S'poreans who trace lineage to Confucius form clan

When Mr Max Hong struggled with Chinese in Primary 4 at Geylang Methodist Primary, his teacher remarked: "You are a direct descendant of Confucius, how can your Chinese be so poor?"

This made him try a lot harder, and he eventually scored an A2 for the language during his O levels.

"This is the high expectation I have to meet because of my surname," said the 30-year-old project manager with a smile.

Confucius, known as Kongzi (Master Kong) in Mandarin, is believed to have been born in 551BC.

Over 70 generations later, there are more than 2 million of his descendants around the globe who share his surname, or one of its many variants including Hong.

Among them are about 2,000 Singaporeans who can also trace their lineage to the ancient sage.

The Singapore group has kept a low profile. But 15 of them banded together last month to form the Confucius Descendants Association, to promote Confucian values. Confucius is revered for his teachings

which centre around core values such as righteousness and filial piety.

Association president Henry Hong, 63, a retired car company manager, said: "We are the direct descendants in Singapore. If we do not promote Confucian values, who will?"

Unlike other clan associations which are struggling to find new members, the Confucian association here already has about 100 members, even before its official launch next week.

Prominent businessman Albert Hong, 80, chairman of RSP Architects Planners and Engineers, joined the association because the idea of helping to promote Confucian values appealed to him.

"The philosophies and principles of Confucius need to be preached and practised today, when everyone seems to be running after wealth and power," said Dr Hong. The 72nd-generation descendant is the association's most senior member.

The association, which was registered last month and will be launched officially this Saturday, plans to organise regular talks and seminars for its members and the public.

It is housed temporarily in the Bras Basah Complex office of the Nanyang Confucian Association - a group which promotes the teachings of Confucius headed by Mr Kek Boon Leong, but hopes to have its own permanent premises.

A website and Facebook page are also in the works, but the immediate goal is to attract more members.

"There are many variations of the English surname - Hong, Kong, Khong, Koong, Hung - but the common character in Chinese is the same," explained Mr Henry Hong.

He admits to being irked by people who exploit the Confucius brand name for commercial gains, including temples and businesses. A check by The Sunday Times found nine businesses with the name Confucius, mostly tuition centres.

"I cannot stop them," he said.

"But I hope people will understand that Confucianism is not a religion and (Confucius is) not an idol to be prayed to for better exam results."

For Mr Max Hong, the surname is a constant reminder to do the right thing.

"There is the expectation that we have to behave in a certain way," he said.

"We have to be morally upright in what we do."


Ancestry gives 10-year-old pressure

Ten-year-old Kong Yi Quan has English and Mathematics tuition and, like many of her friends, enjoys computer games such as Minecraft.

She is the image of a typical school girl, with her ponytail, green Nike backpack and pink watch.

But friends and teachers have noticed her surname, said the Primary 5 Kong Hwa School pupil.

She is probably the youngest direct descendant of Confucius in Singapore, separated from him by 77 generations. Those who share the sage's lineage also share his Chinese surname "Kong".

Born in Henan, China, Yi Quan arrived here with her parents when she was two.

Her father is a calligraphy teacher and her mother, a housewife. She also has an older sister studying in China's Beijing University. The family became Singapore citizens in 2005.

Yi Quan goes back to China to visit her relatives every year, but calls Singapore home.

Despite her age, she said that her ancestry gives her "some pressure".

"I know that I have to study hard and be filial because these are the teachings of Confucius."

"When I grow up, I want to be a doctor so that I can help people," she added.

"Helping people is also a Confucian value."

This article was first published on April 12, 2015.
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