With a history of over 2,500 years covering more than 80 generations, and the longest family tree in the world according to the Guinness Book of Records, the fifth edition of the Confucius Genealogy will be printed in several volumes in 2009, according to an organizer of the Confucius Genealogy Compilation Committee (CGCC).
It has taken ten years to compile this latest list of descendants of revered Chinese thinker and educator Confucius (551-479 BC) but along the way there have been wrangles as to whether it is of national significance or purely a family affair, and whether the genealogy should be seen as a Chinese cultural heritage or a hangover of Feudalism.
Kong Deyong, a 77th-generation descendant of Confucius and head of the World Federation of Confucius Descendants.
The fifth registration of descendants
The Confucius Genealogy, originally recorded by hand, was first printed in 1080 AD during the Northern Song Dynasty. Since then it has been revised only four times, during the reigns of Ming Emperor Tianqi, Qing Emperors Kangxi and Qianlong, and finally in 1937 during the Republican period.
In the turbulent decades since 1937, many descendants of Confucius left the sage's hometown of Qufu in Shandong Province, some changed their family name, some changed their religion and others moved overseas. All these circumstances made it difficult to trace the sage's modern descendants and it seemed the links in the bloodline would be irredeemably broken.
Then in 1998 Kong Deyong, a 77th-generation descendant and head of the World Federation of Confucius Descendants, set up a committee in Hong Kong to update the family tree. More than 450 branches were set up around the world to assist in the work.
According to the genealogy's chief editor Kong Dewei, the fifth edition contains over 1.3 million new entries. Living descendants have to pay five yuan (70 US cents) to be included. The dead get in for free. The 1937 edition had 600,000 entries, so the new edition contains more than two million.
Cultural heritage or Feudal hangover?
The revision work ran into some initial difficulties, ranging from social resistance to the whole idea, to distrust on the part of some of the descendants.
Kong Deyong said that after the People's Republic of China was established in 1949 campaigns against the "Four Olds" (old customs, culture, habits and ideas) meant that people stopped talking about their family trees and considered them relics of feudalism. Since the opening-up policy began in the 1980s, the situation has changed, but many people are still reluctant to talk about the subject.