25 August 2019
Hong Kong's Chow Yun-fat portrays ancient Chinese warlord Cao Cao in the 2012 movie 'The Assassins'.  Photo:
Hong Kong's Chow Yun-fat portrays ancient Chinese warlord Cao Cao in the 2012 movie 'The Assassins'. Photo:

Cao Cao’s purported descendants fight over legacy

After seeking to establish the authenticity of a tomb that has been touted as belonging to Cao Cao, a famous Chinese ruler from the second and third centuries, there is now a fight among his purported descendants for a claim of the legacy.

The entire saga began in 2009 after officials in Henan province claimed that they had discovered in Anyang County the final resting place of Cao Cao, a warlord and military genius who lived between 155 AD and 220 AD.

With some historians questioning the claims, anthropologists from Fudan University had called on people surnamed Cao, believed to be descendants of the legendary ruler, to submit to DNA tests so that experts could try and match them with the DNA found in the tomb to determine its authenticity. 

The anthropologists later confirmed that there were nine groups of potential Cao Cao offspring in China, spread across Anhui, Jiangsu, Guangdong, Shandong and Liaoning provinces.

Now, on Aug 17 this year, some purported descendants from Liaoning’s Tieling city formed the first “Chinese Cultural Association of Cao Cao and his Offspring”, with its chairman Cao Qiang claiming to be a main descendant. However, some other purported descendants of Cao Cao have questioned the claims of the chairman.

Cao Zhuyi, another purported offspring of Cao Cao in Liaoning’s Dandong city, said the association can organize meetings but cannot speak on behalf of the Cao family. 

“Cao Qiang showed their family tree information on a Shandong television program earlier; some of the people are not related to Cao Cao although their surnames are also Cao,” Cao Zhuyi said. “The Cao family from Tieling is not the offspring of Cao Cao.”

Cao Zhuyi added that Cao Qiang did not take the DNA test, so he cannot speak on behalf of the Cao Cao offspring.

The descendancy claims are being pushed not only due to the expected historical mileage but also because of economic interests, a commentary in the Hong Kong Economic Journal had earlier noted.

Some observers had alleged that Henan officials had made the Cao Cao tomb claims in order to derive economic benefit. 

The Cao Cao Memorial Hall and the purported tomb of Cao Cao have indeed drawn lot of tourists, benefiting the Anyang County. Some experts have said the tomb can bring 420 million yuan (US$68.42 million) gain to Anyang’s gross domestic product.

Now, Cao Cao’s descendents feel that they can possibly charge copyright fees from souvenirs, online games and movie makers that use their forefather’s name. In 2012, a movie “The Assassins”, or “Bronze Sparrow Terrace” in Chinese, was launched with Hong Kong actor Chow Yun-fat taking the role of Cao Cao.

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