What do Koreans REALLY Think of Bloodtypes?

big bang 2%보족할때 광고 blood type advertisement

With the top two panels reminding me of Blade Runner more than anything else, it’s ironic that the above advertisement is actually based on the decidedly archaic belief that one’s bloodtype determines one’s personality. What’s more, it’s a surprisingly deeply-held one, in particular with some Korean women even rejecting all B-type men as potential marriage partners because of it, as I discussed when I wrote about a similar marketing campaign for kiwifruit back in May. In short, given its impact then it’s not quite the same as having a good laugh at your daily horoscope, and shouldn’t be conflated with it.

My Boyfriend is Type-b Tandy Advertisement

(A strange {and slightly disturbing} advertisement for Tandy found on this site about the 2005 movie “My Boyfriend is Type B” {B형 남자친구}. See later in the post for one more, and here for a review of the movie)

Lest one is tempted to pigeonhole all Koreans as lacking critical-thinking skills though, then consider this blog post on the subject that was featured on the front page of Yahoo! Korea about a month later, which I’ve translated below. It is from the 12th most popular Korean blog according to its own blog ranking system – by way of comparison, this one is currently ranked 87,378 out of 4,644,184 – so it would have been read by a lot of people:

우리나라에서만 볼 수 있는 ‘혈액형’ 광고의 불편함…

It’s discomforting  how Korea is the only country in the world with advertisements about bloodtypes…

A형, B형, AB형, O형이 한자리에 앉아서 식사를 하고 있었다. 갑자기 AB형이 밥을 먹다 말고 벌떡 일어나 뛰쳐나가자 O형이 AB형을 뒤쫓아간다.

남겨진 A형이 B형에게 조심스레 묻는다: “쟤 혹시 나한테 화난거야?”

온라인과 오프라인을 막론하고 이젠 귀에 딱지가 앉을 정도로 듣게되는 혈액형별 성격에 관한 유머다.

일본에서 들어와 국내에 뿌리내린 혈액형별 성격 분석은 독일의 우성학에서 출발해 일본에서도 1970년대에 확고히 자리잡았다고 하는데 이런 성격 분석이 국내에 유입되어 뿌리내리며 우리나라를 전세계에서 몇 안되는 혈액형 신봉 국가를 만들어 버렸다. 사람 둘 셋만 모이면 혈액형에 대한 이야기가 쏟아져 나오는 그런 나라…;;

그렇게 보면 다음 CF들은 어쩌면 우리나라에서만 만날 수 있는 광고의 유형은 아닐까?

A, B, O & AB Bloodtypes Eating TogetherFour people, one with bloodtype A, one with B, one with AB, and one with O were sitting down having a meal together. Suddenly, “AB” stopped eating and got up and ran outside, and “O” decided to follow (him).

“A” and “B” remained, and A nervously asked B: “Is (he) angry with me?”

(James: No, I don’t get it either, but for the remainder of the cartoon version on the right, see here, and here for many more like it)

Needless to say, online and offline, there is so much humor about blood types that people are very tired of it.

Blood type and personality analysis originally derives from German eugenics, but it became firmly rooted in Japan in the 1970s, and from there in Korean culture, making Korea one of just a handful of countries that haven’t thrown such beliefs away. Indeed, get two or three Koreans together, and invariably they’ll end up chattering about blood types…

In this sense, you can only really see commercials like the following in Korea, right?

혈액형으로 먹는다제스프리 골드키위/Eat according to your blood type…Zespri Golden Kiwi

키위를 먹는 방식을 혈액형 성격 분석에 맞춰 유머러스하게 풀어놓은 제스프리의 CF다.

Here’s a humorous commercial by Zespri saying different blood types eat Kiwis in different styles (James: see my earlier post for the other 3 in the series):

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혈액형으로 마신다… 2% 부족할 때/Drink according to your blood type…2% “Near Water

제스프리가 코믹이란 콘셉트를 내세웠다면 이쪽은 혈액형과 치환되는 단어와 사랑을 엮고 빅뱅을 얹어 광고를 내놨는데 실제 빅뱅 멤버의 혈액형에 맞춘 광고란다.

Whereas the Zespri commercials had a comic concept, the following ones with the band Big Bang (빅뱅) has each member falling in love and romancing women according to their bloodtypes (James: this video combines all 4 commercials in the series):

재학습되는 혈액형 성격 분석…/These commercials help perpetuate public belief in the bloodtype and personality theory

평소 귀가 얇은 편이라 혈액형별 성격 분석에 종종 혹하는 편이지만 ABO식 혈액형의 고작 4가지 패턴으로 60억 세계인의 성격을 모두 분류할 수 있다고는 생각치 않는다. 또 이론적 뿌리도 부실하고 지나친 일반화와 선입견 듬뿍 담긴 규정으로 혈액형 별로 사람을 가늠해 버리는 것 자체가 혈액형에 기준한 성격 분석이 갖는 문제점이라고 생각하는 편이다.

Normally I’m a little gullible, so I’m often convinced of the validity of the bloodtype and personality theory, but still, I can’t believe that all 6 billion people in the world can be compartmentalized and categorized into just four types. And it is a problem that people are influenced by and follow the rules of their prescribed personality when the theory is based on insufficient evidence,  is too generalistic, and rife with prejudices and preconceptions.

My Boyfriend is Type-b Korean Tandy Advertisement

그런 이유로 이번에 소개한 혈액형에 관한 CF들은 왠지 불편했는데…감각적인 영상과 유머 코드로 적당히 버무려 광고를 바라보는 이들에게 쉽게 퍼지고 기억되는 이런 영상들이 결국 사람들 사이에 회자되는 혈액형별 성격 분석을 재학습시키고 있는게 아닐까란 생각에 이르렀기 때문이다.

For this reason, seeing these commercials made me feel a little uncomfortable…when sensible (if misguided) notions of bloodtype and personality are mixed with humorous ones in a sort-of cultural code and then utilized in commercials like these, they help to keep the theory on everyone’s minds and thereby perpetuate artificial divisions.

물론 사회에서 익숙한 코드를 반영해 상품을 홍보하는 건 일반적인 광고의 특성이니 어쩔 수 없는 부분이 있었겠지만 그래도 “이 혈액형은 이렇고 저 혈액형은 저래. 그러니 너는 이렇지?”라는 식으로 세상 모두를 4가지 성격군으로 분류할 수 있다고 생각하는 것 자체가 문제 아닐까?

훗~ 평범한 O형의 한마디였다. 응?

Of course commercials will always reflect a society’s cultural codes, but nevertheless isn’t it a problem when we say “this bloodtype behaves like this, that one like that, so that’s why you do what you do, yes?”, and that we want to compartmentalize the whole world into just four types?

I’m O by the way. Is that a typical thing for an O type to say? (Finish)

Get's the blood flowing...

Not exactly the piercing critique I anticipated when I began translating, but that wasn’t my point really, which was more to provide a healthy reminder that just like back home there is a healthy diversity of opinions in Korea on just about every subject, but which it’s very easy to overlook if you only rely on English-language sources. Indeed, I’ve just found yet another, longer news report on the same two advertising campaigns, which I’m happy to also translate if anyone’s further interested (it’ll be good revision).

In the meantime, while finding some images for this post I couldn’t help but notice that, once again, apparently the powers that be felt that only young women in tight t-shirts and/or miniskirts could persuade persuade Koreans to perform their civic duty on “World Blood Donor Day” this year (left) and last (right). Come to think it though, that particular advertising convention doesn’t exactly detract from the aim of getting people’s blood flowing…

Sorry, I couldn’t resist it. And in fairness, this year’s ads did feature boy-band Super Junior (슈퍼주니어) also. For some big pictures of them promoting donating blood, albeit together with Girls’ Generation (소녀시대), see here.

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23 thoughts on “What do Koreans REALLY Think of Bloodtypes?

  1. I think that blood types are so important in countries like Korea and Japan because the populations of these countries lack many of the clearly distinguishable features that we have in Western countries.

    For example, in the States (probably in other countries as well) we have stereotyped views of red-heads as “feisty”, blonds as “ditsy and dumb”, and people with black hair as “brooding and dark”.

    Contrast that with Korea where everyone has dark hair, dark eyes, and straight hair (although my wife has wavy hair), and you can easily see how the different blood types came in to play a bigger role than just compatible blood donors.

    Personally, I just love to keep everybody in suspense trying to guess what blood type I am. (I honestly don’t know. It’s written somewhere on my medical records 10,000 kilometers across the Pacific) And I still get the same reaction every time the topic comes up:

    Korean person: What’s your blood type?
    Me: I don’t know.
    Korean person: You don’t know?!
    Me: I never needed to.
    Korean person: But…how can you not know?!

    • china, singapore, all the southeast asian countries and south asian countries dont have resort to blood types to help stereotype their ‘identical-looking’ countrymen..

  2. I thought the popularity of blood type-determined (-influenced?) personality in Japan, Korea, and Taiwan stemmed from the colonial era, not the 1970s, but I could be wrong.

    I’m skeptical of anything anybody ever says, but as an icebreaker once I took a class full of forty people who knew each other somewhat well (same major at the same school) and broke them up into teams and had them guess each person’s blood type. As a team, they got it right 80% of the time.

    Anyway, I remember in the late 1990s a popular “fad diet” (?) was the Eat Right For Your Blood Type diet, based on the idea that different antigen characteristics that formed blood type caused different foods to be consumed more easily than others, and that these blood groups actually developed relatively recently in human evolution in response to foods that were available. It sounded less “out there” after I read the introduction, though I never followed my fanatical friend’s advice and actually tried the diet (I weigh 150 to 155 pounds, depending on how much I’m exercising, so it’s not like I’m at an unhealthy weight or anything).

  3. I have had students ask me that question. It is like how people in the West ask for a star sign. It matters to some people. There is no proof that blood type or zodiac matters in what kind of people we are, yet so many people believe it. I don’t know why.

  4. I believe type B is the most common, so the negative stereotyping is unexpected.

    I read about that blood type diet and a scientific debunking of it. I forget the scientific explanation of why blood antigens and food proteins have no interaction with each other.

  5. I’ve had the ‘blood type’ question a few times. My simple response is that it only matters if you’re receiving it from someone else at the hospital, so if and when it needs to be figured out it will be.

    Usually the reasoned answer (yes, in English) is enough to confuse them or at least let me walk away.

    For those who know, can foreigners donate blood here in Korea? I see a blood bus near Gangnam station every now and then…

  6. I personally don’t see any difference between the belief in blood types determining characteristics any more than zodiacs (eastern or western). It’s just that with the lower level of critical and logical individual thinking that is prevalent in Korea these beliefs take a much more prominent role in society.

    @ chris: most likely not considering we’re all drug and HIV riddled foreigners.

  7. Even among Korean people, some think it is just ridiculous while some others believe it quite seriously. Even if you overheard some Koreans were talking about blood types, it doesn’t necessarily mean they all think it is true. Sometimes, we just talk about it with a sense of humor.

  8. I agree with commenters who think it’s akin to zodiac signs . . . most people don’t take it too too seriously. However, if you ever really want to throw them for a loop, ask them what happens if you’re RH negative.

    Oh, and public service announcement ~ since Koreans are virtually all RH positive, think about banking your own blood if you’re not.

  9. Does it need scientific debunking? Isn’t it obvious enough that you don’t digest your food in your blood? Eww.

  10. Alex has a very good point. Never thought of it that way.

    God, the Big Bang CF is hilarious. Horribly hilarious. Cringe-worthy. I’m sure the Koreans love it, though.

    • Alex–I’ve had the same conversation, although in Koreans’ defense, I think they’re all tested when they’re children, so it is indeed unusual not to know here, regardless of how into the blood type=personality theory one is or not.

      Gomushin Girl–I hear you (I’m A- myself), and when I first heard of all this I was amazed that the fact that only 4 types of blood were considered didn’t put immediately put people off the theory altogether.

      Kushibo–That’s the first I’ve heard of it stemming from the colonial era, but there may be something to it: this post wasn’t intended to be a thorough examination of it.

      Chris, Dynamically Sparkling–Naturally, I’ve heard the “we’re all HIV-riddled foreigners” line too (in my case from The Lonely Planet originally), but I’ve never tested it. Regardless, NZ, for instance, doesn’t allow people who’ve traveled to the UK (in, like, the last 30 years or so!) to donate blood because of Mad Cow Disease, so that may (or may not) play a role in modern restrictions on foreigners donating. Which is not to say that there isn’t a lot of BS about foreigners and HIV and protecting Han blood and all…

      I agree with several other commenters that the belief in itself is not dissimilar to the zodiac and so on, but I think that belies just how strongly held it is by many Koreans. True, I don’t have figures on the numbers of women who categorically reject Type B men, and news stories on that subject would be prone to hyperbole, but on the other hand have you ever heard of any Western woman (or man for that matter) rejecting 1/12th of potential partners because of their star sign? I remember a show from the early-90s ago hosted by a skeptic for instance, who paired up 24 people (a man and a woman for each sign) according to a popular astrologer’s recommendations only to find that one man had two women and another had none whatsoever (I forget which signs sorry). Not that that one astrologer speaks for the whole concept of the zodiac of course, but needless to say, her arguments for why 1/12th of men should ideally lead lonely, celibate lives weren’t very convincing.

      When making comparisons to Westerners and the Zodiac then, I think it’s important to keep a sense of perspective.

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  12. Hi James,

    I found this post on google while searching for answers about this blood type question. And since I found this page, I’ll leave you with this anecdote: I just met a guy who told me he was breaking up with his girlfriend and one of the big reasons was that she was a B blood type. He then proceeded to tell me that I am likely an “O” blood type. I then checked my records and found out that in fact I do have “O” blood type… So was a bit shocked by that.

    I vaguely remember someone telling me somewhere that there is a higher percentage of type “O” bloodtypes in people of European ancestry. Maybe thats absolutely nonsense, but if it isn’t, perhaps some of the personality traits associated with blood types are also personaility traits associated with particular ethnic groups or world regions???

    • Well, he had a 25% chance of getting it right. My wife insisted that I was bloodtype A, and it turns out that I’m B (according to my recent employment health check).

      Then again, I took an “international personality test” to see what national-personality I am closest to. The test resulted in German, which is my ancestral background, though I’ve never been exposed to the language, country, or culture itself. Jungian psychology like racial memory is an interesting concept, but it’s never been proven. Same with bloodtype characterizations.

  13. Hi Alex,

    I actually didn’t intend to make the case that personality / blood type connections are evidence of racial memory. What I was trying to suggest is that if there is some correlation between blood type and ethnicity (I have no idea if there is or not), then maybe the characteristics attributed to the blood type are just characteristics attributed to certain ethnic/racial groups known to have higher than average percentages of the blood type in question. If there is a correlation between O blood type and Europeans, then maybe I just fit some sort of westerner stereotype to a T. Again, I haven’t taken the time to look at the ratio of blood type amongst the various ethnic groups of the world, so I’m probably off base here.

    • I was just suggesting that they’re both pseudosciences that have no scientific foundation. The racial/genetic memory link comes in through what they call nihonjin-ron, a theory of what it means to be “uniquely Japanese”. The Japanese set the contemporary trend of bloodtype/personality beliefs around the 1970s (although I believe it was originally a discriminatory “science” established in Nazi Germany…), and the idea of racial/genetic memory ties into the Japanese as being uniquley able to speak the Japanese language because of genetic memory they are born with. (Which my current existence disproves, but that’s another story)

      I was suggesting that I also fit into a categorization through a survey that “proved” my ancestral background. While I find it an amusing party trick, I don’t think it actually holds any water. You never know, though – Perhaps both the bloodtype/personality concept and racial memory concept will be proven true in the future.

      • sorry, could you explain more in detail the theory of what it means to be “uniquely Japanese”? It’s quite interesting.

        What do you mean when you say that “the idea of racial/genetic memory ties into the Japanese as being uniquely able to speak the Japanese language because of genetic memory they are born with.”

        Why would only Japanese be uniquely able to speak the Japanese language? I’m not sure I understand this sentence.

        Thanks

  14. ‘If there is a correlation between O blood type and Europeans, then maybe I just fit some sort of westerner stereotype to a T.’

    No, someone’s talked rot to you there. I was born in Europe and I am European and neither of my parents have O blood. There is, however, a very strong correlation between type O and both Irish and Basque people, especially O-. (This is very interesting because O- is the rarest type, and the Basques have a language related to no other.) Your surname’s Cochrane. Could I hazard a guess here..?

    My students were literally flabbergasted when they discovered that I was A – a boy’s mouth fell open. I don’t know why, but I got the impression that As are meant to be conformist people who just do what everyone else does. Can anyone confirm or deny this? This would make sense because the students justifiably know me as a little eccentric. I also know that they are supposed to be shy, but I teach in an inner city school and that is not really an appropriate environment for shy behaviour.

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