GENETICS

Study finds single bloodline among self-claimed Confucius descendants

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 13 November, 2013, 3:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 13 November, 2013, 3:00am

A research team at Fudan University in Shanghai says it has found genetic evidence to prove that most of the people who claim to be descendants of the ancient sage Confucius come from a single bloodline.

Han Sheng, a professor of history involved in the project, said the researchers came to that conclusion after a comprehensive analysis of DNA samples collected from dozens of families who trace their origin to the philosopher born some 25 centuries ago in what is now Shandong province.

"It is a significant finding. That's all that we can say now," Han said.

The team's research paper is now being reviewed by academic peers before it is submitted to an international academic journal.

Though the existence of a single bloodline is important, it will be difficult to prove conclusively that it leads to Confucius because there is no actual DNA from the sage.

The study is the latest effort by the Fudan University researchers to investigate historical myths with modern DNA technology. Earlier, the team made headlines around the world after they announced they had decoded the DNA of Cao Cao, a great warlord from the Three Kingdoms period (AD208-AD280) who was posthumously made an emperor.

The current study, if its conclusions are proven, will be a step towards settling the long-running debate over whether descendants of Confucius really do exist today.

Because Confucius was an intellectual founding father of Chinese civilisation, his descendants historically have been given special honours by the authorities.

From the beginning of the Ming dynasty in the 14th century, descendants of Confucius received official titles and honours from the central government. This practice was only stopped after the overthrow of the Qing dynasty in 1911.

Today, many people on the mainland and in Taiwan and Hong Kong claim to be descendants of the ancient philosopher.

Han said the method used in the Confucius study was similar to that used on Cao Cao two years ago: the researchers compared the Y chromosome - which passes from father to son - of the DNA samples they collected from people who claimed to descended from Confucius. Han said the results showed that these people do share a common bloodline.

Without a DNA sample from the sage, it was not possible to be certain they were descendants of Confucius.

However, unlike another great sage, Lao Tze , Confucius is a well-documented historical figure and few people question his existence.

Still, many scientists were sceptical of the researchers' claim. They said it was based on many hypotheses that could not be independently verified.

Su Bing, an expert in comparative genomics at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Kunming , Yunnan province, said: "One of the hypotheses is that Confucius has an unbroken male lineage for more than 2,000 years."

Confucius had one son, Kong Li, who died before his father and whose wife remarried.

Some question whether the self-proclaimed Confucius clan really does descend from the sage. Su said another challenge was that there was no DNA sample from the great sage himself.

 

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