cross-dressing geisha dancer. In the series finale, he admits his error and says that the Koreans were very offended.
  • Averted in Tomorrows Rejects. When Keiren is introduced to Phil Nguyen at his job interview, he said that he could tell just by looking at him that he's of Vietnamese descent, which impresses Phil so much that he gives him the job. Keiren later admits to Gilligan that Nguyen is the Vietnamese equivalent of someone with the surname Smith. In fact, it's estimated that up to 40% of the Vietnamese population have this surname.
  • In the first episode of the British sitcom Bad Education, teacher Alfie Wickers, who dishes out most of the titular bad education, makes his class do a reenactment of the Battle of Pearl Harbour. He gives Asian student Jing Chow the role of a Japanese soldier, even putting a Rising Sun headband on her. He is soon reminded that "She's Chinese, you muppet!"
  • In Code Lyoko: Evolution, Yumi Ishiyama, a Japanese girl, is played by Mélanie Tran, a Vietnamese actress. That is an example in and of itself-her casting call was for an Asian. But another one is the reaction of some fans against her who said that she looked "too white" to play Yumi, perhaps not knowing that the Vietnamese don't look like the Japanese because they're two different ethnic groups.
    • The complaint about an actor playing a Japanese character being "too white" is odd by itself anyway, because in Real Life Japanese people display a surprising variety of complexions, from a peaches-and-cream one that would make any Nordic die of envynote , to the swarthiest of them. Because Japanese ethnic makeup is actually a hodgepodge of various historical settlers and conquerors, containing Paleoasiatic, Malay, Korean, Tunguso/Altaic, Polinesian and whatever else elements, this extends to the facial features as well.
  • In the NCIS episode "Lost at Sea" the JAG lawyer Nora Patel is played by Linda Park, a Korean-American actress (who also fell into this trope as Japanese Hoshi Sato in Star Trek: Enterprise). Patel is a name typically used by Indians of Hindu background, though she could've been adopted.
  • Parodied on 3rd Rock from the Sun. As an alien, Dick can't tell the difference between different races of humans:
    Nina: In case you haven't noticed, I'm black!
    Dick: Well, of course I noticed! And Dr. Albright, you are...
    Mary: Could I be any whiter?
    [Dick looks back and forth between them]
    Dick: I'm sorry, you people all look alike to me.
  • On a Shark Week special, Craig Ferguson joked that he has "Small Chinese Feet" because his parents bound them, since they wanted him to be the first Scottish Geisha.
  • Done on Community, by of all people...
    Chang: Are you ignoring me because I'm Korean?
    Shirley: You're Chinese.
    Chang: Oh there's a difference?
  • In Victorious Wing Lee runs a Chinese restaurant named Wok Star in early episodes; later she opens Nozo, a Japanese sushi restaurant. This is lampshaded by Tori, who asks her which ethnicity she is.
  • In an episode of Malcolm in the Middle, Reese tries to mail himself to China so he can beat up his penpal for not sending him nunchakus signed by the Emperor.
  • In the episode of Shortland Street where Li Mei (who is Chinese) first appeared, Waverly welcomed her with a big platter of raw fish - which is a lot like welcoming a French person with bratwurst and sauerkraut. Li Mei was, naturally, insulted.
  • In an episode of Just Shoot Me!, Elliot manages to mistake a Japanese-American advertiser for the Chinese takeout delivery guy, then when Jacks to arrange an apology later...he mistakes a different man, who's Chinese-American and has worked for him for years (but he never noticed), for the first guy. The two meet in the elevator later, with the Chinese-American man commenting "Must be the year of the jackass."

    Music 
  • The Doobie Brothers song "China Grove" is about a Chinatown in Texas. It also mentions a samurai sword, which would be Japanese.
    • This was almost certainly done on purpose; the real China Grove is an obscure mostly-Anglo suburb of San Antonio with a 0.08% Asian population.
  • There is a song by a bubblegum dance group called Banaroo. They have a song called "Hong Kong Song," which, in the lyrics, mentions samurais, geishas, kimonos (which were technically derived from Chinese garments, so that can be overlooked) and uses a lot of vaguely Asian-sounding words. This all results in sentences like, "The lonely construction worker." WHY.
  • All over the fucking place in "China in her Eyes" by Modern Talking.

    Tabletop RPG 
  • When the World of Darkness had its "Year of the Lotus" event where it released Asian-themed material for its gamelines (Kindred of the East in particular), it treated the entirety of East and Southeast Asia as the generic "Middle Kingdom"—actually an epithet for China—with only lip service to cultural distinctions between the various countries.
  • Sahud in Banestorm. Justified in that they came from disparate parts of Asia and were thoroughly mixed.

    Theater 
  • Avenue Q — "Tried to work in Korean deli / But I am Japanese." Or in the Australian performance, "tried to work in Chinese restaurant." The actress in the Australian performance was Filipino.

    Video Games 
  • Invoked in Guilty Gear: Anji Mito is a Japanese person (in this "verse," their race was almost wiped out in a war with the eponymous Gears, and are placed in protective colonies throughout Asia supposedly for their own safety) who takes up the guise of a Chinese person in order to travel freely.
  • In Fallout 3's Mothership Zeta expansion, Paulson (a 19th century cowboy) refers to Toshiro Kago (a 16th century Samurai) as a "Chinaman" until he is corrected.
  • At one point in Earthbound, a museum curator refers to Poo as a samurai. While Poo does come from the typical Asian-Fantasy Counterpart Culture-in-an-otherwise-Western-world, it subverts the Wutai trope by making it have more in common with India and Sri Lanka than Japan or anywhere else. This being Earthbound, it's likely that the curator just didn't know any better. But then again, despite being from a takeoff South Asia, Poo is a martial artist with slanted eyes and wears a gi...
  • Blizzard Entertainment offended its Chinese fans by giving the Pandaren—a race of humanoid pandas in Warcraft—a Japanese-ish culture complete with samurai in concept art. In the real world, pandas are the national animal of China and the only place in the world where they can be found wild. Blizzard quickly gave the race Chinese markings.
  • For the early Mortal Kombats Midway had trouble keeping the races of the Asian characters straight, which is why you have things like Chinese Ninja and the series' main character (a Chinese Shaolin Monk) being named after a Japanese samurai in preproduction and the like. Later games retconned all of this to make sense to a certain degree. This is also likely why all of the Asian characters yell gibberish when they utter battle cries.
  • The portrayal of Wutai in Final Fantasy VII seems to suggest that the Japanese get traditional Japanese and Chinese culture mixed up just as much as Americans do.
    • It may go further: in the same world exist multiple towns and cities that are divided between very clearly North American-style center and a suspiciously Northern European periphery (the largest one, Midgar, being the principle location of the game). Where might this be going?
  • Age of Empires II gives Japanese-style buildings to all East Asian civilizations included in the game: Japanese, Chinese, Korean and Mongol. The Age of Empires III expansion The Asian Dynastyes, which brought Chinese and Japanese civilizations, had them using completely different sets of buildings and also units.
  • Tzar: The Burden of the Crown only has three civilizations: "European", "Arabic" and "Asian". Asians have access to a mix of Japanese and Chinese units like ninjas, foot and mounted samurai, Shaolin monks and priests, towers firing primitive rockets and war chariots based off the ones found in Qin Shi Huangdi's tomb (even though the game's setting is loosely Medieval). They are also the only civilization that can train dragons, but they are Western rather than Eastern-style dragons.
  • One mission in Hitman: Absolution takes place at Chinatown during the Chinese New Year, yet you can find a katana as a weapon.
  • The Aspari Corporation, of Syndicate 2012, is a mix of Chinese and Japanese. On the one hand, they use Mandarin in their signage and propaganda, the decorum of their buildings has Chinese influence and many of their employees (most notably your initial target for the missions featuring them) are either Chinese or Chinese-American. On the other hand, in the intel reports their center of power is stated to be Tokyo, there are several prominent advertisements of a geisha in their commercial district, their security forces wear armor stylized after samurai armor, and the Enemy Agent who serves as the section's final boss is a Japanese-American named Tatsuo Hamilton. This is justified in-game since the Aspari (or Asia Pacific Rim) Corporation was founded from a conglomeration of Chinese MegaCorps and Japanese Zaibatsus and, as national and cultural identity has given way to corporate identity by 2069, there would likely have been some cultural melding by that point.

    Webcomics 

    Web Original 
  • The YouTube video 500 Impressions in 2 Minutes is based on this — since "all Asian people look the same," for one Asian guy to impersonate another is trivial.
  • Cracked: #5 of this list.
  • On the Instance and all his other podcasts, Scott Johnson often uses a generic Cantonese-ish accent in his impression of "Ding Pong," a fictional World of Warcraft gold-seller. This trope is invoked because he often mentions that the "real" Ding Pong is his adopted brother, who is Korean. Note: I am 99% sure he knows the difference.
  • Many a Sickipedia joke, such as this one. However, they actively try to be offensive.
  • In The Rap Critic's review of "Just Can't Get Enough", just after Fergie says "I love you long time so you know the meanin'" and the Critic points out the line was originally used by a Vietnamese prostitute offering herself:
    "The cameraman's sister": I'm offended by this line.
    Critic: You're not Vietnamese.
    Girl: Who cares? All Asians are the same!
  • Parodied in the flash movie "The End of the World". The US launches a nuke at China, and China is shown to have cultural elements of Japan, including a large wooden bath tub, and a conspicuously large flag of Japan.
  • The music video for the ARK Music Factor song "Chinese Food" (the same guys who produced Friday) makes a ton of cultural mixups, such as Japanese geishas dancing at one point, or the restaurant more resembling a Mongolian grill than one for Chinese food.

    Western Animation 
  • Code Lyoko: In the prequel "XANA Awakens," Yumi Ishiyama yells a few times at people that she is Japanese when they mistake her for being Chinese.
  • Parodied on Catscratch, when Blik and Gordon both try to win the same trip to China. They call China things like the "land of cherry trees" or "the land of miso soup." Every time they do this, Waffle calls them out, saying "That's Japan." Ironically, he gets it wrong when Gordon calls China "the land of French fries." Waffle guesses, "That's... (beat) Canada?"
  • King of the Hill:
    • Hank Hill and his friends can't wrap their head around their neighbor Khan Souphanousinphone not being either Chinese or Japanese, even after he corrects them:

      Hank: So, are you Chinese or Japanese?
      Kahn: I live in California last twenty years, but first come from Laos.
      Hank: Huh?
      Kahn: Laos. We Laotian.
      Bill: The ocean? What ocean?
      Kahn: We are Laotian! From Laos, stupid! It's a landlocked country in South East Asia between Vietnam and Thailand, okay? Population 4.7 million!
      (Beat)
      Hank: So, are you Chinese or Japanese?
    • Subverted with Hank's father, Cotton Hill, who is able to identify Khan as Laotian without ever being told. His experiences in World War II likely helped. He is very racist (which, by the way, isn't even his most reprehensible character trait) and goes so far as to identify Khan as Laotian by smell, and then immediately assumes he's Hank's servant.
    • In another episode, Ted Wassonasong (also Laotian) speaks to another Asian man, Mr. Ho, in Cantonese, and Hank asks Khan what they're saying. Khan angrily retorts that they're speaking Chinese, so how is he supposed to know?
  • In the Japan episode of Total Drama World Tour, Chris wore a Chinese costume. Harold called him out on it (though oddly, didn't seem to care that they were also using pandas).
  • South Park
    • Parodied in "City Sushi" when a Japanese sushi restaurant opens next door to City Wok. The residents of the town refer to both restaurants as "Chinese" — and to the area where both restaurants are situated as "Little Tokyo" — much to the frustration of the owners, who are violently racist toward each other. The owners put aside their differences to educate residents on Asian cultural diversity in the hopes that residents will come to share their hatred of the others' culture. Ultimately it's revealed that the Chinese guy is actually a white man with multiple personality disorder.
  • Ironically played straight in Code Monkeys, where Japanese businessman Matsui mistakes the Korean Benny for Chinese and gets called out on it.
  • In a review of the animated The King and I, the reviewer mentions that Crown Prince Chululongkorn practices kung fu, when as a Siamese prince he'd be much more likely to be a student of Muay Thai. And, indeed, if you watch that particular scene, you'll notice that Chululongkorn has taped-up fists, which are more commonly associated with Muay Thai than kung fu.

    Real Life 
  • In the 19th century, the Filipino patriot Jose Rizal (who is himself of mixed Malay/Chinese blood) once pretended to be a Japanese in a European museum, answering questions about Japanese artists and culture. He didn't know one word of Japanese at that time. When a member of the audience asked him to translate the words on a painting, he got away with by saying that because of his supposed background (was shipped to Europe to learn about European culture very well), he didn't have time to learn Japanese. Looks like he did it For the Lulz.
  • After the Pearl Harbor attack, anti-Japanese sentiment in the US reached literally murderous levels. Asian-Americans who were not of Japanese descent often took steps to distance themselves from Japanese-Americans to escape spillover persecution.
    • Often, many Asian-Americans would wear buttons that said "I'm Chinese" (or any other Asian ethnicity) to avoid deportation. Japanese-Americans often tried to pass themselves off as such, too.
    • LIFE magazine published an article called "How to Tell Japs from the Chinese". The features of Han Chinese, who apparently represent all Chinese ethnicities in the article, are described as fine and graceful, while Japanese are described as mostly "aboriginal." (Ironically, linguistic studies have since suggested that the Chinese, not the Japanese, are more closely linked ethnically to Native Americans and Eskimos/Aleuts; the Japanese tend to be linguistically linked to "civilized" peoples such as the Turks, the Hungarians, and the Finnish.)
    • Similarly, TIME magazine published "How to Tell Your Friends from the Japs" after the Pearl Harbor attack.
    • These were parodied (can't remember where) by an image claiming to be from a Japanese pamphlet to help Japanese soldiers distinguish their allies the Germans from their enemies the Americans. The supposed German was very much from the Kaiser Wilhelm era, complete with bushy mustache and spiked helmet.
  • When political pundit Michelle Malkin wrote a book in defense of Japanese-American internment during World War II, her critics noted that, given her Philippine ethnicity, she might have been lumped in with Japanese-Americans herself due to this trope. Malkin is frequently the victim of racial slurs from trolls on her site, many of which involve China or Vietnam.
  • The tragic murder of Vincent Chin, a Chinese-American who was murdered by Chrysler plant workers who blamed Japanese automakers for taking their business. The outrage over the lenient sentencing of the murderers was a catalyst for the political organization of Asians in America.
  • Thienh Minh Ly, a Vietnamese-American, was stabbed and killed by two white youths, one of whom wrote in his journal that he "killed a jap ..."
  • Since the 9/11 attacks the number of hate crimes against Sikhs in the US skyrocketed in number as many Sikh immigrants from the Indian subcontinent and their families were mistaken for Arab-American Muslims and horrifically beaten. This most likely relates to clothing customs: Sikhs are required to wear a turban by the customs of their religion. Many Westerns don't know the difference between Sikhs and Arabs, and typically associate turbans with Arabs. After the tragic shooting of a Sikh temple in Milwaukee in 2012, an image went viral stating, "I was gonna post something explaining the difference between Hindus, Sikhs, and Muslims, but then I realized that you don't need to know anything about someone's religion to know that you shouldn't shoot them."
    • Also in the aftermath of 9/11, a family of ethnic Greeks living in Jacksonville, FL were beaten up by thugs who thought they were Arabs. Hey, dark skin is dark skin, right?
    • When Nina Davuluri became the first Indian American Miss America in 2013, racist morons unsurprisingly went online to complain about an "Islamic terrorist" hijacking the pageant. To point out that the majority of Indians—including Ms. Davuluri—are actually Hindu would imply that hating her would be justified if she was Muslim.
  • A common joke in Russian and American anime fandom is to call anime "Chinese pornographic cartoons" or "Chinese devil porn" after one utterly clueless and sensationalist newspaper report.
  • For the 2011 The Green Hornet movie, The Internet Movie Database at one point listed Korean-American John Cho as Kato, when in fact the role was played by Taiwanese pop star Jay Chou. About 500 subsequent movie reviews have also committed the same error. Cho himself joked on Twitter: "I am beginning to suspect that I am not in the Green Hornet movie."
  • Actor Daniel Dae Kim, who played the Korean Jin on LOST, reportedly said that having played characters of every Asian ethnicity except his own it was nice to be able to play Jin.
  • Yoshiko Otaka (AKA Yoshiko Yamaguchi, Shirley Yamaguchi), is a Japanese actress-turned-politician who was born in Japanese-occupied Manchuria. Speaking fluent Chinese and Japanese, she became an actress and singer under the name Li Xianglan, and played Chinese women in propaganda films supporting the Japanese position. Her Japanese nationality was not reported in China, and most Chinese people at the time really did believe she was Chinese. She became one of the "Seven Great Singing Stars" of 1940's Chinese shidaiqu popular music, and several of the songs she recorded under this identity (夜來香, "Tuberose"/"Fragrance of the Night" for example) became enduring classics. After the war, she was arrested for treason and collaboration with the occupying Japanese, but cleared of all charges and simply deported. As a Japanese citizen, she was legally an enemy (subject to deportation), not a traitor (punishable by death).
  • During the bombing of Pearl Harbor, a downed Japanese pilot landed on the island of Niihau and was approached by a native Hawaiian. The pilot's first English words to the man were, "Are you Japanese?" (nearly 30% of the population of the islands were ethnic Japanese at the time).
  • You don't even have to be Asian for the trope to affect you. During World War II, Navajo soldiers (Code Talkers and otherwise) were often deliberately assigned to units with whites. Code Talkers had bodyguards (who had orders to shoot them to prevent their capture), but ordinary Navajos were told to stick close to white people so other Americans wouldn't mistake them for Japanese (Navajos are very Asian-looking, though darker-skinned than most East Asians).
  • Many Chinatowns in any major city will feature stores targeting other Asian cultures, such as Korea and Japan. Cleveland officially renamed its Chinatown "Asiatown" to acknowledge the mix of cultures.
  • For some time, the San Francisco Police Department has been referring to all arrested Asians as "Chinese."
  • The British take on this trope is to define "Asian" as solely meaning people from the Indian subcontinent. As with Americans defining "Asian" as solely relating to Sino-Japanese peoples, this is for good historical reasons: "India" was the heart of the British empire and there has been a lot of post-imperial migration to Britain. British-Indian comedian Sanjeev Bhaskar pointed out how this sounds to "Asians"; he cited the example of a retired Major from the pre-independence Indian Army who lived next door to the Bhaskar family, who at first impressed them with his fluency in Hindi, Urdu and Punjabi, who dismissed protest that his neighbors were not Indian but Bangladeshi with the dismissive comment Pakistan, Ceylon, Bangladesh, Nepal, who cares? It's all India! which indeed it had been prior to 1947, but which irritated the Major's neighbors...
  • Restaurants that serve one East Asian cultures's food are often staffed by East Asians that aren't from that culture. While there's no reason for this not to happen (cooking knowledge is not innate to members of a culture; could a German-American spontaneously make sauerbraten without training?), it is mildly odd to hear, say, Mandarin being the only language spoken in a Japanese restaurant.
    • Christina H, a Chinese-American columnist with Cracked, described it as like going into an Italian restaurant to find it's staffed by Scottish people.
  • KTVU in San Francisco broadcast a list of the purported names of the crew of Asiana 214, with names like "Sum Ting Wong" and "Bang Ding Ow," oblivious to the fact that the racist fake names were Chinese instead of Korean.
  • When Akira Kurosawa was working on the Soviet-Japanese coproduction Dersu Uzala, the Soviet producers wanted his favorite lead Toshiro Mifune (obviously a Japanese) to play the eponimous co-lead, a Nanainote  by birth, but the scheduling conflicts prevented him from taking the role. In the end Maxim Munzuk, a Tuvannote , was cast-they couldn't find a suitable actor of Nanai descent.
  • After Girls' Generation won Video of the Year at the inaugural YouTube Music Awards, fans of some of the other nominated artists took to Twitter with racist remarks that often showed that they didn't quite understand that South Korea (the home country of Girls' Generation) was separate from Japan or China.
  • It's not uncommon for Asian tourists as well as immigrants and their children to be bombarded with "nihao"s, "konnichiwa"s and "arigatou"s when travelling overseas. Whether they take offence depends on how patronizingly it's said. Most agree it gets annoying right quick, even if no malice was intended.
  • Being lumped in with Chinese nationals tends to be a Berserk Button for ethnic Chinese outside of China (especially Southeast Asians). Countries like Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia have significantly different cultures from that of China, so much so that many of these ethnic Chinese experience culture shock themselves when they travel in China or interact with Chinese nationals. Case in point: many Singaporeans refer to Chinese nationals as P.R.C.s (People's Republic of China), leaving the label of "Chinese" for whomever has Chinese ethnicity.
    • Mainland Chinese and "Overseas" Chinese often get into mild conflict over culture in a third country (for example, Australia), whose other inhabitants can't work out why there's so much friction between people of ostensibly the same culture.
  • The American Chinese fast food chain Panda Express serves an entree called "Samurai Surf and Turf" despite the fact that the Samurai are Japanese, not Chinese. They also sometimes serve Thai food.


Inscrutable OrientalNational Stereotyping TropesMighty Whitey and Mellow Yellow
    UsefulNotes/AsiaBahrain
Inscrutable OrientalAsian IndexJapanese Politeness
Far EastCultural BlendingLatin Land
Identical-Looking AsiansRace TropesIn the Future, Humans Will Be One Race
Battle CoupleCharacters/The Awesomes    

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