The lineage of the ancient sage kings

After recording the “India genetics” podcast for The Insight and reading Early China: A Social and Cultural History, I wonder what surprises we’re going to get from China from ancient DNA when it comes online. If there is one thing we are learning by looking closely at DNA, modern and ancient, it’s that at least for humans there are very few ‘primal’ populations from the “Out of Africa” event which haven’t been threaded together from pulse admixtures of continuous gene flow across the landscape.

Early China makes it clear that Erlitou culture which dates from ~1900 to 1500 BC was almost certainly the legendary Xia dynasty. This means that the ethnogenesis of the modern Han Chinese probably dates to the latest ~4,000 years ago. This is centuries before the Indo-Aryans were likely arriving in South Asia, and around the same time that Indo-European groups were pushing into peninsular Southern Europe.

The Y chromosome data does not indicate a Bronze Age ‘star phylogeny’ expansion in East Asia that I know of, so the dynamics were not entirely similar to Western Eurasia. But, it seems quite plausible that the Han themselves are not a chrysalis from the late Pleistocene.

A cursory examination of the SNP data makes it clear that there is a north-south cline whereby the peoples north of the Yangzi have more West Eurasian admixture than those to the south. In fact, if you look at the PCA and admixture plot you notice that the Japanese have no West Eurasian ancestry. The Yayoi ancestry dominant among the Japanese probably arrived from southern Korea ~2,500 years ago. And, positioned away from the Chinese “mainland” southern Korea was relatively shielded from Inner Asian migrations (I am aware of Korea’s association with Manchuria and the extent of those early kingdoms).

In Empires of the Silk Road, Christopher Beckwith argues strongly for the role of Indo-Europeans in the ethnogenesis of the early proto-Han, through the influence of the Rong, Di, and Qiang. The Qiang were probably proto-Tibetan, but the genetically attested presence of people with overwhelmingly West Eurasian ancestry in areas like Dzungaria during the Bronze Age is well known. Y chromosome R1a1a is found at levels of a few percents among the northern Han, and perhaps as high as ~10% among the Mongolians (though R1b is found among many Uygurs, which is rare for Central Asia).

Beckwith points to the spread of chariot technology from Inner Asia ~1200 BC as strong evidence that Indo-Europeans were somehow involved with the rise of the Shang or Zhou, and so ties them into the emergence of Sinic civilization. Though it is clear that early Chinese chariots were originally derived from Inner Asian exemplars, as Egyptian chariots were, I think it is not unreasonable to suppose this was a case of genuine cultural diffusion and emulation of a useful weapon of war. Consider how quick native peoples in the New World adopted firearms and horses.

Within the next few years, we will have ancient DNA from a wide transect of Chinese history. Unlike some peoples the Chinese are highly historical people, so the genetics will not be stepping into the breach. We even have census records going back 2,000 years, and attempts of scholars to trace migrations based on the changing distribution of the taxable households (though note that some variation in the census count is due to tax dodging during times of political weakness).

I’ll hazard a prediction that most of the West Eurasian admixture into the North Chinese will be seen to be a function of the period after the fall of the Han dynasty and before the Sui-Tang, as well as the influx of Sogdians during the Sui-Tang, and later the arrival of large numbers of Muslims with the Mongolian Yuan. In other words, the shape of modern China on the edges came into being between 300 AD and 1300, as a small proportion of very exotic West Eurasian ancestry became the norm on the North China plain, while a large proportion of far less exotic and quite similar non-Chinese people were instrumental in the development of a distinctive southern Han people, based around particular localities and dialects.

The more interesting story will probably be in the Neolithic, around the time of the rise of agriculture on the North China plain (and in the Yangzi basin).

6 thoughts on “The lineage of the ancient sage kings

  1. Historically there were reports of Chinese emperors with green eyes but modern Chinese historians ignored that. Many of the Chinese surnames were from the nobility from the ancient Zhou dynasty from 1000 BCE and many of them had intermarried with the non-Chinese people from northern Guifang who could be the ancient Scythians. Among the Han Chinese surname groups some have high percentage of non O yHg while the general Han population is about 80% yHg O.

    Taking the sum of C+N+R %yHg, interestingly the highest surname group is Kong, i.e. sampled from the registry of Confucius descendants maintained by all the dynasties since Confucius, he or some of his descendants could be Manchurian candidates except that Kong has high % Q yHg whereas the Manchu has little or none of that. Rank 3 Jin/Kim is believed to be the descendants of the ancient Jin/Kim state. Rank 4 Xiahou is supposed to be the descendants from Xia dynasty from about 2000 BCE or from the Xia people from the ancient HuaXia alliance. In mid history Xia tended to be associated with the normads. Rank 5 Gao/Ko is believed to be the descendents from the ancient Goryo state. Rank 11 Liu was the royal surname of the Han dynasty emperors and quite a few of the royalty/nobility children were sent to the Xiongnu as hostages and some of the descendants might retain the maternal surname. Rank 15 Li/Lee was the surname of the Tang emperors who were from the northern Xiangbei region. Though they were claimed to be of Chinese descents many of the nobilities they brought to court were awarded the royal surname might not be Chinese. None of the major Tang military commanders were Chinese which later gave rise to the An LukSan rebellion. Li/Lee is the top or second top surname group in China. So they are not fringe group. Rank 12 Zhao were from the Zhao state from 500 BCE and they started wearing trousers since then so most of them could be descendents of horse riders. The most obvious sign of the admixture is that from the 1KGP about 40% of modern Chinese are latent carriers of the red hair gene. Karafet put %N yHg in China at 9%, i.e. ~ 62 million people, especially in Guangdong Han yHg N-LLY22g* 15.0% (6/40) (Hammer 2005 and Karafet 2001), which could be higher than the sum total of N yHg in Europe.

    Results from commercial testing and academic sources.

    Rank %CNR Surn SurnE Size %C %N %R Ref
    1 48.74 孔 Kǒng 1118 46.6 0.98 1.16 Fudan
    2 40.0 * Manchu 35 25.7 14.3 0.0 Xue2006
    3 33.3 金 Jīn 24 8.3 20.8 4.2
    4 28.5 夏侯 Xiàhóu 21 19.0 9.5 0.0
    5 26.3 高 Gāo 38 15.8 10.5 0.0
    11 20.1 劉 Liú 119 10.1 8.4 1.6
    12 19.7 趙 Zhào 66 10.6 7.6 1.5
    15 18.5 李 Lǐ 103 10.7 7.8 0.0
    19 16.0 * Korean 25 12.0 4.0 0.0 Xue2006
    24 15.0 * (Han) 166 6.0 9.0 0.0 Karafet2005

  2. Rank 5 Gao/Ko is believed to be the descendents from the ancient Goryo state.

    Goguryeo, not Koryo. The latter was a much later (unified) dynasty, preceding Joseon that gave rise to the name Korea, whereas the former was one of the much earlier three kingdoms. It was at one point the largest and the most powerful of the three, encompassing both the northern part of the Korean Peninsula and much of Manchuria and beyond (it held the Mohe, ancestors of the Jurchen, in vassalage), but later fell to the Silla-Tang alliance.

  3. From the early 5th or late 4th Century on, Koguryo has been known as Koryo(高麗) internationally. The distinction between the two is simply the work of later historians for their convenience.

    The Y-haplogroup composition of each surname is pretty interesting but one should avoid simple interpretations for obvious reasons. For instance not all N’s are intrusive to Han Chinese and conversely not all O’s are native to Han Chinese(actually this latter proposition is completely absurd).

    Confucius actually said that his ancestors were from 九夷 where 夷 is generally interpreted as “Eastern Barbarians”. There is some controversy as to whether the 夷 of the 5-6th C. BC is related to the later 東夷, Eastern Barbarians, that include Jurchens and Koreans(sometime Japanese as well). But there are textual evidences that Chinese as late as the 15-16th Century thought so.(for instance an 11th century travel diary by a Chinese who stayed in Korea for many months)

    By the way his putative descendants’ having non-O Y-haplogroup is purely a coincidence in my opinion.

    Most Chinese web-trolls vehemently deny that the surname 高 has anything to do with Korea. And historically there have been many Han Chinese with that surname with no apparent connection to Korea. Modern Koreans with that surname mostly have a different origin in the island of Cheju but there is one clan who claims descent from Koguryo royalty. The president of the clan association was tested to be O-M122, but not likely related to Han Chinese as the sub-type is nearly absent among Han Chinese with the depth of separation from the nearest Han Chinese lineage(O-M122-M159), at least 12000 years.

    Most of Aisin Gioro clan(Ching dynasty) took the surname 金, Jin in Mandarin and Kim in Korean. There are Han Chinese of that surname but demographically most of them are Manchu or Korean in origin.

  4. From the early 5th or late 4th Century on, Koguryo has been known as Koryo(高麗) internationally. The distinction between the two is simply the work of later historians for their convenience.

    Yes, Goguryeo was also known as Goryeo, but it and the later Goryeo are 250 years apart at least and share little beyond overlapping territory. It’s a bit like insisting that The Holy Roman Empire and the Roman Empire are both called “Rome.”

  5. “…share little beyond overlapping territory.”

    Quite the contrary, they have been considered the “same country” even by Chinese until modern revisionism set in just 30 years ago.

    Also the prevailing theory in linguistics says that the two spoke very closely related languages as evidenced by what look like Koreanic loan words into Jurchen and Khitan languages.(which Alexander Vovin posited were from the language of Koguryo and also possibly Parhae elites) Even the crazy and rabid Beckwith had to revise his thesis so that now he thinks that the three kingdoms spoke similar languages at least toward the end of the three kingdom period.

    In Jurchens’ own 欽定滿洲源流考, “Reflection on the origin of the Manchu nation” officially commissioned by the Ching dynasty, Paekche and Shilla are listed as their ancestral countries while ironically Koguryo is dropped. Why? because at the time the Korean dynasty was considered a successor to Koryo whose connection to Koguryo was too obvious besides the name itself.

  6. Quite the contrary, they have been considered the “same country” even by Chinese until modern revisionism set in just 30 years ago.

    That the Chinese did not distinguish various “eastern barbarians” does not mean they were the same people or had the same dynastic continuity. Between Goguryeo and Goryeo, there were 250 years of unified Silla (and Balhae/Bohai) and the chaos of the later Three Kingdoms period. Whatever contiguity existed between the two were likely notional and rhetorical at best.

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