Local genetics sleuths have come up with new evidence they say could prove that China's ancestors came from Africa several hundred thousand years later than previously thought.
If further investigation ultimately proves their thesis correct, it would show that today's Chinese are the product of modern African man - and did not evolve separately from ancient human beings.
"The research can play a critical role in discovering similarities among China's ethnic groups, showing a common lineage," said Ke Yuehai, one of the chief scientists involved in the project. "And by discovering similar genetic characteristics among populations living in different parts of the world, it may speed up the development of gene-related medicines."
The study, funded under a 3 million yuan (US$361,000) grant from the National Natural Science Foundation, is not limited solely to finding China's links to its past.
"Our ultimate purpose is to disclose the origins of all human beings," said Xu Yongqing, president of Shanghai Anthropology Association, which assisted in the effort.
In carrying out the study, 10 researchers from Fudan University's Genetics Department spent almost two years investigating the genes of 10,000 Chinese men selected randomly from across the mainland, including Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region and Tibet.
They discovered in these blood samples that the chromosome responsible for gender held a structural characteristic identical to that found in Africans by American researchers last year.
This same characteristic also has been uncovered in human bones dating back almost 80,000 years in Africa - but not in remains any older than that.
"I believe our experi-mental results are the best evidence to support the theory that all modern human beings throughout the world have their origins in Africa," Ke said.
There are two competing hypotheses on the origin of modern Chinese. Some researchers with the Chinese Academy of Sciences believe the country's earliest humans, known as Homo erectus pekinensis and who lived in northern China 500,000 years ago, are the country's ancestors because many of their fossils have been found.
These scientists favor the so-called multiregional hypothesis, which holds that every region has its own race developing from primitive man, which left Africa some 1 million years ago.
But others disagree.
They argue that since few pekinensis fossils have been found from the period 200,000 to 100,000 years ago, that form of man apparently died out.
They subscribe to the out-of-Africa hypothesis, which holds that a second migration occurred about 100,000 years ago in which anatomically modern humans of African origin conquered the world by completely replacing archaic human populations.