In 1993, in response to the international Human Genome Project pioneered by the United States, the Chinese government began to sponsor national projects in conjunction with the international effort. The result of this scientific endeavor confirmed international geneticists’ conclusions regarding a very recent “African origin” of all modern humans, or Homo sapiens. This scientific development confronted the longstanding nationalist belief that the “Chinese” had lived in “China” as an independent human group since Homo erectus, represented by the 700,000-year-old Peking Man. By examining the still pervasive political uses of a presumed prehistoric ancestor of the people as well as the controversy sparked by the scientific challenge that has provoked public discussions, this article identifies a potent racial discourse in contemporary Chinese nationalism and connects it to a broader international context.

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