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77th-Generation Descendant of Confucius Dies in Beijing

The 96-year-old Kong Deyong succumbed to "lung infection" amid the latest surge in COVID cases proliferating across China
Leo Timm
Leo Timm covers China-related news, culture, and history. Follow him on Twitter at @kunlunpeaks
Published: December 28, 2022
A man walks beside the statue of Confucius at the Confucius Temple in Beijing on September 28, 2010. (Image: LIU JIN/AFP via Getty Images)

One of the modern descendants of China’s greatest teacher, Confucius, has died amidst the massive resurgence of COVID-19 that is sweeping across the country and infecting hundreds of millions.

Kong Deyong (孔德墉), 96, died on Christmas Day in Beijing, according to an obituary published by his family online. The obituary gave “lung infection” as his cause of death.

Confucius lived around 2,500 years ago, spending his life traveling the Chinese feudal states exhorting rulers to govern their people with compassion and morality. His thought articulates the traditional virtues of family ethics, respect for elders, and spiritual refinement that propelled Chinese civilization for millennia and had a lasting effect on all of East Asia.

Descendants of the philosopher live in both mainland China and Taiwan, and bear the surname Kong (孔). “Confucius” is the Latin form of the original Chinese Kong Fu Zi (孔夫子), which means “Master Kong.” His clan is one of the longest-lived families in the world, rivaling even the genealogy of the semi-legendary Japanese imperial line.

A Confucian temple in Nanjing, China, on May 2, 2009. (Image: Hugh Llewelyn/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0)

Hundreds of millions of Chinese are believed to have contracted COVID-19, the disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, in recent weeks, according to leaked statistics announced during an internal meeting of the National Health Commission. Foreign experts estimates that millions could die as China’s health system strains under the burden of the pandemic.

Kong Deyong was president of the World Federation of Confucius Descendants (世界孔子后裔联谊总会), founded in 2005 under the auspices of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

While the CCP has been known for using the name of Confucius to promote its Marxist ideology overseas under the guise of cultural exchanges, the regime once viciously attacked Confucianism as part of the “evil old society.”

In the Cultural Revolution (1966–1976), Red Guards were encouraged to beat and abuse their teachers, smash Confucian temples, and burn ancient Chinese classics. The graves of Confucius and his descendants in their ancestral hometown of Qufu, Shandong Province, were dug up in as ultimate insult towards the revered sage.

Kong Deyong, born in 1926, joined the ranks of the Chinese communists in 1948, serving the Party in a logistical job as the CCP’s armies battled with government forces. Following the communist takeover of mainland China, Kong worked in the Chinese Institute for Musical Research (中国音乐研究所).

As a relative of Confucius, Kong “suffered attacks” during the Cultural Revolution, according to his obituary. He later moved to Hong Kong to take up a career in business and in 2009 helped compile an extensive genealogy of the Confucius clan listing 2 million relatives.

Kong Deyong was the most prominent member of the Confucius clan in mainland China; however, the sage’s main line of descent is in Taiwan, officially the Republic of China. (Men in ancient China often took concubines, with sons born of the principal wife being considered the direct descendants)

Kung Te-cheng (孔德成), who passed away in 2008, was the eldest son in the 77th generation of the Confucius family. He was a professor at the prestigious National Taiwan University. During World War II, he was said to have rejected an offer by the invading Imperial Japanese Army to serve as puppet monarch of China.

The current representative of the main line of descent is 47-year-old Kung Tsui-chang (孔垂長), 79th-generation descendant of Confucius. He lives in Taiwan and holds the Republic of China honorary government title of Ceremonial Official to Confucius (大成至聖先師奉祀官).

Kong Deyong’s line is currently represented by his grandson, 79th-generation descendant James Kong, or Kong Chuixu, who is half-British and grew up in the UK.