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Women to Be Included in Confucius' Family Tree

Confucius, who looked down upon women, probably never expected that his female descendants would eventually be included in his family tree, which for generations has ignored the second sex.

Having women in Confucius' genealogy is the first for China's greatest teacher, but also a rarity in the whole history of genealogy in China where a centuries-old mentality has traditionally valued men and belittled women.

The thoughts of Confucius (551-479 BC), a philosopher, educator and founder of Confucianism in the late Spring and Autumn Period (770-476 BC), are still very influential in Chinese society.

"The new practice in compiling genealogies is a revolution in China, which has a tradition of undervaluing women. The fact that it is Confucius' family, with its reverence for tradition, is a significant symbol," said Prof. Liu Shifan, vice president of the International Association of Confucianism.

According to Kong Dehong, in the past women descendants were always excluded from the Confucius Genealogy. The spouses of male descendants, marked in small characters behind the names of their husbands, were almost hidden.

In the new 5th family tree, which was kicked off in 1996, women descendants will be written in the same size characters as men. Spouses of female descendants will be marked in small letters behind the names of their wives.

Kong Dewei, head of the Confucius Genealogy editorial office, said so far as the office knew, women descendants make up less than 200,000, or approximately 20 percent, of the total. The figure will change as the compilation work advances, Kong Dewei added.

Confucius was recorded in the Analects as saying," Women and people of low birth are very hard to deal with. If you are friendly with them, they get out of hand, and if you keep your distance, they resent it."

"This citation takes it for granted that men are superior to women. The Chinese used to think a married woman no longer belonged to her original family," said Pang Pu, a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

Today this point of view is still deeply rooted in some parts of China, particularly in rural areas, making it difficult for the Genealogy to include every female descendant of Confucius.

Confucius' descendants living in cities are usually more willing than their rural peers to include women in the family tree.

Kong Dewei said as far as the compilers know, the youngest Confucius descendant is a girl named Kong Nianying born in 1995.

Kong Lingren, a 76th generation descendant of the Confucian family and former vice chairwoman of the All-China Women's Federation, said as a woman, she was delighted to hear about the inclusion of female descendants in the family tree. In her 80s, she now lives in Jinan, capital city of east China's Shandong Province.

Confucian thoughts have profoundly influenced Chinese society for more than two thousand years. Apart from a positive attitude toward life and the world and respect for morality and virtue, Confucianism also contains some negative elements, including a neglect of innovation and scorn for women.

Family trees are an important part of traditional Chinese culture. They record priceless historical information and represent a precious legacy for Chinese people.

(Xinhua News Agency July 26, 2006)

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