Boy measuring a bamboo stick

Growing Pains: What’s Behind China’s Obsession With Height?

Faced with still-rampant height discrimination in society, Chinese parents go to great lengths to make their kids tall

Jiang Yong, a 32-year-old programmer from Hubei province, still remembers when his fourth-grade teacher asked him to repeat a grade—for no other reason than because he wasn’t as tall as his classmates. “My grades weren’t too bad in elementary school,” he recalls with a chuckle.

Today, at a height of 162 centimeters (5 foot 3 inches), Jiang is the shortest in his family and below the average height of 175.7 centimeters (5 foot 8 inches) for 19-year-old males in China, according to 2020 figures published in British medical journal The Lancet—and still below the more conservative estimate of 169.7 centimeters (5 foot 6 inches) for adult males from the State Council, China’s cabinet, the same year.

Growing up, Jiang felt he was too short to try out for sports. As an adult, he has had other experiences that he suspects were due to people’s negative reaction to his height: such as being rejected by partners at the swing dance events he regularly attends in Beijing or, once, at a speed-dating masquerade, where the participants couldn’t see each other’s faces.

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author Hatty Liu

Hatty Liu is the managing editor of The World of Chinese, and an award-winning communications researcher. Born in China, and raised in China, Canada, and the US, she leverages her cross-cultural identity to create more empathetic knowledge across national boundaries.

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