[Paleopsych] NYT: Scientists Link a Prolific Gene Tree to the Manchu Conquerors of China

Premise Checker checker at panix.com
Sat Nov 12 17:02:44 UTC 2005

Scientists Link a Prolific Gene Tree to the Manchu Conquerors of China


    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.
    Tyler-Smith's calculations.

    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
    and Liaoning.

    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.

More information about the paleopsych mailing list