North vs. south genetic differentiation in China

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Via Dienekes, a new paper, A spatial analysis of genetic structure of human populations in China reveals distinct difference between maternal and paternal lineages:

Analyses of archeological, anatomical, linguistic, and genetic data suggested consistently the presence of a significant boundary between the populations of north and south in China. However, the exact location and the strength of this boundary have remained controversial. In this study, we systematically explored the spatial genetic structure and the boundary of north-south division of human populations using mtDNA data in 91 populations and Y-chromosome data in 143 populations. Our results highlight a distinct difference between spatial genetic structures of maternal and paternal lineages. A substantial genetic differentiation between northern and southern populations is the characteristic of maternal structure, with a significant uninterrupted genetic boundary extending approximately along the Huai River and Qin Mountains north to Yangtze River. On the paternal side, however, no obvious genetic differentiation between northern and southern populations is revealed.

The simplest model here is that north Chinese Han males spread over the country and intermarried with southern females. That explains the distinction between northern and southern lineages. But, I think it is important to be specific about the anthropological details which manifested on the local level. The Han are traditionally a patrlineal and patrilocal people. My understanding is that patrilineality and the “clan system” is more extreme in the south than the north. Additionally, going back to the Warring States period before the rise of the Imperial Chinese system scholar-officials would move from state to state in search of employment, power and prestige. On a larger scale there is the historical reality that several times in Chinese history Han ethnic dominance has retreated from the north China plain to a southern redoubt. The subsequent expulsion of barbarians from north China was then accompanied by the migration of long established southern lineages to northern power centers. So one might assume that these southern lineages were originally derived from the north, but after a while it might get difficult to sort out who was who (north & south). Of course the historical record might simply reflect the shifts in elites who remained in power on top of a relatively static ethnic situation in the north, while the south went through a general long term trend of sinicization which accelerated during periods of barbarian rule in the north when the gentry supplemented the local Han base. Finally, do note that south China is geographically far more fragmented than north China, and we know in other contexts this has a long term effect on mating patterns and dynamics. I am also interested why the Mandarin dialects managed to take over southwest China (see map) but not southeast China.

Genetically this sex-based distinction seems to confirmed by repeated studies. But, that being said, remember that in the early 1990s Cavalli-Sfroza reported in The History and Geography of Human Genes that north Chinese were genetically closer to Japanese and Koreans and south Chinese with southeast Asians when looking at traditional autosomal loci. It is historically attested that groups like the Thai and Vietnamese have origins within what is now south China (the Thai still have ethnic relations within China proper). Ethographic analysis also suggests the Cantonese, for example, preserve customs which are clearly descended from local traditions which pre-date a Han identity for the people in the region. It would be nice to have a STRUCTURE based analysis address these questions…..

Note: Most of the Overseas Chinese are from the south. Especially Fujian. The older Chinese communities in the United States tend to be Cantonese.

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13 Comments

  1. Northern Chinese have more Confucius mind which believes one should never be far away from the aging parents. Thus, emmigrantion is frown upon. Nowaday, thing might change bit.

  2. Before about 300 A.D. the Chinese southeast was regarded as a cultural backwater, with a lot of intermarriage with non-Chinese. The southeast also is more dissected by mountains than the rest of China. There were also considerable periods of North-South division between ~200 AD and 1300 AD. Those are the only explanations I can come up with for the South’s linguistic diversity — influence from non-Chinese languages and local isolation. The relative uniformity of the north may be explainable by frequent mixing and by the depopulations and repopulation of large areas due to wars. Why the SW speaks Mandarin I don’t know.  
     
    I’ve wondered about these questions and have never seen them carefully dealt with.

  3. Razib: 
     
    Can you clarify as to what you meant by “Mandarin dialects managed to take over southeast China”? 
     
    Do you mean Chinese dialects? 
     
    Southeast China has many dialects of Chinese spoken routinely, more dialects per square KM than in the North or Central region. 
     
    If you mean “why is Mandarin spoken now” it is because the Communist enforced education and spoken Mandarin after 1949, so almost everyone but for very old people in China (and very very rural people) can speak Mandarin to some extent. 
     
    It is true that Cantonese maintains archaic “Bai Yue” (100 Yue) structures. The Bai Yue used in China like Celt was used by Romans, to mean any Barbarian from the region (this included groups related to present day Nan Yue, Vietnamese and to Thai/Lao (like cousins of the Miao). 
     
    That being said Cantonese is still thought to be closer to more archaic Chinese than present day Mandarin. Then you have some dialects in the North like “Jin” which clearly show some serious affinity to Altaic, even if superficial. My point being, I?m not sure what is most representative of the original Chinese language. I doubt Mandarin is though. Mandarin was the language of the Beijing court, but Beijing was founded as a capital under non-Han ethnic groups and most of China North of there all the way to Korea was also Sinicized overtime.

  4. Oh…John, as far as the Southwest, Mandarin is dominent because of depopulation I believe. 
     
    I know that the Manchus pretty much depopulated Sichuan in the 1600′s. A new influx of migrants from the Mandarin speaking heart land could explain things. This was under the reign of Emporer Kang Xi. 
     
    Before that in the 12th century the black plague wiped out a large amount of the local population, and the people who came in came from North China to repopulate. 
     
    Yunan…is heavily mountainous and full of hostile minority groups historically and I’m guess the people who came into that region came from Sichuan not from the Southeast, so they would likely be Mandarin speakers.

  5. Just to back up Long Ma’s point: Confucian scholars and linguists generally agree that it’s Cantonese which is the conservative language and hence closer to more archaic forms. If you want to know what Confucius sounded like, it’s plausibly much closer to Cantonese than Mandarin, especially in the number of tones. Mandarin was imposed from the North. Also, it may be worth nothing that the birthplace of Chinese civilization is traditionally taken to be between the two great rivers (Yellow and Yangtsze), not to the north or south.

  6. Just to back up Long Ma’s point: Confucian scholars and linguists generally agree that it’s Cantonese which is the conservative language and hence closer to more archaic forms. If you want to know what Confucius sounded like, it’s plausibly much closer to Cantonese than Mandarin, especially in the number of tones. Mandarin was imposed from the North. Also, it may be worth nothing that the birthplace of Chinese civilization is traditionally taken to be between the two great rivers (Yellow and Yangtsze), not to the north or south. 
     
    Hmmmm, it is my understanding that Middle Chinese had four tones, and that the present 6/7 tones in Cantonese results from splitting of some tones in Middle Chinese into separate high/low forms. 
     
    Note, the claims by some people that Cantonese has 9/10 tones is a result of miscounting tones based on the Chinese schemes for tones. They claim that ?? are three additional tones over and above high level (plus high falling), mid level, low level, mid rising, low rising and low dipping, but accding to Sydney Lau, the three clipped tones (??) which all have consonant endings, are actually pronounced in the same tone as high level, mid level and low level (except, of course ?? where the second character — dip6/2 — is technically a low level tone but is pronounced by most speakers, including me because I copied my relatives, as a mid-rising tone). 
     
    Of course, I do agree that Cantonese is more conservative, but then ????????.

  7. This thing about conservativism of dialects comes up a lot (not just in Chinese), and it can be misleading because many dialects have archaic features not present in other dialects, so that Mandarin might be more archaic in some ways too. 
     
    One linguist, George Kennedy I think, actually believes he found a dialect in Zhejiang, which he named “Tangsid”, which approximated the T’ang dynasty values. He did it in a fairly systematic linguistic way, but I believe that he was pretty well aware that it was a bit of a stretch.

  8. Mr Sharpe, 
     
    ??????????????

  9. ????????????????

  10. In Europe it is the reverse, similar maternal but differentiated paternal e.g R1b/I West verses R1a/I in the East.Suggests that R1b replaced most I in the West where as R1a replaced most I in the East.Since R1b is most diverse in Central Asia the flow of males seems to be east to west.

  11. Richard: 
     
    If I got that write you are Aussie not a Brit? My hanzi is quite bad now.

  12.  
     
    Can you clarify as to what you meant by “Mandarin dialects managed to take over southeast China”?
     
     
    typo. meant southwest. you somewhat answered the ? i really had in mind in any case. thanks.

  13. the three clipped tones (??) which all have consonant endings 
     
    I misspoke there, since many Cantonese endings are consonant endings (like ‘n’,'m’,'ng’ and so forth). 
     
    I meant to say ‘p’,'t’, and ‘k’ endings.

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