This assembly looks at genealogy, with a focus on the Chinese philosopher Confucius and his family tree

Confucius (551-479 BC) was a Chinese philosopher whose wisdom and sayings are still repeated all over the world. This week 1,000 members of his descendants got together as an 80 volume book was published showing more than two million names on Confucius’ family tree.

This assembly discusses why so many people find genealogy fascinating as well as the reasons for Confucius’ fame.

Note for teachers
Most of us can trace our ancestors back a couple of generations without too much trouble and genealogy has become a popular subject. When the census from 1901 was put online, such was the interest that the Census Records Database crashed the servers for several days. But when delivering this assembly it is important to bear in mind that some children will be adopted and others will not know one parent or, perhaps, any of their grandparents.

If you are considering extension work around genealogy you could offer pupils the choice of following their own family tree or one from a figure from history. Queen Victoria is always an interesting one, not least because she had so many children that married into most of the European royal families.

NB If you don’t want to use the term ‘BC = Before Christ’, you can use the term ‘BCE = Before Common Era’.

Resources

Introduction
Today we’re going to be talking about trees – very special trees – but we’ll get to that in a minute.

First of all, let’s talk about the shape of a tree. [Encourage pupils to describe the roots, the shape of the trunk, branches, twigs that become new branches and so on.]

Now, when I use the words ‘family tree’ it doesn’t mean a tree that grows in your garden – it means writing down the names of as many relations as you can, who their parents are, their grandparents and so on, as far back as possible. It’s called a family tree but when you draw it and write everything down it kind of looks like the trunk and branches of a tree, where lots of people are connected to one another. Some families can trace their ancestors back two or three generations but a few families can trace their roots back much further – the Royal Family is one of them. [Show House of Windsor]

Here’s our Queen, Elizabeth II. Here are her grandchildren, the Princes William and Harry. And here’s the Queen’s grandmother, Queen Mary. That’s just five generations and it’s a lot of people already!

But look at this family tree [Show Alfred to Elizabeth II] – this is the Queen’s family tree going back to the year 871. Who can work out how many years ago that is? [Answer 1138 years]

That’s a very long time, isn’t it? There can’t be many people in the world who can trace their family back that far, can there? Well, actually, there is one family who can trace their family back even further.

James Hung’s story
Here’s a photograph of James. He’s 16 and was born in London (1). [Show picture] He’s wearing a very interesting hat, isn’t he? That’s because he’s taking part in a very special ceremony. He’s celebrating the work done on his family tree with 1,000 of his family members. That’s an awful lot of people! But in fact James’ family can trace their roots back two-and-a-half thousand years to one man.

But let’s start at the beginning.

James is 16 and studying for his GCSEs at his school in West London. His mother is British and James was born and brought up in London. James’ father was born and brought up in China and it is that part of James’ family tree that is so extraordinary.

Confucius’ story
James can trace his ancestors back to a man who was born in China in the year 551BC. His name was Confucius. And he was a philosopher. So what job does a philosopher do? Well, he or she spends time thinking about the way the world is, the reasons for this, and what would make the world work better.

Confucius had many jobs when he was growing up including working as a shepherd and as a cowherd and, later on, as an administrator to one of the country’s important leaders. But it is not for these jobs that he is remembered – he’s remembered for the things that he said. His most important ideas were written down in a set of books. Of course, in those days, books weren’t printed on big machines like they are today – each one was written by hand and it took a very long time which meant books were very expensive.

Here are some well known words that Confucius said:

Everything has its beauty but not everyone sees it.

Forget injuries, never forget kindnesses.

It does not matter how slowly you go so long as you do not stop.

Respect yourself and others will respect you. (2)

[Choose one of the sayings and encourage children to discuss its meaning and relevance today.]

So you see, even today, two-and-a-half-thousand years later, Confucius’ words ring true to us and have meaning for us. There are only a few books in the world that can stand the test of time like that and many of these are religious books: the Christian Bible (around 2,000 years old); the Moslem Koran (around 1500 years old); and the Hindu Vedas (around 3,000 years old) are all examples. So Confucius’ sayings are quite unusual in that they are not bound up in a particular religion. People did try to follow his teachings and his thoughts about right and wrong are still followed in many countries across the world, particularly across Asia and the Far East. A recent book based on his sayings sold over 10 million copies – which is similar to the numbers sold of a Harry Potter book in it’s first day in the shops.

But let’s go back to James and why he’s in the news this week.

Descendants of Confucius got together to celebrate their family tree being published in a book. Well, in fact it’s not just a book, but 80 book volumes, containing 43,000 pages because so far they have traced over two million descendants! That’s really incredible! That’s a bit like being related to everybody in Kent and Oxfordshire combined! (3)

The work was done by James Hung’s father and grandfather – and it took many, many years to complete.

To celebrate the publication of the family tree, ten thousand family members met together wearing the traditional yellow silk scarf in the Chinese town of Qufu. James Hung was one of them.

‘When I was walking through the gates of the temple in the procession and I looked back at the sea of people with their yellow scarves, I felt a tear welling up. I didn’t cry, but I didn’t dare to speak in case I did. I’m so proud of what my grandfather and father have achieved.’ (1)

But other than an interest in family history, why did James’ father and grandfather spend so much time and effort tracing family members in this huge family tree?

‘Confucius’ family tree is a national treasure,’ said Kong Deyong, James’ grandfather. (4)

Mr Kong also said that the family tree is important for people doing research, but also for ‘helping Confucius’ descendants around the world discover their ancestors and strengthen family bonds’.

Many descendants are not Chinese but Mr Kong says, ‘we should count them in [the book] because we are one big family’.

It is only recently that women have been included in the book as well! In the past it was thought that women were not as important, but it has now been realised that this is not true.

Conclusion
Confucius’ family tree stretches across the world, showing that the world really is one big family. We may not all be related to Confucius but we are all members of planet Earth.

PrayerDear Father,

Thank you for our families, whether we are related to them through blood or friendship or shared experiences. Amen.

Reflection
Schools are like families: we grow up together, share experiences together, squabble and make up together.

(1) http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/china/6230959/Confucius-family-tree-unveiled.html
(2) http://www.quotationspage.com/quotes/Confucius/
(3) Kent has 1,329,718 inhabitants, and Oxfordshire has 605,488 http://www.statistics.gov.uk/census2001/pyramids/pages/21.asp
(4) http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/asia-pacific/8275269.stm

This e-bulletin issue was first published in October 2009

About the author: Jane A. C. West

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