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    The Chinese claim that the majority of the population of Taiwan (all but the indigenous peoples) are biologically Chinese. The fact is, biologically, the Taiwanese are no more Chinese than they are Irish. According to the North American Committee of the Human Genomes Diversity Project, ethnic groups are not genetically definable:

As far as scientists know, no particular genes make a person Irish or Chinese or Zulu or Navajo. These are cultural labels, not genetic ones. People in those populations are more likely to have some alleles in common, but no allele will be found in all members of one population and in no members of any other. (There may be rare variations, however, that are found only in some populations.) This cannot be very surprising, in light of the vast extent of intermarriage among human populations, now and throughout history and prehistory. There is no such thing as a genetically "pure" human population.

    Furthermore, different human groups do not have significantly different DNA:

All humans have about 100,000 genes (the exact number is still unknown) that transmit heritable traits from parents to children. These genes are encoded in segments of DNA and are almost all contained on the 46 chromosomes in each of our cells. DNA transmits its information through the four different nucleotide bases it contains, which are the "letters" of the genetic code A, C, G, and T. These bases, when read as strings of three-letter "words," form the blueprints for the molecules that make every part of our bodies function. All the DNA in a human being's chromosomes make up his or her "genome." Some of that DNA actually makes up genes and transmits useful information; much of it, however, has no known function.

In almost all humans, almost all genes are almost identical. These genes have to be very similar or else the bodies they build wouldn't work and their owners would die. Some DNA bases and sequences can differ from person to person without changing anything, as they don't seem to have any effect on how the body functions. Other variants produce such effects as variation in our height, eye color, fingerprints, blood groups, and whether we can roll our tongues. Sometimes, particular genetic variants can lead to susceptibility to disease or to unusual resistance to disease. Genes of these types exist in all human populations and are of great interest to medical researchers trying to improve human health and welfare. And even where the variations are of little, if any, functional significance, they can tell us something about the human past.

These various kinds of variations -- those in portions of the genome that do not code for proteins, those changes in the genes that don't change the resulting proteins, and those that do make some differences in the body's structure or performance -- are not distributed randomly. The more closely related two people are, the more likely they are to share the same variant genes, or alleles. Siblings have a 50 percent chance of sharing any one allele; less closely related family members have a smaller chance. To the extent that people who live in a particular area, or who make up an ethnic group, a nation, or a "population" share common ancestors, they are more likely to share these kinds of genetic variants than people who do not share common ancestors. Of course, ultimately, we all share the same ancestors, but in the tens of thousands of years during which, for example, the ancestors of Native Americans did not live in the same region as (and hence did not have children with) the ancestors of Europeans, those two population groups developed separately. New genetic variants appeared in each group, and ancestral shared genes are present in different frequencies. Any one Native American may have the same alleles as any one European. When one looks at a number of alleles in a number of Native Americans and Europeans, however, it becomes clear that the two groups of people often differ in their variant genes. Thus, for example, the blood groups O, A, B, and AB, all genetically determined, may appear in all human populations, but often in very different proportions reflecting the frequencies of the underlying alleles.

Scientists already know at least one interesting thing about these kinds of genetic variation. Although there are genetic differences between groups, the extent of such difference is small compared with the amount of difference found within a group. People within "ethnic groups" are genetically more different from each other than their group is from other groups.

    What is even more shocking to Chinese racial mythologists are several recent findings by the Chinese Human Genomes Diversity Project (Bowring, Philip. "It's Not A Chinese World After All," International Herald Tribune, 12 July 1999). First, the Project found that the original human inhabitants of China did not originate in the Chinese heartland, on the lands drained by the Huang Ho or the Yangtze Chiang, but rather migrated into the region from the southwest, and worse yet, from a Chinese racist perspective, they originated in Africa. Second, the findings of the genomes project also demonstrated the wide variations of genetic makeup within China (even excluding latterly acquired territories such as Xinjiang) and a number of common factors linking Chinese and non-Chinese in East Asia. And finally, the genomes project found that the closest genetic relatives of New Zealand's indigenous Maori people are found in Taiwan. The final finding stunned Chinese, who are accustomed to believing in the uniqueness of the Chinese "race" and that Taiwan has been part of China from time immemorial.

    Phenotypically, Chinese and Taiwanese are no more similar to each other than they are to other East Asians. This is evidenced by the confusion of non-East Asians, and indeed of even Taiwanese and Chinese themselves, in identifying the national origin of other East Asians based solely on appearance.

    In terms of any of the factors most commonly used to define race -- genetics, national origins, and phenotypes --  the Chinese and Taiwanese have much more in difference than they have in common.

 

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This article was written by Charlie Chi for the Taiwan Documents Project (last revised 12 January 2000).