The answer is no. Okay here is why and what really happened to his lineage.
There is a really famous “Today I Learned” floating around the internet that claims that Genghis Khan — the Mongol conquerer — is the direct male line ancestor of some crazy number of Chinese men — 8% of the regional male population in this region in northeast China or 0.5% of all the men in the world. Usually this factoid accompanies some humorous comment about manliness and sexual proficiency. I have seen this factoid for years now but each time it has come up, I never found it to pass the smell test. Other than the fact that … you know, Genghis massacred millions of people and you should not really admire that.
First, it was a long time ago — Genghis died in 1227. They kept records back then but yeah. Second, they do not have Genghis Khan’s body. When he died, they supposedly buried him in a secret location. Third, the situation just seems impractical. Genghis began his conquests outside of the Mongol lands some time in 1206. He died in 1227 like I said, so his time abroad spans less than twenty years. And when he started he was probably around 44 years old. It just sounds like a lot of screwing in a short period of time by a guy who’s likely not at his athletic peak.
After hearing someone repeat this fact yet again at a work gathering, I wanted to get to the truth of the matter. So I picked up the 2003 paper behind it.
What the Paper Says
What the scientists laid out in this paper is a specific Y-chromosomal lineage (referred to in the paper as the star cluster C3 but later renamed to C2*) that they discovered. Nobody disputes that this lineage has spread broadly throughout the population in a way that suggests some sort of artificial selection. I don’t either.
My question is: What makes them think it’s Genghis Khan?
The paper’s authors made the Genghis Khan conclusion based on a comparison with a population of people called the Hazaras. They live in Pakistan and purport to be direct male-line descendants of Genghis Khan. Genetically they do seem to be of Mongol origin but the evidence indicating their Khan lineage draws from oral history. Or legend, so to say. Or make-believe, so to say.
They did not actually test a Khan descendant.
So next time someone brings up this factoid, how to refute them? There are a few ways and I am going to look at a variety of them.
Where Did the Hazaras Come From?
There is no third party evidence that Genghis Khan directly fathered any of the Hazara people. Documents reviewed by a team of Chinese researchers in 2018 found that the Hazaras descend from ten Mongol military detachments — 20,000 people — sent to resettle a part of the Empire. Ordinary Mongol people.
So yes, the Hazara were Niru’un Mongols.
Yes, Genghis was a Niru’un Mongol.
So yes, maybe Genghis could have had the C2* Y-chromosome.
But Genghis did not father 20,000 soldiers. And even if he did then he would not send them to what is now Pakistan to settle.
But, okay. I can see how you might not be fully convinced of my argument. So maybe the 2003 paper picked the wrong tribe to compare. It does not rule out the Genghis line being present in 16 million Chinese men.
So let’s go … deeper.
Test a True Descendant of Genghis
This is what they did to figure out if Sally Hemings really did bear Thomas Jefferson’s children. Rather than look at people from a tribe whose oral legends say that they descend from the Khan, how about someone who actually can trace their lineage back to the man himself? Genghis’ actual official descendants are quite well-documented. Two guys went and did just that.
Genghis had 5 recognized sons. Forgive me for my pronunciations of their names. Two of them (Ogedei and Khulgen), their recognized descendants were all wiped out by end of the 15th century.
Chagatai’s descendants remained rulers of Uzbekistan until the second half of the 18th century but they went extinct by the 19th century. More on why later.
So we got three official lineages left. They come through the two sons of Genghis — Jochi and Tolui. Jochi had a lot of sons and two of the branches come through him — the Kazakh royal house and a second minor lineage in Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. They were not tested. In any case, Jochi’s legitimacy and genetic descent has been questioned by many (Mongol and academic alike) even when he was alive.
The third branch is the Mongolian royal house founded by Dayan Khan. He is a direct descendant of Kublai Khan — Yuan Dynasty ruler and grandson of Genghis through his son Tolui. Kublai was played by Benedict Wong in that cringe-y Netflix show Marco Polo. Great performance. Terrible show. Just wanted to mention that.
They tested 10 male descendants of Dayan, being careful to select the ones who can actually claim direct male lineage from Dayan Khan — not just any random member of the clan. How they did this was to look at Manchu ranks derived from the Qing dynasty. I can go more into that, but it would be unnecessary. Needless to say, it was more research than what the 2003 paper did. Finding these people was challenging — for reasons that I will go into more later.
What they found was that Genghis line belongs to a different branch than the lineage found in the 8% segment of the Chinese male population.
So what about that 8% segment — the star C2 Star? Nothing sexy about the actual story here. It is likely a genetic legacy of Mongol resettlement and intermarriage with the native Han. The haplotype just happened to be a common Y chromosome amongst the Mongol people at that time.
This happened a lot with the Han people. Just lots of mixing that happens whenever populations move in big mass migrations. In 1234 (some seven years after Genghis died) the Mongols destroyed the Jin Dynasty and moved the Nuzhen people there from northeast China to what is now Shandong and Hebei. They resettled, intermarried with the people there, and became officially Han. Their genetics today are no more different from what you can find elsewhere. In Taiwan, the Han came and intermarried with the aboriginal population. Many officially recognized aboriginals look so Han that they fool even me. This stuff happens.
What Happened to Genghis’ Line?
Like I wrote earlier, the lineages of three of Genghi’s five sons no longer exist today. This is not an accident. Two titanic purges wiped many of them out in the 15th and 20th centuries.
The first massive purge was conducted in the 15th century by the Western Mongolian ruler Esen-Taishi. Genghis had declared that only his descendants could take the title of the Great Khan. Esen was not a descendant of Genghis and did not take it very well. Very few escaped his purge, but one Batu-Mongke would be the direct ancestor of Dayan Khan.
But still by 1921, 13,274 men (2.6% of the population) in Outer Mongolia could claim some sort of descent from the Khan. This is through Dayan Khan and the Mongolian royal line that I mentioned earlier. Some 9,000 of these men were over 18.
But in October 1937 during the Great Purge, Joseph Stalin of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union ordered that every adult male in the Dayan Khan be killed. The murdering took over a year but 25,824 Mongolian men were executed including nobles, Buddhist lamas, and commoners. Only those younger than 18 survived. And today, less than 3.5% of individuals in Kazakhstan, Mongolia, and Uzbekistan — not the most populous areas mind you — are confirmed to have his lineage. They are amongst the rarest haplotypes in Central Asia.
Something poetic I think when you think about the sons and daughters of one of history’s greatest murderers falling victim to another of history’s greatest murderers.
Anyway, the result of these two massive purges is that — contrary to having 16 million direct male line descendants — the official Genghis line is basically threatened with extinction.