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The River-stroke by JY

Like the tributaries coursing through rolling hills and valleys, JY’s calligraphy art is an undulating and elevated articulation of tradition, poetry, syntax, meter and emotions. With each stroke of his brush, akin to tributaries flowing into a confluence of thoughts, a river of expressions.
The River stroke is a homage to his grandfather’s traditions - sojourns into memory; joy, love, anguish, and desire. When at first seen as unconventional and a brackish riposte to the traditions, JY’s art is very much steeped in the craft and deftness of traditional Chinese calligraphy. 
Beyond that, his art sees a world no longer delineated by rules, but only of a single-minded expression of thought, infused with layers of contemplation and purpose, expressed in the movement of his unceasing River-stroke.

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百家姓系列 Hundred Surnames Series by JY Calligraphy - Remember Your Roots

Updated: Sep 10, 2021

百家姓系列 Hundred Surnames Series by JY Calligraphy - Remember Your Roots

Chinese surnames (last names) have a history dating back more than 4,000 years. In many ways, Chinese surnames hold the key to understanding Chinese family history. By learning about your Chinese last name, you can uncover your family’s history and heritage.

Watch more JY Calligraphy video: Instagram: @calligraph.jy

In the Western world, identity-related documentation has usually been maintained by central, church, or state authorities. In China, families and clans kept all the documentation. For this reason, finding your Chinese surname is often the first step to uncovering your family’s history! As well as your family origin, your surname can reveal details of your clan’s history, migration patterns, and current distribution.

Origin of Chinese Last Names

As early as the third millennium BC, the legendary Chinese Yellow Emperor is said to have ordered people to adopt hereditary family names. By the Song Dynasty (AD 960–1279), major family names were listed in the ancient poem Baijiaxing or Hundred Surnames. Containing 504 surnames and 564 characters, the poem became the classic crash course for teaching young scholars in Imperial China to read. The names in the poem were so well recognized that the work gave rise to the Chinese expression for ordinary folk—laobaixing—meaning “one hundred old surnames.” Out of the 12,000 family names that have been recorded throughout history, about 25 percent are still in use today.

Not all Chinese family names are technicallyChinese. For centuries, the Chinese empire was a veritable multiethnic and multilingual melting pot where the Han Chinesetraded, married, and exchanged with foreign peoples from all over. To integrate into society and sometimes to escape persecution, these foreigners adopted Chinese surnames. For example, people of Persian, Sogdian, Turkic, and Indian origin are known to have taken the surname Hu (胡), while Jin (金) and Man (满) are well known to be adopted by the eastern-Siberian Jurchen and the Manchu people respectively.

Many other foreign surnames have Chinese origins as well. Especially during the Tang dynasty (AD 618–907), when Chinese cultural might was at its peak, neighbouring states wanted to get closer to China. The influence of the Chinese language on Japanese, Korean, and Vietnamese largely stems from this period. The Vietnamese name Trần, Korean name Jin, and Japanese surname Chin all share a common root—the Chinese name 陳.

In other countries with long histories of Chinese immigration, the influence is more subtle. In Thailand, Chinese family names have been combined with local ones. The Chinese name Chen, for example, has become Sae-Chin, a hybrid of the two languages. In Indonesia, the Chinese name Tan, has become Tandiono, Tanzil, Tanasal, and so on.

Resources to Find Your Chinese Last Name

If you don’t know your Chinese surname, the easiest way of finding out is to ask relatives. They may already know which Chinese character represents your family name and be able to transcribe it for you.

If you are struggling to find relatives who know your surname, never fear! Even if you don’t read or write Chinese, it is highly likely that your family still has some trace of this information. Look for your ancestors’ old letters, newspaper clippings, photos, notebooks, heirlooms, travel documents, or identification papers or track down their graves and tombstones. If the tomb inscription is in Chinese, then you will most likely find your ancestor’s name on it.

If you know your Chinese family name and are interested in learning about the origins of your own clan, Wikipedia is a good place to start, providing basic information about the origins of major names.


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