After spending hours going over paperwork, I was ready to sign the lease of my new San Francisco apartment. The property owners, Bill and Virginia, a delightful Caucasian couple well into their 80s, were just about the nicest and sweet couple you’d ever meet. As we wrapped up, Bill walked us out the apartment and as we approached the the top of the driveway, Bill stopped and asked me and my six-foot-tall Chinese house mates:
Bill: I met a lot of Chinese people in the past.
[As soon as I heard Chinese, I thought: Here it comes, Bill’s 81-year old ass, after decades of tumultuous race relations is going to drop the chink bomb]
Bill: How did you three get so tall? Everyone else I know is tiny.
Me: It’s the milk…
Bill didn’t mean any offense, but it lead me to think: Yeah! Why are Asian’s so short?
In the story of creation, it’s not like Asians landed on double-zero in a game of height roulette. After all, whether you’re Yellow, Black, White or Brown we all share the same lineage. When our Homo Erectus ancestors left Africa, it’s not like the tall ones decided to go to Europe and the short ones to Asia. Instead, the reason is most likely due to the environmental and human encounters to follow.
Cases for natural selection as illustrated by the Peppered Moth lend credence that we are the products of our environment. The black peppered moth, commonly found in England, thrived at the onset of the Industrial Revolution. As factories and industry rose in England, the ensuing pollution led to a biological advantage for dark colored moths which were now camoflouged from predators. The natural advantage, or ‘selection’ eventually allowed dark colored moths to flourish throughout industrial England.
So what’s unique about the Asian environment that could explain the vast difference in average Asian heights?
YouTube blogger DeStorm (I could have cited an academic, but where’s the fun? His take is at the 5:35 in the YouTube video below) posits that the reason African-Americans being bigger, faster and stronger is rooted from some Darwinian aftereffects of slavery. Plantation owners and slave owners needed slaves for heavy labor, so therefore drove the demand for stronger, faster, and bigger slaves to work the plantations.
As for Caucasians? Scandinavians are just about the tallest peoples I can think of. From the little bit of European history I know, the Viking invasions and conquests in Continental Europe meant that these tall and strong Vikings intermixed and intermingled with the rest of Europe as their conquests brought them in contact with the natives of modern England, -France, -Germany and -Russia and spreading their tallness throughout Europe for centuries to come.
What’s up with the Asians then? When you look at the last 5,000 of Asian history, Asia was neither invaded by giants nor practiced any institution (like American slavery) that instilled eugenic side-effects for height. Instead, Asia maintains a long and agriculturalist history. And what did Asians farm? Rice! While a staple in the world’s food supply, when compared to cereal crop’s oat and wheat native to Europe, rice pales in comparison in the amount of protein per serving. Protein, a crucial compound in biological growth, isn’t as rich in rice as other cereals.
Ultimately, the reason why Asians are shorter boils down to two environmental factors. First, Asian’s just never intermixed with any taller peoples (at least not until the yellow fever epidemic 🙂 ). Second, Asia’s farming history and dependence on rice meant that Asian’s took in, on average, less protein than any other peoples. Sure, every now and then, you get an outlier like Yao Ming but I’m speaking in general here. But as to why I’m tall? It’s the milk 🙂
If you have a completely different theory, please feel free to voice your opinion freely in the comments.