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Last Updated: Thursday, 28 September 2006, 10:50 GMT 11:50 UK
Confucians say, women now welcome
Confucius image
Confucius had said women were "hard to deal with"
For the first time in more than 2,500 years the family tree of the ancient Chinese philosopher, Confucius, is to include women descendants.

Kong Dehong, a descendant overseeing the updating of the family tree, said: "We have to move with the times. Men and women are equal now."

Traditional Confucian thinking gave women little status and required them to obey men in its strict hierarchy.

A million descendants may be added to the tree, about 200,000 of them women.

Eighty generations

Confucius (551 to 479 BC) developed traditions of piety and respect to elders that are still heavily influential in Chinese life and politics.

But his views on women were distinct: "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."

Confucius statue in Shanghai
Confucian thinking is still heavily influential in China

However Mr Kong, speaking at a festival marking Confucius' 2,557th birthday in the philosopher's home town of Qufu in eastern Shandong province, said equality now had to be observed.

Mr Kong is planning to reveal the fifth family tree update in 2009 and believes there could now be more than three million descendants - about 2.5m of whom live in China.

He said: "Even if a woman has to leave the family when she gets married to live with her husband, that doesn't change the fact that she is descended from Confucius."

State news agency Xinhua said the family tree was thought to be the world's biggest - setting down more than 80 generations.

Confucianism was suppressed during much of China's communist rule, particularly during the Cultural Revolution, when many temples were smashed.

But now there is a resurgence of teaching in schools and universities and the government is funding a $10bn (5.3bn) programme to set up 100 Confucius Institutes around the world over the next four years.

Analysts say Beijing now sees Confucianism more as a celebration of traditional Chinese culture and its strict hierarchy of subjects obeying rulers.

Many also see Confucianism as a provider of moral values in a country that is embracing capitalism more and more.

Last year, President Hu Jintao cited the philosopher in a key speech, saying: "Confucius said, 'harmony is something to be cherished'."

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