On the website of 23Mofang, a Chinese genetic testing company, the first thing you see is a photo of three hikers trekking up a mountain at dawn. The sun is rising. The path ahead stretches onwards, hazy and mist-filled. Double-helix-shaped halos waft above their heads. “Discover the secret of your genes,” the caption reads in bright, white letters. “Answer the questions of your heredity.” The rhetoric of the advertisement is NatGeo travel brochure meets choose-your-own adventure novel meets New-Age Bible. “Who am I?” it continues. “Where am I from? Where am I going?”

With over 200,000 users, 23Mofang is the largest of more than a hundred companies in China offering genetic testing services to consumers. Alongside companies includingWeGene, Novogene, and 360° Gene, the company is thriving off declining costs in sequencing technology and surging demand for testing services among Chinese consumers. Fifteen years ago, it cost $13 billion to sequence a human genome. Now, a 23Mofang testing kit costs $43. Since the company was founded in 2015, its sales have surged a hundred-fold, and only continue to grow.

The archetypal 23Mofang customer, according to CEO Zhou Kun, is a twenty-something, white-collar urbanite, living in one of China’s metropolises, part of a generation of highly-mobile, tech-savvy young Chinese who want to understand who they are, where they are from, and who they will become. The tests appeal to a growing desire to know oneself, but also an age-old Chinese cultural fascination with reading and altering one’s fate with practices like reading astrological signs or practicing fengshui.

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Yi-Ling Liu

Yi-Ling Liu is a writer based in Beijing, who covers technology, culture, and society. Her work has been published in The New Yorker, Foreign Policy, The Economist, Guernica Magazine, and SupChina.