Biological Relationships of Ethnic Groups in Taiwan

Jen-yih Chu MD, PhD

Department of Pediatrics, St. Louis University School of Medicine and Cardinal Glennon Children Hospital, St. Louis, MO


Based on family pedigree records, two main ethnic groups in Taiwanese Han, Hoklo (Minnan) and Hakka, are traditionally considered descendants of migrants of Han from the " Central Plain " and " Areas of Yellow and Luo Rivers " of northern China. Recent biological data including immunoglobulin, human lymphocyte antigen, glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase mutants, thalassemia mutants, microsatellite, mitochondria DNA and other biological studies indicate that Han Chinese have two origins, one in the south and the other in the north. These biological studies also indicate, that the Hoklo and Hakka originated mainly from the southern groups of China. Immunoglobulin studies show that Hakka and Hoklo populations in China are closely related to the southern minorities of China. Based on the gene frequency of immunoglobulin haplotypes, it is estimated that 20-25% of the genes of current Hakka or Hoklo populations in China originated from northern Han and 75-80% from southern groups of China. The HLA typing pattern of Taiwanese aborigines is very different from that of Chinese Han. Analysis of HLA suggests 13% Taiwanese aboriginal genes are in the current Taiwanese Hoklo and Hakka gene pool. A similar percentage of aboriginal ancestry can be estimated by comparing mutant patterns of glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase in Taiwanese Han, Taiwanese aborigines, southern Chinese and Southeast Asians. Additional data from linguistics, social surveys and archeology also suggest that Hakka and Hoklo populations originated primarily in southern China. Recent publications indicate that the method of using family pedigree books to trace the origin of Hakka and Hoklo to northern China are questionable. Biologically, Taiwanese Han groups are most close to the southern Han group in China. In short, it is highly unlikely that Hakka and Hoklo populations in Taiwan and China are descendants of migrants of northern Chinese. Probably, there are no more than 15-20% of Taiwanese Hakka and Hoklo whose ancestors originated from the northern Han of China. The majority of ancestors (65-70%) might from the southern groups, originally living in southern China, and the other 15% are descended from Taiwanese aborigines.