Scientists sequence the genome and reconstruct the face of Chinese Emperor Wu | Trending Viral hub


A team of researchers from Fudan University and elsewhere has successfully generated a genome of the Chinese Emperor Wu (Wudi) of the Xianbei-led government. Northern Zhou Dynasty. The authors have determined that Emperor Wu possessed a typical East or Northeast Asian appearance and faced a higher susceptibility to certain diseases, such as stroke.

The facial reconstruction (left) and portrait (right) of Chinese Emperor Wu of the Northern Zhou Dynasty.  Image credit: Du et al., doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2024.02.059.

The facial reconstruction (left) and portrait (right) of Chinese Emperor Wu of the Northern Zhou Dynasty. Image credit: Du et al., doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2024.02.059.

The Emperor of China was endowed with symbolic significance for over 2,000 years, he was considered the “Son of Heaven” who had been given the “Mandate of Heaven” and as such enjoyed what was perceived as a government divinely ordained over the state.

The title “Emperor” first appeared in 221 BC. C., beginning with Ying ZhengSelf-proclamation as ‘First Emperor’.

The position lasted until the abdication of the last emperor of the Qing dynasty, Aisin-Gioro Puyimarking a total of 2,132 years and 83 feudal dynasties.

Emperor Wu, called Yuwen Yong (543-578 AD), was a highly influential emperor who reformed the regional troop system, pacified the Turks, and unified the northern part of ancient China after defeating the Northern Qi Dynasty.

They were ethnically Xianbei, an ancient nomadic group living in what is now Mongolia and northern and northeastern China.

“Some scholars said the Xianbei had an ‘exotic’ appearance, such as a thick beard, a high nose bridge and yellow hair,” said Dr. Shaoqing Wen, a researcher at Fudan University.

“Our analysis shows that Emperor Wu had facial features typical of East or Northeast Asia.”

In 1996, archaeologists discovered the tomb of Emperor Wu in northwest China, where they found his bones, including a nearly complete skull.

With the development of ancient DNA research in recent years, Dr. Wen and his colleagues managed to recover more than one million single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in their DNA, some of which contained information about the color of the skin and hair of Emperor Wu.

The researchers were also able to reconstruct the emperor’s face in 3D.

Their results show that Emperor Wu had brown eyes, black hair, and dark to medium skin, and his facial features were similar to those of modern-day North and East Asians.

“Our work brought historical figures to life,” said Dr. Pianpian Wei, also of Fudan University.

“Previously, people had to rely on historical records or murals to imagine what ancient people were like.”

“We can reveal the appearance of the Xianbei people directly.”

“Emperor Wu died at the age of 36, and his son also died at a young age for no clear reason,” the scientists said.

“Some archaeologists say that Emperor Wu died of illness, while others maintain that the emperor was poisoned by his rivals.”

By analyzing Emperor Wu’s DNA, they found that the emperor had an increased risk of suffering a stroke.

The finding aligns with historical records that described the emperor as having aphasia, drooping eyelids and an abnormal gait, potential symptoms of a stroke.

Genetic analysis shows that the Xianbei people intermarried with Han Chinese when they migrated south to northern China.

“This is important information for understanding how ancient people expanded in Eurasia and how they integrated with the local population,” Dr. Wen said.

He results were published this week in the magazine Current biology.


Panxin Du et al. Ancient genome of Chinese Emperor Wu of Northern Zhou. Current biology, published online March 28, 2024; doi:10.1016/j.cub.2024.02.059


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