Fidelity on the trial
The man lifted the little boy onto his shoulders and began to laugh and dance around the room. A woman burst into tears and ran away.
The man had just got the results of a paternity test which confirmed he was the boy's biological father. The woman was the mother whose fidelity the father had doubted.
Watching a father rejoice is a not-unusual scene for Jiang Bin, the director of the paternity testing centre as more and more suspicious husbands come to have paternity tests.
Jiang's testing centre, funded by Shanghai United Gene Holdings Ltd, received permission to perform individual tests earlier this year, becoming China's first independent body in the field.
In the first two months of 2004, the centre has conducted paternity testing for 19 families and many more are now on the waiting list.
Because the centre no longer has to require a court order or an attorney's permission to do the testing, people are making appointments to confirm their blood relationship with their children and to test the marital fidelity of mothers.
"It was beyond our imagination that there were so many applicants for the testing," Jiang said.
The Shanghai Blood Centre, an agency that has been providing individual paternity testing since 2002, claimed to have received more than 300 test requests last year.
Some fathers keep the tests a secret from their wives. "A man brought his 1-year-old child here for testing and appeared to be quite nervous, explaining that his wife was unaware of his actions," said Zhang Gongliang, the director of the centre.
So far, about 1,800 to 2,000 families have had paternity testing in Shanghai and the number is increasing steadily.
There are three legal paternity testing centres in Shanghai. Besides the two mentioned above, the Shanghai Institute of Forensic Science and Technology, the first body in the city to provide paternity testing, performed more than 1,000 tests last year.
Most of the applicants for testing are husbands - making up 95 per cent of the cases at the Shanghai Blood Centre - but some pregnant women also apply for the DNA paternity check. After getting the result they will decide whether or not to give birth to the baby or have an abortion if it turns out to be another man's baby instead of their husband's.
"It is necessary for a father to know if the son is of his blood," said Jiang."To force men to be fathers when they're not is not right. If that doesn't hurt a relationship between a father and a child, I don't know what would."
Most of the applicants are well-educated, according to Zhang Gongliang. "They know about paternity testing and know how to protect their rights," Zhang said.
The low cost and the simple procedures for paternity tests may explain the growing rush of husbands applying for them.
At Biostar, each test costs 1,500 yuan (US$181) and the cost is 1,380 yuan (US$167) at the Shanghai Blood Centre. It takes a week or two for the tests to be completed and a man will know whether or not he is the biological father of his child.
One no longer needs to get permission from the court to apply for DNA checks. Applicants have only to fill in a form which includes a brief family history to have the test.
A drop of blood or a strand of hair can serve as a sample sufficient to conduct a paternity test. The applicants do not even need to turn up in person. The samples can be mailed to the testing centre with the fee. The centre will conduct the test and will inform the applicants of the result. Biostar even has a website to explain how to take samples.
The accuracy of the tests using DNA technology is quite high, nearly 100 per cent according to the Shanghai Blood Centre.The Centre also carries out testing by two staff using the same sample to ensure no mistakes.
"Any mistake is forbidden in paternity tests," said Jiang from Biostar. "A mistake can be disastrous for a family. The previous testing results must be checked and we will redo the testing as soon as anything suspicious is found."
No mistakes have been made in Shanghai, according to the Shanghai Blood Centre.
"The loss of faith between couples has contributed to the great need of paternity testing," said Wang Weihai, a professor at Fudan University.
Wang said the number of husbands suspecting their wives of infidelity had increased dramatically in recent years. Most of the wives were professional woman who have more opportunities to come in contact with other men. Changing work locations and long-distance business trips have become more common which has also led many husbands to doubt their wives' fidelity.
"Increasing numbers of people applying for the test suggests that social views on women's status and rights is still confined to bearing babies," said Wang Weihai. "It also suggests that Chinese husbands require complete loyalty from their wives. Marriage without fidelity is hard to imagine for them."
However, according to the Shanghai Blood Centre, less than 20 per cent of the children were proved to be illegitimate as a result of the tests meaning that at least 80 per cent of the children's mothers were wrongly suspected of infidelity.
All the mothers who were subject to a paternity test felt humiliated by their spouses' suspicions but most husbands have the tests carried out without telling their wives.
"They coax their children to our centre by saying that it is just a normal blood test," said Zhang Gongliang.
If the testing shows they are the biological father of the child, the husbands will keep the test a secret from their wives. If the results show the opposite, the husbands will tell their wives which probably means the marriage is doomed.
Wan Min, a reporter from a leading magazine in China, thinks the testing is unfair to women because there is no way of testing to prove that husbands are faithful to their wives.
"These tests could have explosive implications for families," said Tao Chunfang, vice-president of the Shanghai Marriage and Family Research Union pointing out that 20 per cent of children had been found not to be the biological offspring of their supposed fathers.
When one in five children might find out that their father is not who they think he is, the potential for social disruption is enormous.
If the test indicates that the man is not the child's biological father, it may change his attitude and behaviour towards the child. The test results kept as a secret by the husbands may sometimes slip out and become known to the wives and this could even cause the mother to prevent a continuing relationship between the man and the child.
It is also possible that children may somehow find out about the test. It may have a serious impact on children's self-image and their assumptions about how the "father" feels towards them after they learn that the man is not their biological father.
"Fatherhood is not necessarily only biological - it is social too," Wang said.