LONDON – Neatly displayed on the living-room bookshelf in the South-London house of James Kong are several volumes of ruby-red gold-embossed family tree books of the ancient Chinese philosopher Confucius.
The 18-year-old half-British Kong, known in China as “Kong Chuixu” says that people generally stare at him in amazement upon learning that he is the 79th direct descendent of Confucius (551-479 BC).
“So many people are skeptical, but my name is in the family tree,” he said, showing me several carefully bookmarked pages in the thick volumes filled with names.
For Kong, the accident of his birth into the world’s largest extended family gave him not just a slight Asian look, but moreover an amazing politeness and maturity unfamiliar to most British teenager.
At 12, he surprised his teacher by taking about the merits of self-cultivation and righteousness at a school camp in Barnes, London. At 16 he lectured younger students at local schools about Confucian values. He also dreams of writing a book about The Analects, recording his personal discovery of this seminal Confucian text, as a young Londoner.
Last year, Kong returned to China to act in the play Then They Came for Me, a story set during the holocaust with a key message coherent with the core Confucian idea of a peaceful and harmonious society. He recently also set up the charity Confucius Better World Foundation, raising money to help the less privileged.
“My mom always made it clear to me about who I am,” he explained, “but I didn’t quite understand how important it is until an event like our family tree ceremony or the Tomb-Sweeping ceremony”.