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Home >> Life
UPDATED: 17:07, January 13, 2006
China has 4100 meaningful surnames
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China has recently unveiled its new list of top 100 surnames as a result of a latest study sponsored by the National Natural Science Foundation.

Project leader, Yuan Yida, research fellow from the Institute of Genetics and Developmental Biology of Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), said they found 4100 surnames all over China.

He said a research on Chinese surnames was conducted as early as two decades ago, but only 570,000 people were sampled and about 3,000 surnames found, so the result was not reliable enough.

The survey this time covered nearly 300 million people nationwide and 4,100 surnames were found in two years with their respective population calculated.

Chinese surnames are very meaningful
Surname is an important symbol of the passing on of culture not only in China but also in the whole world. However, it is only in China that they are handed down in the most complete and meaningful manner.

For example, there were only a few surnames in Japan before the Meiji reform. The emperor, out of needs for reform, decided that all Japanese people should have surnames. As a result, more than 80,000 surnames sprang up in a short period of time, most of them bear no origin or meaning but simply indicate locations such as Matsushita (literally means "under the pine"), Inoue ("above the well") and "Tanaka ("in the field"). Therefore, it's hard for Japanese scholars to link their surnames with human genetics.

Surnames carry genetic codes
For a long time, Chinese surnames have been passed on from father to son, which happened to follow the same line with the Y chromosome unique to males. As a result, groups bearing the same surname possess the same kind of Y chromosome and the genes they carry.

" We found during our survey that many hereditary diseases only spread among people under the same surname, so the distribution of surnames and the number of people they cover will help greatly the studies on human genetics," said Yuan.

Same surname doesn't necessarily mean the same family
Most Chinese would feel happy when they discover a new acquaintance bearing the same surname with theirs, for some of them believe, as an old saying goes, they "belong to the same family 500 years ago", but this is not always true.

"We found that a big surname can have over a hundred origins," said Yuan. "For example, Li, the biggest surname in China, was sometimes turned from "Ying" and "Zhao". In Tang Dynasty (618-907), Li as the imperial surname was granted to the national founders, and even during late Wei kingdom (220-265) period, some compound surnames of Xianbei (Sienpi) tribe were also changed to Li.

Some Koreans find their ancestor in China
Some never-recorded surnames were also reported during the survey. "In the past we took them as slips in writing," said Yuan, "but only this time we found they are of ancient origins".

For example, four small villages in central China's Henan Province were found under the surname "Nan". Researchers first regarded it as a mistaken character with no statistical value, until cultural authorities of South Korea learned the news and immediately organized a "root-seeking delegation" to China. Through history and archeological discoveries, the Koreans took the surname 'Nan' as one of their origins.

Top 100 surnames
Top 100 Surnames was actually a book that recorded 504 surnames and compiled before 400 B.C. Chinese surnames started with the first ancient emperors Yan and Huang.

Surname Li ranks the first among the top 100 surnames due to its wide origins. The research discovered that there were more than 100 origins for Li. And famous Chinese ancient philosopher Laozi's family name was Li, too. Surname 'Wang' ranks the second and followed by 'Zhang' in the new discovery.

By People's Daily Online

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