Some forms of progress take longer than others. To be precise, some take 2,557 years. But who's counting?
Yesterday the 77th-generation descendant of Confucius, Kong Dehong, announced (via the Times Online) that women would be included in the updated version of the ancient philosopher's family tree for the first time. Apparently the man who had an opinion about everything from government to family was a big booster of loving everyone: "He whose heart is in the smallest degree set upon Goodness will dislike no one."
Unfortunately such platitudes didn't apply to ladies and lowlies. The Great Sage also said: "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." Just can't win with them thar women. Over the centuries Confucianism became a primary vehicle for promoting women's "natural" (i.e. submissive) place in the world.
The fifth update of the family tree, expected to be published in 2009 and available in digital form, will include about 1.5 million descendants. About 200,000 newcomers will be women.
What does it mean that women have finally been included in what's regarded as the longest recorded genealogy in history? In practical terms, very little. After all, despite Confucius' recent revival among modern Chinese politicians as a voice of tradition, temperance and harmony, it has been a long time since the ideas of the master, as he's still called, were regarded as a strict code to live by.
But then again, it's hard to underestimate the power of the symbolism that has been the norm for two and a half millenniums: women dropping like rotten apples off the world's most extensive family tree and then disappearing.