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Early Chinese dynastic records look like actual history in some places (in particular the exact dating of reigns, back to and including the Yellow Emperor). Elsewhere, there is clearly a lot of myth and legend involved, such as claims of divine descent and lifespans of several centuries.

What is the current "state of the art" for telling the two apart? In particular, I'm interested in what the current scientific consensus is regarding the historicity of the Xia dynasty and the early family tree of Confucius.

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That is 43 generations of ancestors, roughly 1100 years, and 75+ generations of descendants for another 2000 or so years. A grand total of nearly 120 generations which translates to me tracing my ancestry to before Darius conquered Persia. At a measly 1%/generation error rate (and trust me it's much more than that) that translates into a 50% chance of complete inaccuracy at about 66 generations. If the error rate is 2% per generation then it only takes 34 generations to have a 50% probability of erroneous attribution. –  Pieter Geerkens Apr 13 at 22:37
Those records are 100% historical, both in the sense that they are records of history, and in the sense that they are records which are a part of history. The more useful question is "How reliable are Shang dynasty records?" –  Mark C. Wallace May 2 at 11:16

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There was a project earlier called the Xia-Shang-Zhou Chronology Project, but because it's a sensitive matter for Chinese, as well as the political situation regarding the People's Republic of china, there's a ton of dispute about it.

Even in Chinese texts, it doesn't all agree. The Shiji, for example, paints a starkly different picture than the Bamboo Annals about the circumstances of Taijia's Reign and the Role of Yi Yin.

The two main schools of thought regarding the Xia is that one believes it was just a fabrication made by the Zhou to justify conquering the Shang, so the Xia's customs and metrics are diametrically opposed to the Shang. On the other hand, people didn't believe that the Shang existed either until the oracle bones were unearthed.

Note that this is not necessarily racism, as the first people to start this kind of doubt wwas actually chinese. They were known as the Doubting Antiquity School, started by the famous Hu Shi.

However, it is notable that a similar situation occured in Sumeria, also having a lot of written history that was not corroborated by archaeology. However, for whatever reason it wasn't questioned nearly as much as the Xia. In the end, it's arguable that the two are about as equal in historicity.

As for Confucius's family tree, you have to remember one thing. All family trees are prepared by the members of their family. For any and all kinds of political reasons, it may be altered without any way of proving that it has been done. You can literally dig up his family tree buried next to him in the tomb and still not be sure that it hasn't been doctored, perhaps even by Confucius himself.

Note that Confucius was not well-respected until well after the start of the Han Dynasty, before which the Qin Dynasty practiced hard control over text and Xiang Yu burned most of the records in Xianyang. It's just not possible to zero in on anything as a 100% accurate "family tree" of Confucius.

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