[Paleopsych] NYT: Scientists Link a Prolific Gene Tree to the Manchu Conquerors of China
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Sat Nov 12 17:02:44 UTC 2005
Scientists Link a Prolific Gene Tree to the Manchu Conquerors of China
By NICHOLAS WADE
Geneticists have identified a major lineage of Y chromosomes in
populations of northern China that they believe may mark the bearers
as descendants of one of the Manchu conquerors who founded the Qing
dynasty and ruled China from 1644 to 1911.
Because the founder of the lineage lived some 500 years ago, according
to calculations based on the rate of genetic change, he may have been
Giocangga, who died in 1582, the grandfather of the Manchu leader
Nurhaci. At least 1.6 million men now carry this Manchu Y chromosome,
says Chris Tyler-Smith, the leader of a team of English and Chinese
Several historians, however, expressed reservations and said they
would like to see more evidence, including testing of present-day
descendants of the Qing nobility.
This is not the first instance of extraordinary male procreation that
Dr. Tyler-Smith has brought to light. Two years ago, after a survey of
Y chromosomes across East Asia, he identified a lineage that he was
able to associate with the Mongol royal house and Genghis Khan.
Some 16 million men who live within the boundaries of the former
Mongol empire now carry Genghis's Y chromosome, according to Dr.
The Mongol Y chromosome presumably spread so widely because of the
large number of concubines amassed by Genghis and his relatives. The
Manchu rulers, though not in Genghis's league, also were able to
spread their lineage so far, Dr. Tyler-Smith and his colleagues
suggest, because of being able to keep many concubines. Even a
ninth-rank nobleman in the dynasty (whose name is pronounced ching)
was entitled to receive 11 kilograms of silver and 22,000 liters of
rice as his annual stipend.
With colleagues in England and Beijing, Dr. Tyler-Smith identified a Y
chromosome lineage that was surprisingly common among seven
populations scattered across northern China, but was absent from the
Han, to which most Chinese belong.
Since the only other Y chromosome lineage in the region anywhere near
as common was that of Genghis Khan, the founder of the new lineage
seemed likely to have left his mark in the historical record, as well,
Dr. Tyler-Smith says in an article to appear in the December issue of
The American Journal of Human Genetics. The Manchus of the Qing
dynasty seem the best candidates because there were more than 80,000
official members of the Qing dynasty by 1911, according to a history
of the Manchus by Prof. Mark C. Elliott of Harvard.
By counting the number of mutations in the lineage's Y chromosome, Dr.
Tyler-Smith estimated that the common ancestor of all branches of the
lineage lived about 500 years ago and was therefore probably the
Manchu patriarch Giocangga.
A puzzling feature of the geneticists' finding is that the Manchu Y
chromosome they identified is quite rare in Liaoning, the original
home province. Dr. Elliott said that was not necessarily surprising,
because many Manchus left their homeland and relocated to Beijing
after the founding of the Qing dynasty. Also, the Communist government
allowed many Han who worked for the Manchu in Liaoning to claim Manchu
Dr. James Lee, a historical demographer at the University of Michigan,
said in an e-mail message from Beijing that the claim to have found a
genetic link to the Qing imperial nobility in northern ethnic groups
"seems quite forced," because most of the nobility lived in Beijing
Dr. Tyler-Smith responded that his colleagues in Beijing had
approached several documented descendants of the nobility and invited
them to participate but none accepted.
After the Cultural Revolution, descent from the nobility was generally
hidden, and many documents were destroyed, Dr. Tyler-Smith and
colleagues write in their article. Because they could not find living
Qing noblemen to test, they write, "Our hypothetical explanation
remains unproven," despite "strong circumstantial support."
Dr, Elliott said that he knew several people who were well-attested
descendants of the Qing royal family and that an ad in a Beijing
newspaper should recruit a few hundred people, if not a few thousand.
Dr. Elliott said the Qing often contracted marriages with the Mongols
as a means of securing political alliances, which would explain the
presence of the Manchu chromosome in Mongolia. This could have also
occurred with other northern ethnic groups where the Manchu chromosome
is common, like the Oroqen, Hezhe and Ewenki, although those forest
peoples "did not intermarry with the Qing imperial lineage, at least
not in any appreciable numbers," he said.
The fathering of many children by a single man is an instance of what
biologists call male intrasexual selection. Dr. Tyler-Smith said the
Manchu and Mongol chromosomes were the only genetic imprints of this
size that he can see in the populations of East Asia, but that there
are likely to be other instances elsewhere.
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