Referring to a post here.

The research discovered that the Malays in these sub-ethnic groups were genetically composed of some Proto-Malay (orang asli Melayu), Semang and Indian DNA, with at least 20 per cent Malay and and 52 per cent Chinese DNA.

"This finding corresponds with a theory that these Malays originated from Austronesia in Yunnan, China," Professor Zilfalil said, " with the first wave of migration from Austronesia to Southeast Asia occurring in 25, 000 BC and the second one in 1, 500 BC".

The professor added that "the Malay language used in the Malay Peninsula, Sabah and Sarawak also belongs to the Austronesian stock".

My question is, is there any other evidence that Malays in Malaysia and Indonesia are actually descendants from Yunnan, China?

Note: this question was asked at history SE, but was deemed off topic. So I guess Skeptic SE would probably be a better fit.

  • The linguistic evidence suggests that Austronesian languages spread by sea from Taiwan to Pacific islands, South-East Asia and Madagascar (the similarity between Malay and Malagasy is not a coincidence). The proto-Austronesians presumably came from somewhere else earlier, and there is some genetic suggestion they may have some relationship with proto-Tai. Yunnan is not an unreasonable location for this, though it could easily be somewhere further east or west. Calling this "China" at Zilfalil's dates would be anachronistic.
    – Henry
    Oct 22, 2015 at 14:47
  • @Henry, would you like to elaborate on your comment and make it into an answer?
    – Graviton
    Nov 10, 2015 at 1:19
  • Sadly people here do not like links to Wikipedia in answers, such as that on Austronesian languages
    – Henry
    Nov 10, 2015 at 7:09
  • The original source of claim, which linked to an article of Malaysia news portal, was not found. To view the original source of claim, visit the last snapshot on web archive in 2013 instead. Also quoted the origin of research: "Professor Zilfalil Alwi, of USM has conducted DNA research on Malays in Malaysia".
    – user29319
    Nov 17, 2015 at 9:15

1 Answer 1


Malays are an ethnic group that established itself in the Malay Peninsula and slowly spread to parts of Borneo and Sumatra. They are essentially a hybrid of 3 main groups of people that arrived from mainland South East Asia and to a lesser extent people from South India and South East China who arrived much later by way of the Philippine Islands and Borneo. The frequent use of the terms Proto-Malays and Deutero-Malays by Malaysian researchers is Malay-centric and does in no way help in the understanding of the origin of the Malay people and hence, should be dropped.

According to the latest genetic tests, the primary components of the Malay genetic make-up are Austroasiatic -38%, Austronesian -35% and South Indian - 20% (Malaysian Negrito, Papuan, Chinese, Arab and Portuguese make up the rest). Below is the DNA Map of Asian people:

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It is not surprising that the biggest contributor to the Malay genetic make-up is the Austroasiatic genes since the Malay archipelago is adjacent to the heartland of the Austroasiatic peoples like the Khmers from Cambodia. In fact, some of the Malay tribes in rural Malaysia still speak Mon-Khmer. The second largest contributor to the Malay genes is the Austronesian genes which originated from South East China via Taiwan, the Philippine Islands and Borneo. Close proximity to the Indian continent also resulted in a large contribution to the Malay genes.

The Theory of Malay origin (the Austronesian portion) being Yunnan of South West China is not well supported by evidence and is not widely accepted by researchers. To be credible, there has to be evidence from archeological findings, language, culture and genetics. So far, the only basis for this theory is some similarities in ancient tools which on its own is insuffient.

Malaysia's USM Professor Zilfalil was quoted as saying ""This finding corresponds with a theory that these Malays originated from Austronesia in Yunnan, China, with the first wave of migration from Austronesia to Southeast Asia occurring in 25, 000 BC and the second one in 1, 500 BC". I am rather perplexed by the said professor's comments which I take issue with and they are:

  1. His liberal use of the word "Austronesia" which is not a generally accepted term.
  2. Also, since when did "Austronesia" become "a place in Yunnan".
  3. Which particular tribe in Yunnan are Malays related to since there are several tribes that live there.
  4. If the Austronesian portion of Malay genes came mostly from Yunnan then where did the large chunk of Austroasiatic genes that Malays possess come from?

Unlike the "Yunnan origin theory", the "out-of-Taiwan theory" for Austronesian migration is highly supported by archeological findings, genetic studies, language, culturel and agriculture.

What is more likely is that some of the ancestors of the Khmers from what is now known as South Vietnam, may have migrated upwards towards Yunnan in South West China and intermarried with Austronesians who moved down to Yunnan from the Yang Tze river due to wars with the Han Chinese who came from north of the Yang Tze river. Meanwhile, some of the ancestors of the Khmers migrated South-wards to the Malay Peninsula bringing with them tools that were similar to those that migrated to Yunnan, hence resulting in the erroneous conclusion that Malays originated from Yunnan.

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