Posted by Zia Shah
Absence of Trinity, Original Sin and Pauline atonement in Confucius’s teachings should serve as an epiphany to every fair and open minded Christian.
This is not just a Muslim paradigm but some Christian missionaries have yielded to this frame of reasoning. Don Richardson is a Canadian Christian missionary, who worked among the tribal people of Western New Guinea, Indonesia. He argues in his writings that, hidden among tribal cultures, there are usually some practices or understandings, which he calls ‘Redemptive Analogies,’ which can be used to illustrate the meaning of the Christian Gospel.
In 1962, he and his wife Carol went to work among the Sawi tribe of what was then Dutch New Guinea. Richardson labored to show the villagers a way that they could comprehend Jesus from the Bible, but the cultural barriers to understanding and accepting this teaching seemed impossible until an unlikely event brought the concept of the substitutionary atonement of Christ into immediate relevance for the Sawi.
Missionary historian Ruth A. Tucker writes:
“As he learned the language and lived with the people, he became more aware of the gulf that separated his Christian worldview from the worldview of the Sawi: ‘In their eyes, Judas, not Jesus, was the hero of the Gospels, Jesus was just the dupe to be laughed at.’ Eventually Richardson discovered what he referred to as a Redemptive Analogy that pointed to the Incarnate Christ far more clearly than any biblical passage alone could have done. What he discovered was the Sawi concept of the Peace Child.”
Three tribal villages were in constant battle at this time. The Richardsons were considering leaving the area, so to keep them there, the Sawi people in the embattled villages came together and decided that they would make peace with their hated enemies. Ceremonies commenced that saw young children being exchanged between opposing villages. Observing this, Richardson wrote: “if a man would actually give his own son to his enemies, that man could be trusted!” From this rare picture came the analogy of God’s sacrifice of his own Son. The Sawi began to understand the teaching of the incarnation of Christ in the Gospel after Richardson explained God to them in this way.
This time Don Richardson had duped them into a different irrationality. If we apply the principles of ‘redemptive analogy’ to reformers and prophets like Confucius, Buddha and Zoroaster we will realize quickly that Unitarianism is the way to go!
From the time I was capable of conceiving an idea, and acting upon it by reflection, I either doubted the truth of the Christian system, or thought it to be a strange affair; I scarcely knew which it was: but I well remember, when about seven or eight years of age, hearing a sermon read by a relation of mine, who was a great devotee of the church, upon the subject of what is called Redemption by the death of the Son of God. After the sermon was ended, I went into the garden, and as I was going down the garden steps (for I perfectly recollect the spot) I revolted at the recollection of what I had heard, and thought to myself that it was making God Almighty act like a passionate man, that killed his son, when he could not revenge himself any other way; and as I was sure a man would be hanged that did such a thing, I could not see for what purpose they preached such sermons. This was not one of those kind of thoughts that had anything in it of childish levity; it was to me a serious reflection, arising from the idea I had that God was too good to do such an action, and also too almighty to be under any necessity of doing it. I believe in the same manner to this moment; and I moreover believe, that any system of religion that has anything in it that shocks the mind of a child, cannot be a true system. (Thomas Paine)
Confucius intended his teachings to be implemented and practiced, not merely pondered and evaluated. As we shall do for each of the other figures, we turn now to give consideration to the aspect of his teaching I have categorized as spiritual discipline. Under this rubric, I include those exercises and activities that these teachers promoted as ways of nudging their followers closer to what they considered human fulfillment, however that might be understood. Each of our four figures (Confucius, Buddha, Jesus and Muhammad) regarded these practical disciplines as essential to their teachings. These practices were not optional activities for those interested in extra credit but the very means by which each teacher sought to share his vision with others. In a very meaningful sense, therefore, we cannot completely appreciate what anyone of them taught until we have actually taken the path he set forth and walked it to the end.My choice of that metaphor, by the way, is deliberate. Confucius, the Buddha, Jesus, and Muhammad each referred to his spiritual practice as ‘the way’ or ‘the path.’ Muhammad spoke of Islam as the ‘straight path;’ Jesus called himself ‘the way and the truth and the life,’ and one of early Christianity’s names for itself was simply ‘the Way;’ the Buddha established the ‘Noble Path’ to nibbana; and Confucius urged people to follow the way, or dao, of Heaven. Each teacher believed taking his path required commitment and disciplined action.…Confucius thought that continual practice of mannerly acts could engender sincere feelings in the one who performs them. You may not feel particularly humble, but after several thousand bows and prostrations, feelings of genuine humility begin to surface. Humans are habitual creatures, and so repetitious actions can do amazing things to transform the character. Aristotle said, ‘We are what we repeatedly do.’ John Dryden, the English poet and playwright, also observed the dialectical relationship between behavior and character. He said: ‘We first make our habits, and then our habits make us.’ As character is shaped by behavior, the performance of humane acts becomes natural and spontaneous. It loses the artificial quality that may have attended it at first. For Confucius, this dialectical relationship between the external act and the intemal disposition is the key to understanding how both ritual and decorum can make us more humane.
Mencius said:‘It is said in the ‘Book of Poetry':‘Heaven, in producing mankind,Gave them their various faculties and relations with their specific laws.These are the invariable rules of nature for all to hold,And all love this admirable virtue.’The term “Heaven”, as understood by Mencius is a Conscious Being and it is interchangeable with our term of God. Heaven may be seen to symbolize the active and conscious creative principles of God. Thus he says:‘This is illustrated by what is said in the ‘Book of Poetry,’—“Be always studious to be in harmony with the ordinances of God,So you will certainly get for yourself much happiness;’Classical Confucianism, undoubtedly, presents man as a creation of God rather than just a product of unconscious nature. For Confucius, the ultimate goal in attaining knowledge of one’s own nature is to attain harmony with God, and this is the ultimate of man’s vision of heaven. This belief is quite similar to the Quranic teaching in presenting man as having been created according to God’s attributes.… and follow the nature (attributes) of Allah after which He fashioned all mankind… (Al Quran 30:31)
But hesitancy does not mean silence in this case. Scattered throughout the Analects are references to the principal metaphysical concepts of ancient China. We will discuss these foundational ideas and then examine how they functioned in Confucius’ thought. Although Confucius did not speculate or speak much about the world of gods and spirits, he clearly thought that acknowledging the divine in certain ways was essential to human welfare.Like all Chinese of his day, Confucius accepted the ancient belief that reality comprised two worlds, the realm of Heaven and the realm of Earth. Heaven, or tiiin, was the domain of gods, spirits, and ancestors; Earth, or di, was the sphere of humans and nature. One of the Chinese terms for the universe or cosmos was tiandi, a simple compound of both words. As this compound suggests, Heaven and Earth could not be thought of apart from one another. They formed a holistic and symbiotic unity. Each one depended on the other. The western conception of the absolute transcendence of god, as exemplified in Soren Kierkegaard’s famous claim that there is an “infinite qualitative difference” between god and humanity, was utterly foreign to the Chinese way of thinking. Heaven and Earth were permeable realms, and there was an intimate connection between them. The many gods and spirits of the universe were thought to be immediately available to human beings, and hence they could be consulted by means of divination and could even enter and possess individuals.Due to the interdependence of Heaven and Earth, the well-being of everyone and everything in them rested on their harmonious relationship. Preserving this harmony was one of the king’s principal functions. One of the earliest narratives of Chinese history states that the ruler’s primary responsibility was “pacifying the multitude of spirits and putting in harmony the myriad of people,” and if this was not done, “the spirits will be incensed against him and the people will revolt.” Accordingly, the king was charged with performing the appropriate rituals and sacrifices to curry the favor of the divine figures whose good graces were essential to the well-being of the state and its citizens.The idea of Heaven in Chinese philosophy and religion meant more than just the dwelling place of the divine beings, although it certainly included that. Originally, tian simply meant the “sky,” but over the centuries from the Shang dynasty down to Confucius’ time, the idea of Heaven came to accumulate a rich variety of meanings. During the Shang, tian appears to have been a generic term for the heavenly realm. The people of the Shang imagined this divine world as a heavenly court that paralleled the royal court on earth.As the earthly king governed through a bureaucracy of nobles, counselors, and various other ministers of state, so the high god ruled heaven with his spiritual minions and assistants. The Shang people called the high god Shang Di, the Supreme Emperor or the Supreme Ancestor. Although he was never depicted by physical representations, Shang Di was imagined to preside over a court that included many lesser divinities, or shen, that controlled, or at least influenced, the powers of the natural and human worlds. These were the gods and spirits the Chinese turned to for help in matters of agriculture, hunting, military campaigns, health, and longevity. The high god would not be bothered for these trivial, mundane concerns. Unlike Shang Di, the lower gods were not universal and did not have broad powers; most were decidedly local, such as the town or village gods whose power extended only as far as the city limits, like the jurisdiction of a municipal magistrate.
Confucius (Chinese: 孔子; pinyin: Kǒng zǐ; Wade–Giles: K’ung-tzu, or Chinese: 孔夫子; pinyin: Kǒng Fūzǐ; Wade–Giles: K’ung-fu-tzu), literally “Master Kong“, (traditionally September 28, 551 BC – 479 BC) was a Chinese thinker and social philosopher of the Spring and Autumn Period.
His philosophy emphasized personal and governmental morality, correctness of social relationships, justice and sincerity. These values gained prominence in China over other doctrines, such as Legalism (法家) or Taoism (道家) during the Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD). Confucius’ thoughts have been developed into a system of philosophy known as Confucianism (儒家). It was introduced to Europe by the Italian Jesuit Matteo Ricci, who was the first to Latinise the name as “Confucius”.
His teachings may be found in the Analects of Confucius (論語), a collection of “brief aphoristic fragments”, which was compiled many years after his death. For nearly 2,000 years he was thought to be the editor or author of all the Five Classics (五經) such as the Classic of Rites (禮記) (editor), and the Spring and Autumn Annals (春秋) (author).
Kong Qiu (孔丘), as Confucius is commonly known, is a combination of his surname (孔) and his given name (丘), and he was also known as Zhong Ni (仲尼), which is his courtesy name. He was born in 551 BC in the Lu state (This state was in the south of modern-day Shandong Province) in the later days of the Spring and Autumn Period. Confucius was from a warrior family. His father Shulianghe (叔梁紇) was a famous warrior who had military exploits in two battles and owned a fiefdom. Confucius lost his father when he was three years old, and then his mother Yan Zhengzai (顏徵在) took him and left the fiefdom because as a concubine (妾), she wanted to avoid mistreatment from Shulianghe’s formal wife. Thus, Confucius lived in poverty with his mother since childhood. With the support and encouragement of his mother, Confucius was very diligent in his studies. When Confucius was seventeen years old, his mother died as a result of illness and overwork. Three years later, Confucius married a young woman who was from the Qiguan family (亓官氏) of the Song state (宋) . Though he had a mild tempered wife who loved him, he left his family to strive for his ideals. Confucius sought to revive the perfect virtue of Huaxia (Chinese civilization) and the classical properties of the Western Zhou Dynasty to build a great, harmonious and humanistic society.
The Analects of Confucius
In the Analects (論語), Confucius presents himself as a “transmitter who invented nothing”. He puts the greatest emphasis on the importance of study, and it is the Chinese character for study (or learning) that opens the text. In this respect, he is seen by Chinese people as the Greatest Master. Far from trying to build a systematic theory of life and society or establish a formalism of rites, he wanted his disciples to think deeply for themselves and relentlessly study the outside world, mostly through the old scriptures and by relating the moral problems of the present to past political events (like the Annals) or past expressions of feelings by common people and reflective members of the elite, preserved in the poems of the Book of Odes (詩經).
In times of division, chaos, and endless wars between feudal states, he wanted to restore the Mandate of Heaven (天命) that could unify the “world” (天下, “all under Heaven”) and bestow peace and prosperity on the people. Because his vision of personal and social perfections was framed as a revival of the ordered society of earlier times, Confucius is often considered a great proponent of conservatism, but a closer look at what he proposes often shows that he used (and perhaps twisted) past institutions and rites to push a new political agenda of his own: a revival of a unified royal state, whose rulers would succeed to power on the basis of their moral merits instead of lineage; these would be rulers devoted to their people, striving for personal and social perfection. Such a ruler would spread his own virtues to the people instead of imposing proper behavior with laws and rules.
One of the deepest teachings of Confucius may have been the superiority of personal exemplification over explicit rules of behavior. His moral teachings emphasized self-cultivation, emulation of moral exemplars, and the attainment of skilled judgment rather than knowledge of rules, Confucius’s ethics may be considered a type of virtue ethics. His teachings rarely rely on reasoned argument, and ethical ideals and methods are conveyed more indirectly, through allusions, innuendo, and even tautology. This is why his teachings need to be examined and put into proper context in order to be understood. A good example is found in this famous anecdote:
The passage conveys the lesson that by not asking about the horses, Confucius demonstrated that a sage values human beings over property; readers of this lesson are led to reflect on whether their response would follow Confucius’s, and to pursue ethical self-improvement if it would not. Confucius, an exemplar of human excellence, serves as the ultimate model, rather than a deity or a universally true set of abstract principles. For these reasons, according to many Eastern and Western commentators, Confucius’s teaching may be considered a Chinese example of humanism.
Confucius’s teachings were later turned into an elaborate set of rules and practices by his numerous disciples and followers who organized his teachings into the Analects. In the centuries after his death, Mencius (孟子) and Xun Zi (荀子) both composed important teachings elaborating in different ways on the fundamental ideas associated with Confucius. In time, their writings, together with the Analects and other core texts came to constitute the philosophical corpus known in the West as Confucianism. After more than a thousand years, the scholar Zhu Xi (朱熹) created a very different interpretation of Confucianism which is now called Neo-Confucianism, to distinguish it from the ideas expressed in the Analects. Neo-Confucianism held sway in China, Korea, and Vietnam until the 19th century.
The tomb of Confucius in Qufu
(In Wade-Giles translation by D. C. Lau, this name appears as Kung Ch’iu.)
Although Confucianism is often followed in a religious manner by the Chinese, arguments continue over whether it is a religion. Confucianism does not lack an afterlife, the texts express simple views concerning Heaven, and is relatively unconcerned with some spiritual matters often considered essential to religious thought, such as the nature of the soul.
Confucius’ principles gained wide acceptance primarily because of their basis in common Chinese tradition and belief. He championed strong familial loyalty, ancestor worship, respect of elders by their children (and, according to later interpreters, of husbands by their wives), and the family as a basis for an ideal government. He expressed the well-known principle, “Do not do to others what you do not want done to yourself” (One of the earliest versions of the Golden Rule). He also looked nostalgically upon earlier days, and urged the Chinese, particularly those with political power, to model themselves on earlier examples.
Because no texts survive that are demonstrably authored by Confucius, and the ideas most closely associated with him were elaborated in writings that accumulated over the period between his death and the foundation of the first Chinese empire in 221 BC, many scholars are very cautious about attributing specific assertions to Confucius himself.
The Confucian theory of ethics as exemplified in Lǐ (禮) is based on three important conceptual aspects of life: ceremonies associated with sacrifice to ancestors and deities of various types, social and political institutions, and the etiquette of daily behavior. It was believed by some that lǐ originated from the heavens. Confucius’s view was more nuanced. His approach stressed the development of lǐ through the actions of sage leaders in human history, with less emphasis on its connection with heaven. His discussions of lǐ seem to redefine the term to refer to all actions committed by a person to build the ideal society, rather than those simply conforming with canonical standards of ceremony. In the early Confucian tradition, lǐ, though still linked to traditional forms of action, came to point towards the balance between maintaining these norms so as to perpetuate an ethical social fabric, and violating them in order to accomplish ethical good. These concepts are about doing the proper thing at the proper time, and are connected to the belief that training in the lǐ that past sages have devised cultivates in people virtues that include ethical judgment about when lǐ must be adapted in light of situational contexts.
In early Confucianism, yì (義) and lǐ are closely linked terms. Yì can be translated as righteousness, though it may simply mean what is ethically best to do in a certain context. The term contrasts with action done out of self-interest. While pursuing one’s own self-interest is not necessarily bad, one would be a better, more righteous person if one based one’s life upon following a path designed to enhance the greater good, an outcome of yì. This is doing the right thing for the right reason. Yì is based upon reciprocity.
Just as action according to Lǐ should be adapted to conform to the aspiration of adhering to yì, so yì is linked to the core value of rén (仁). Rén is the virtue of perfectly fulfilling one’s responsibilities toward others, most often translated as “benevolence” or “humaneness”; translator Arthur Waley calls it “Goodness” (with a capital G), and other translations that have been put forth include “authoritativeness” and “selflessness.” Confucius’s moral system was based upon empathy and understanding others, rather than divinely ordained rules. To develop one’s spontaneous responses of rén so that these could guide action intuitively was even better than living by the rules of yì. To cultivate one’s attentiveness to rén one used another Confucian version of the Golden Rule: one must always treat others just as one would want others to treat oneself. Virtue, in this Confucian view, is based upon harmony with other people, produced through this type of ethical practice by a growing identification of the interests of self and other.
In this regard, Confucius articulated an early version of the Golden Rule:
Confucius’ political thought is based upon his ethical thought. He argues that the best government is one that rules through “rites” (lǐ) and people’s natural morality, rather than by using bribery and coercion. He explained that this is one of the most important analects: 1. “If the people be led by laws, and uniformity sought to be given them by punishments, they will try to avoid the punishment, but have no sense of shame. If they be led by virtue, and uniformity sought to be given them by the rules of propriety, they will have the sense of the shame, and moreover will become good.” (Translated by James Legge) in the Great Learning (大學). This “sense of shame” is an internalisation of duty, where the punishment precedes the evil action, instead of following it in the form of laws as in Legalism.
While he supported the idea of government by an all-powerful sage, ruling as an Emperor, probably because of the chaotic state of China at his time, his ideas contained a number of elements to limit the power of rulers. He argued for according language with truth; thus honesty was of paramount importance. Even in facial expression, truth must always be represented. In discussing the relationship between a king and his subject (or a father and his son), he underlined the need to give due respect to superiors. This demanded that the inferior must give advice to his superior if the superior was considered to be taking the wrong course of action. This was built upon a century after Confucius’s death by his latter day disciple Mencius, who argued that if the king was not acting like a king, he would lose the Mandate of Heaven and be overthrown. Therefore, tyrannicide is justified because a tyrant is more a thief than a king. Other Confucian texts, though celebrating absolute rule by ethical sages, recognise the failings of real rulers in maxims such as, “An oppressive government is more feared than a tiger.”
Some well known Confucian quotes:
The last quote was chanted by the numerous drummers in the Opening Ceremony of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, China.
Confucius’ disciples and his only grandson, Zisi, continued his philosophical school after his death. These efforts spread Confucian ideals to students who then became officials in many of the royal courts in China, thereby giving Confucianism the first wide-scale test of its dogma. While relying heavily on Confucius’ ethico-political system, two of his most famous later followers emphasized radically different aspects of his teachings. Mencius (4th century BC) articulated the innate goodness in human beings as a source of the ethical intuitions that guide people towards rén, yì, and lǐ, while Xun Zi (3rd century BC) underscored the realistic and materialistic aspects of Confucian thought, stressing that morality was inculcated in society through tradition and in individuals through training.
This realignment in Confucian thought was parallel to the development of Legalism, which saw filial piety as self-interest and not a useful tool for a ruler to create an effective state. A disagreement between these two political philosophies came to a head in 223 BC when the Qin state conquered all of China. Li Ssu, Prime Minister of the Qin Dynasty convinced Qin Shi Huang to abandon the Confucians’ recommendation of awarding fiefs akin to the Zhou Dynasty before them which he saw as counter to the Legalist idea of centralizing the state around the ruler. When the Confucian advisers pressed their point, Li Ssu had many Confucian scholars killed and their books burned—considered a huge blow to the philosophy and Chinese scholarship.
Under the succeeding Han Dynasty and Tang Dynasty, Confucian ideas gained even more widespread prominence. Under Wudi, the works of Confucius were made the official imperial philosophy and required reading for civil service examinations in 140 BC which was continued nearly unbroken until the end of the 19th Century. As Moism lost support by the time of the Han, the main philosophical contenders were Legalism, which Confucian thought somewhat absorbed, the teachings of Lao-tzu, whose focus on more mystic ideas kept it from direct conflict with Confucianism, and the new Buddhist religion, which gained acceptance during the Southern and Northern Dynasties era.
During the Song Dynasty, the scholar Zhu Xi (1130-1200 AD) added ideas from Daoism and Buddhism into Confucianism. In his life, Zhu Xi was largely ignored, but not long after his death his ideas became the new orthodox view of what Confucian texts actually meant. Modern historians view Zhu Xi as having created something rather different, and call his way of thinking Neo-Confucianism. Both Confucian ideas and Confucian-trained officials were relied upon in the Ming Dynasty and even the Yuan Dynasty, although Kublai Khan distrusted handing over provincial control. In the modern era Confucian movements, such as New Confucianism, still exist but during the Cultural Revolution, Confucianism was frequently attacked by leading figures in the Communist Party of China. This was partially a continuation of the condemnations of Confucianism by intellectuals and activists in the early 20th Century as a cause of the ethnocentric close-mindedness and refusal of the Qing Dynasty to modernize that led to the tragedies that befell China in the 19th Century.
In modern times, Asteroid 7853, “Confucius,” was named after the Chinese thinker.
Quote: “Respect yourself and others will respect you.”
Quote: “Today I have seen Lao-tzu and can only compare him to the dragon.”
The Chinese have a tradition of holding spectacular memorial ceremonies of Confucius (祭孔) every year, using ceremonies that supposedly derived from Zhou Li (周禮) as recorded by Confucius, on the date of Confucius’ birth. This tradition was interrupted for several decades in mainland China, where the official stance of the Communist Party and the State was that Confucius and Confucianism represented reactionary feudalist beliefs which held that the subservience of the people to the aristocracy is a part of the natural order. All such ceremonies and rites were therefore banned. Only after the 1990s, did the ceremony resume. As it is now considered a veneration of Chinese history and tradition, even Communist Party members may be found in attendance.
In Taiwan, where the Nationalist Party (Kuomintang) strongly promoted Confucian beliefs in ethics and behavior, the tradition of the memorial ceremony of Confucius (祭孔) is supported by the government and has continued without interruption. While not a national holiday, it does appear on all printed calendars, much as Father’s Day does in the West.
Confucius’s works are studied by many scholars in many other Asian countries, particularly those in the Sinosphere, such as Korea, Japan and Vietnam. Many of those countries still hold the traditional memorial ceremony every year.
The works of Confucius were translated into European languages through the agency of Jesuit scholars stationed in China. Matteo Ricci started to report on the thoughts of Confucius, and father Prospero Intorcetta published the life and works of Confucius into Latin in 1687. It is thought that such works had considerable importance on European thinkers of the period, particularly among the Deists and other philosophical groups of the Enlightenment who were interested by the integration of the system of morality of Confucius into Western civilization.
No contemporary painting or sculpture of Confucius survives, and it was apparently only during the Han Dynasty that he was portrayed visually. Carvings often depict his legendary meeting with Laozi. In 2007 a Han dynasty fresco depicting this meeting was found in Dongping County. Since that time there have been many portraits of Confucius as the ideal philosopher. In former times it was customary to have a portrait in Confucius Temples; however, during the reign of Emperor Taizu of the Ming dynasty it was decided that the only proper portrait of Confucius should be in the temple in his hometown, Qufu. In other temples Confucius is represented by a memorial tablet. In 2006, the China Confucius Foundation commissioned a standard portrait of Confucius based on the Tang dynasty portrait by Wu Daozi.
Soon after Confucius’ death, Qufu, his hometown in the state of Lu and now in present-day Shandong Province, became a place of devotion and remembrance. It is still a major destination for cultural tourism, and many people visit his grave and the surrounding temples. In pan-China cultures, there are many temples where representations of the Buddha, Laozi and Confucius are found together. There are also many temples dedicated to him, which have been used for Confucianist ceremonies.
Confucius’ descendants were repeatedly identified and honored by successive imperial governments with titles of nobility and official posts. They were honored with the rank of a marquis thirty-five times since Gaozu of the Han Dynasty, and they were promoted to the rank of duke forty-two times from the Tang Dynasty to the Qing Dynasty. Emperor Xuanzong of Tang first bestowed the title of “Duke Wenxuan” on Kong Suizhi of the 35th generation. In 1055, Emperor Renzong of Song first bestowed the title of “Duke Yansheng” on Kong Zongyuan of the 46th generation.
Despite repeated dynastic change in China, the title of Duke Yansheng was bestowed upon successive generations of descendants until it was abolished by the Nationalist Government in 1935. The last holder of the title, Kung Te-cheng of the 77th generation, was appointed Sacrificial Official to Confucius. Kung Te-cheng was offered the position of puppet Emperor of China in 1937 by the Japanese, but Kung declined the offer. Te-cheng died in October 2008, and his son, Kung Wei-yi, the 78th lineal descendant, had died in 1989. Kung Te-cheng’s grandson, Kung Tsui-chang, the 79th lineal descendant, was born in 1975; his great-grandson, Kung Yu-jen, the 80th lineal descendant, was born in Taipei on January 1, 2006. Te-cheng’s sister, Kong Demao, lives in mainland China and has written a book about her experiences growing up at the family estate in Qufu. Another sister, Kong Deqi, died as a young woman.
Confucius’s family, the Kongs, has the longest recorded extant pedigree in the world today. The father-to-son family tree, now in its 83rd generation, has been recorded since the death of Confucius. According to the Confucius Genealogy Compilation Committee, he has 2 million known and registered descendants, and there are an estimated 3 million in all. Of these, several tens of thousands live outside of China. In the 14th century, a Kong descendant went to Korea, where an estimated 34,000 descendants of Confucius live today. One of the main lineages fled from the Kong ancestral home in Qufu during the Chinese Civil War in the 1940s, and eventually settled in Taiwan.
Because of the huge interest in the Confucius family tree, there was a project in China to test the DNA of known family members. Among other things, this would allow scientists to identify a common Y chromosome in male descendants of Confucius. If the descent were truly unbroken, father-to-son, since Confucius’s lifetime, the males in the family would all have the same Y chromosome as their direct male ancestor, with slight mutations due to the passage of time. However, in 2009, the family authorities decided not to agree to DNA testing. Bryan Sykes, professor of genetics at Oxford University, understands this decision: “The Confucius family tree has an enormous cultural significance,” he said. “It’s not just a scientific question.” The DNA testing was originally proposed to add new members, many of whose family record books were lost during 20th-century upheavals, to the Confucian family tree.
The fifth and most recent edition of the Confucius genealogy was printed by the Confucius Genealogy Compilation Committee (CGCC). It was unveiled in a ceremony at Qufu on September 24, 2009. Women are now included for the first time.
Note that this only deals with those whose lines of descent are documented historically. Using mathematical models, it is easy to demonstrate that people living today have a much more common ancestry than commonly assumed, so it is likely that many more have Confucius as an ancestor.