DNA Testing in China – All the rage, but outrageously inaccurate (for Non-Chinese)

Okay, so I completely fell for it. There are many trends we get swept up in throughout our lifetimes, and genetic testing is definitely one of the latest fads, especially in China.

Therefore, I planned our own testing experience for a while. I swooped in for 11/11 to get WeGene tests at a very reasonable price (225 RMB). With my partner living abroad, I stored them away until Christmas, which was when we would do the test and start our new year with the exciting knowledge of all the colourful different races we were made up of.

Christmas Day comes and we do our swipes and send in our samples, and not even a week into the new year our results arrive, straight on to our smartphones via a WeChat account we had linked to our sample barcode. Naturally.

I was so excited. I had a broad idea due to my mother’s amazing work of putting together a family tree tracing back at least to my great grandparents. I knew that I had one colourful half, my parrot side if you like, a jumble of different nationalities spanning Spanish, French, Irish and Scottish to make up my British mother. I also knew that a big chunk probably wouldn’t be a huge surprise, my very “pure” German father (god, it sounds a bit sinister, but to our knowledge that side of the family is more German than bratwurst and beer, or Äppelwoi in our case).

And so I open up my results with excitement…and…what?!

41% Hungarian.

That’s what it read in my results. I was stumped. Not only that, my British heritage seemed to have disappeared completely, apparently with only the continental European DNA having been passed down.

I am a “four-nation mixed-blood” according to WeGene’s cute and stereotypical graphic (apparently France doesn’t even get people with weird heads)

I was confused. Major theories darted through my mind. My father wasn’t my father, my grandfather wasn’t my grandfather, what was going on? As I stood there, suddenly thinking I would have to re-evaluate my whole life, one thought stayed with me. How accurate was this result in the end? I had read that DNA testing still isn’t really that up to snuff, especially since certain nationalities are grouped together, and even grouped differently, by each company.

So I went online. Searching for “German Hungarian DNA testing” quickly revealed an interesting pattern. It emerged that many Hungarians using Western DNA testing kits had got their results back as being German. Aha! So it could probably happen the other way round as well.

A little more digging into the whole testing procedure and it also became clear that companies can only test your sample against other people in their sample and compare them. So if they don’t have many German samples to compare to, they can only assign you to the genetically closest nationality – which in this case seems to be Hungary.

The more I thought about it, the more it made sense. Germans, with our intense history, are very sensitive to topics of supervision, privacy and of course genetics. So aside from the fact that naturally doing a Chinese test as a non-Chinese gives them a much smaller sample size and data base to compare you to, I have the added problem that I can safely assume Germany is one of the least interested nations in the DNA testing trend. There are no figures to back this up yet, tells me the holy Google, but this is a conclusion I am fairly sure contains some accuracy, as opposed to my test results.

So beware, dear non-Chinese readers, that if you want to take a DNA test, you may want to purchase a kit in your home country. Otherwise you may end up with a short-lived identity crisis – as I did.

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Laura Nutchey-Feng

Laura Nutchey-Feng has been living in China for the past four years. Her love affair with the language and country started in 2006 and she met her future husband, a hunky Inner Mongolian, 5 years later. She blogs about her crazy wedding experience at Our Chinese Wedding.

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