The Google Doodles of Asia

Asians have historically struggled with how we are represented in mainstream media. It’s either not good enough, or nothing at all. In the digital age, the way we’re viewed by the rest of the world is mostly shaped by what they see on the internet, and that is why it’s important these sites do us justice.

A version of this story was published on Kontinentalist's Instagram page on 7 June 2022.

If you’ve ever been on Google, you’ve probably noticed the illustrations and animations they add to the logo commemorating cultural milestones and icons.

These “Google Doodles” are regularly sourced from people within and outside Google. Chosen events and public figures reflect the company’s personality or “Googleyness”. While this consists of several traits, it ultimately comes back to the company’s first love, innovation.

And yet, not everything that possesses the quality of innovation gets featured.

Google Doodles were embroiled in controversy in 2014, when the SPARK Movement exposed their lack of diversity. According to the data they collected from 2010 to 2013, an overwhelming 62% of Doodles focused on the achievements of white cis-men.

Since then, efforts have been bolstered to spotlight more women and ethnic minorities. Just one year later, 49% of all Doodles released from January to June 2014 featured women, while 33% of all Doodles included Asians, Africans, and Latin Americans.

We looked into the archive of 2,097 Google Doodles published in Asia since 2015 to understand how the continent has been represented and recognised so far.

Before we dive into these figures, we first removed any Doodles that were published in Asia but didn’t pertain to Asian events or figures. There were 664 (31.66%) of these records.

After that, we removed duplicate Doodles that covered the same event or celebrated the same person. This added up to 1,069 (50.97%) records.

The 364 remaining Google Doodles fell into one of three categories:

  • • Pioneers across multiple fields (64.56%), like Charles K. Kao, a Chinese-born, British-American physicist and educator who laid the groundwork for today’s high-speed internet

  • • Anniversaries of momentous events (24.73%), such as when Ue a Muite Aruko, Japanese singer and actor Kyu Sakamoto’s iconic record became the first song by an Asian recording artist to top the American Billboard Chart

  • • Traditional celebrations (18.96%) including Chuseok, a three-day-long affair where Koreans celebrate a good harvest and honour their ancestors

The Google Doodles of Asia's property

Sadly, not all countries in Asia are equally represented. Google seems to place more focus on countries in South and Southeast Asia, while West Asia is largely overlooked.

Some countries have yet to be featured despite the wealth of their respective cultures.

  • • Bhutan’s Kunzang Choden, the first woman from her country to write a novel in English; her novel featured a female lead grappling with restrictive gender roles and sexism in pre-modern Bhutan

  • • Maldives’ Hassan Ugail, the first of his people to receive a PhD in Mathematics; he helped unmask two suspected Russian spies at the heart of a high-profile poisoning case

To clarify—we’re not here to criticise. After all, we can’t expect the small Doodles team at Google to accurately cover all important cultural milestones and figures across the continent, especially when Asia consists of so many countries that have differing definitions of innovation.

But the way we are depicted—on a platform as ubiquitous and universal as Google, no less—matters a great deal.

When other people engage with milestones and icons that form part of who we are, we present them with colourful and animated reasons why Asians are far more complex and nuanced than they think!

Representation also shapes how we see ourselves. Bearing witness to the accomplishments of those who came before us is a great source of both validation and motivation.

This story was first published on Kontinentalist’s Instagram on June 7, 2022. The original version was written by Angel Martinez and illustrated by Amanda Teo.

Our team referenced the official Google Doodles library, listing each one published in Asia since 2015. We then narrowed them down to unique Google Doodles that pertain to Asian events or figures to come up with the final dataset.

SPARK Movement. “Doodle Us,” February 2014.