Family ties

Genealogy reborn

Family ties

Millions of Chinese with obscure names – about 60 million in total, according to estimates in a 2006 government report – will soon to be forced to change them.

In an effort to modernise its vast database of 1.3 billion citizens, China’s Security Bureau is planning to replace handwritten identity cards with computer-readable ones.

And herein lies the problem. The bureau’s computers can only deal with 32,252 of the roughly 55,000 Chinese characters. The government’s solution? If your name is not on our list, change it!

In this case, new technology means that public records cannot capture a family name from the past. But in others, some Chinese are seeking to hold on to their heritage – especially in tracing their family lineage., China’s largest online literature website, is one of the sites promoting research into genealogy. But Hou Xiaoqing, CEO of who came up with the idea, reckons that many Chinese netizens lack interest in their family heritage.

Perhaps there is some truth to that. An internet poll on saw 40% of 20,000 respondents admit to not knowing their grandparents’ names; 70% did not know the origin of their own surnames; and more than 80% of netizens were not following naming traditions.

Research bodies like the Shanghai Genealogy Centre are trying to promote more interest in family heritage, by taking down genealogy records, and by encouraging wider study of family history amongst researchers.

Guo Baochang, a TV playwright, concurs: “History is not only about heroes. Every family has its own stories; everyone has the duty to record family history and tell their ancestors’ stories,” he says. “The common people should participate in writing their history so their stories can be told.”

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