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The proposal to use DNA testing to trace the true descentents of Confucius, or Kong Qiu (551-479 BC), has received a cold shoulder from the master's "authentic" offspring.

"I think the proposal does not make any sense," 70-year-old Kong Dewei, a 77th generation descendent of Confucius and chief editor of the Confucian Family Pedigree, said in an interview with China Daily.

Early this year, with support from some overseas foundations, the massive work to supplement and revise Confucius' pedigree was launched both in Hong Kong and Shandong Province, Confucius' home province.

The Confucian family has the most complete records of pedigree. Since early Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 220), when Confucius was established as a great master, the ruling dynasties in China had been conferring the title of "Yanshenggong," or "Duke of Saint Family," to the lineal eldest sons of Confucius' offspring generation after generation.

The title has never been broken in the 2,000-year history of Chinese dynasties.

The lineal eldest son and his family stayed in the mansion of Confucius, located in Shandong's Qufu, and his younger brothers would move out but keep a full record of their paternal trees. Females have never been recorded.

As a result of the complete records, thousands, or even more than one million men could trace their paternal link to Confucius.

Yet in the last century, due to the dramatic social transformation, many of Confucius' offspring could not keep their family pedigrees and their family record books were lost. "Many of today's Confucian descendents do not know the names of their grandfathers," Kong said.

The revisions and supplements to the Confucian pedigree are meant to enrich the family trees of Confucius by collecting evidence and helping those people believed to be Confucius' offspring to confirm or deny their paternal link, according to Kong.

But many Confucius descendents indeed could not find any evidence to prove their paternal links, Kong admitted.

Deng Yajun, director of the Centre of Forensic Sciences and Beijing Genomics Institute of the Chinese Academy of Science, proposed that she could use DNA testing to help establish a genetic database of authentic Confucius descendents.

"So, theoretically, all true Confucian male descendents should have the same genetic information in their Y-chromosomes despite small mutations," Deng said.

Deng's idea is to use descendents of Confucius, who have been proven to be authentic ancestors by literature and documents, to form a sample DNA database. After this database is established, scientists could compare the DNA of the men claiming to be Confucian descendents with the database to determine whether they are truly Confucius' descendents.

The proposal is widely reported and debated.

It is argued that the proposal faces two scientific challenges: Distinguishing the genetic differences of non-Confucius offspring from mutations which might have occurred over the past 2,000 years and ensuring the DNA database is based on genuine descendents of Confucius.

It could be possible that even historical records of the paternal links of Confucian offspring are inaccurate.

Deng said the mutation challenge could be solved by carefully analyzing genetic variation to exclude differences caused by genetic mutations and differences that do not indicate paternal links.

"After all, I am backed by the genomics institute, which has strong DNA testing capacity," Deng said.

As for ensuring the database included genuine descendents of Confucius, Deng could collect as many "proven" descendents as possible and compare their DNA to find commonalities to ensure a correct record, Deng said.

Despite the scientific methodology, Kong said the proposed DNA testing misunderstood the purpose of the re-establishment of Confucian family pedigree.

"We are tracing a cultural linkage instead of a biological one," Kong said.

"In addition, the process to re-establish the Confucian family pedigree is to collect lost historical evidence and facts, and the DNA testing has nothing to do with this mission," added Kong, saying all people involved in the pedigree revision mostly proven Confucian descendents have not contacted Deng.

Qian Xun, a renowned Confucianist scholar at Tsinghua University, even questioned the necessity of re-establishing a Confucian family pedigree.

"What Confucius has left for us are his thoughts. Whether his true descendants could be found is meaningless, let alone through DNA testing," Qian told China Daily.

Deng said her intention was not to change the current work of re-establishing a Confucian family pedigree.

"I just want to offer an additional option for some unconfirmed Confucian offspring, who may want to prove their lineage," Deng said, admitting that her proposal is impossible without the support of the "proven" Confucian offspring.

 

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