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Test tube pipette held in the hand of a scientist.

When the world’s first research on editing the genes of human embryos by Chinese scientists  was published in an international journal in 2015, a report in the New York Timescharacterised the key issue involved as “a scientific ethical divide between China and West.” Earlier this year, an article in the magazine Foreign Policy by a researcher with Chinese origin put it bluntly that “China will always be bad at bioethics.” Now, He Jiankui’s announcement on gene-edited babies appears to provide more compelling evidence that China is the “radical other” of the West, a wild land where bioethics matters little.

Is this really the right way to look at things? Our answer is, no. The evidence doesn’t bare these beliefs out; it is a misdiagnosis, and it risks obscuring the real issues that He Jiankui’s experimentation raises. Since the news on the gene-edited babies came out on November 26 via Baidu and Google, one of us (Nie) has been closely following reactions to it in journalists’ reports, commentaries, and posts on Chinese and international mass media, as well as on... see more