The world’s biggest genetic database – China’s latest top news

Jeremy Goldkorn’s selection of the top stories from China on September 20, 2017. Part of the daily SupChina newsletter, a convenient package of China’s business, political, and cultural news delivered to your inbox for free. Subscribe here.

Collecting genes in Chengdu

The Wall Street Journal reports (paywall) on West China Hospital at Sichuan University in Chengdu, whose “goal is to collect and analyze vast amounts of genetic data from Chinese citizens to help unearth the causes of diseases from cancer to schizophrenia, and pave the way for novel treatments.”

  • China, says the Journal, “has raced ahead with amassing people’s genetic samples” with “dozens of institutions collecting genetic data,” while the U.S. is hampered by existing laws and concerns about patient privacy and the use of medical data.
  • However, China may be building up problems in its data set for later, because there is apparently so far no procedure for how to store the collected genetic data, and no means of connecting it to behavioral or environmental factors.
  • The Journal says the Chinese government has “awarded more than $200 million to more than 100 such projects,” and plans to spend “more than $9 billion” on the program up through 2030.
  • Some observers see a sinister motivation: In May this year, Nature published an article subtitled “Alarms raised over suspected efforts to collect massive numbers of genetic samples from citizens,” which discusses gene collection activities in the tense far-western Xinjiang.

Chengdu is noteworthy as the city where the genetic database is being built. Aside from great food and many other charms, the city is actively promoting itself as an academic and entrepreneurial powerhouse.

  • SupChina recently published a story on a Chengdu government program to attract foreign startups.
  • Chengdu was also recently ranked as “first tier” by a national media organization: We wrote about the new tiering list, and included this grumble from one Chinese internet user: “Almost all the resources in Sichuan were invested in Chengdu. It’s unfair to other second-tier and third-tier cities in the province.”
  • Aside from gene collection and foreign startups, Chengdu also has pandas, Chinese hip-hop, nearby beautiful mountains, and the legendary residence of poet Du Fu 杜甫 in a nice park where you can drink tea. SupChina has a brief guide to visiting Chengdu.

Huge turnover for military elite at the 19th Party Congress? 

Close observer of Chinese elite politics and Brookings Institute senior fellow Cheng Li 李成 has published a piece on China-U.S. Focus that says many analysts of Chinese elite politics were “astonished by the recently released list of military delegates to the 19th Party Congress.”

  • Cheng says that most significantly, “it appears that only 17 percent (seven out of 41) of military leaders with full membership on the 18th Central Committee will retain their seats. In other words, about 83 percent of the military representatives who are full members of the 19th Central Committee will be new.”
  • This would “constitute the largest-ever turnover of military elite in the history of the People’s Republic of China (PRC).”

What does this mean? To summarize Cheng’s analysis:

  • President Xi Jinping is able to make sweeping changes because he has successfully reasserted “civilian command over the military.”
  • The likely new leaders of the Chinese military represent “significant strides” in Xi’s campaign to professionalize the military, and to transform China’s defense organizations “from a Soviet-style, army-centric system toward what analysts call a ‘Western-style joint command.’”