Chinese surname

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Chinese family names have been historically used by Han Chinese and Sinicized Chinese ethnic groups in mainland China, Taiwan, and among overseas Chinese communities. In ancient times two types of surnames, family names (Chinese: ; pinyin: xìng) and clan names (; pinyin: shì), existed.

The colloquial expressions laobaixing (老百姓; lit. "old hundred surnames"), and bǎixìng (, lit. "hundred surnames") are used in Chinese to mean "ordinary folks", "the people", or "commoners." Bǎijiāxìng () is also used to call the list of one hundred most common surnames.

Chinese family names are patrilineal, passed from father to children. (In cases of adoption, the adoptee usually also takes the same surname.)


Chinese origin of surnames

Prior to the Warring States Period (fifth century BC), only the royal family and the aristocratic elite could generally take surnames. Historically there was also difference between xing (姓) and shi (氏). Xing were surnames held by the immediate royal family. They generally are composed of a nü (女, meaning "female") radical which suggests that they originated from matriarchal societies based on maternal lineages. Another hypothesis has been proposed by sinologist Léon Vandermeersch upon observation of the evolution of characters in oracular scripture from the Shang dynasty through the Zhou. The "female" radical seems to appear at the Zhou period next to Shang sinograms indicating an ethnic group or a tribe. This combination seems to designate specifically a female and could mean "lady of such or such clan". The structure of the xing sinogram could reflect the fact that in the royal court of Zhou, at least in the beginning, only females (wives married into the Zhou family from other clans) were called by their birth clan name, while the men were usually designated by their title or fief.

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