This is Binh. He represents the average Vietnamese man in almost every way. He’s nearly 30 years old, he’s 5’4 tall, and weighs 140 pounds. But he also represents Vietnamese in a different way. He has more in common genetically with people in Africa than with Han Chinese. It was originally thought that the Kinh (the most common Vietnamese ethnic group) were descendants from Han Chinese who migrated down into the region we now call Vietnam.
Vietnamese Genetically Linked to Africa
However, scientists began to hypothesize that Africans migrated to the region and that most modern-day Vietnamese are descendants from them. A new genological study seems to confirm this.
In the study, researchers sequenced the genomes and exomes of 305 individuals of Kinh Vietnamese descent and combined the findings with 101 previously published genomes into a database of 406 unrelated genomes. This is the world’s largest existing database of its kind that focuses exclusively on KHV genomes.
They found that the Kihn Vietnamese and Thais are genetically closer to the Yoruba people in Africa than to Han Chinese.
The results from both phylogenetic tree reconstruction and PCA support the hypothesis that a population migration from Africa entered Asia along a South‐to‐North route (Abdulla et al., 2009; Chu et al., 1998).
For instance, compared to the international database of 1,000 human genomes, about one-third of the genetic variations in the Vietnamese population do not occur in the Han Chinese population and vice versa.
Then Why Do They Look More Chinese Than Black?
The blaring question that comes to mind then is why do modern-day Vietnamese look more Chinese than Black Africans? There could be various reasons. One that comes to mind includes convergent evolution. That’s where two species develop similar traits even though they’re not genetically similar. Common features such as the epicanthic fold in the eyelids and shorter limbs could’ve been advantageous for both groups. Also, let us not forget that many modern Vietnamese intentionally keep their skin lighter than it would be under normal conditions for cultural reasons.
Does This Matter?
According to one of the study’s authors, this indeed does matter. Dr. Nguyen Thahn Liem, the director of the study said that “The results have helped clarify the ancestral origin of Vietnamese people, which has been a sensitive issue giving rise to a debate in the context of a lack of objective evidence that is based on genomic research and “Genetic data closely relates to health and pathology and can contribute to the treatment of cancers and genetic diseases, especially when individualized medicine is on the rise,”
Let’s hope that this can begin to change attitudes and perceptions that we have each other. Now that DNA evidence is demonstrating that we are much more alike than different we can work to find common ground.
Treatment of Blacks in Vietnam
Like most of Asia, white skin is highly prized and seen as the pinnacle of beauty. Therefore blacks are antithetical to that. Many black migrants report difficulty in finding work in Vietnam. That being said most of the Black bloggers in Vietnam that I’ve read stated that they overall are happy with their experience in the country. I was physically attacked by my former boss in Vietnam. The attack wasn’t racially motivated but it should still serve as a cautionary tale.