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March 29, 2015

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Dynastic connections make Yang a regal surname

EDITOR’S note: Every Chinese family name has its own cultural origin that can be traced back thousands of years. In this column, Shanghai Daily introduces the biggest Chinese family names and their histories.

Explaining one’s surname by the character structure is a traditional way for Chinese people to introduce themselves. However, with the original complex form of Chinese characters gradually fading, some mistakes have spread. That includes a misunderstanding of the character Yang as a surname.

“Mu yi yang,” implicating the surname with a structure composed of “mu” (wood) and “yi” (easy), is widely accepted and used in China. However, the right part of the original complex form of Yang, although looking similar with “yi,” is actually a different character. It is also pronounced as “yang,” meaning sun, the masculine or positive principle in nature.

Today, there are an estimated 40 million people surnamed Yang in China, the sixth most common surname in the country. The number accounts for about 2.2 percent of the Chinese population.

There are quite a number of well-known Yangs in Chinese history, including the loyal and patriotic “Yang jia jiang” (generals of the Yang family) in the Song Dynasty (960-1279) and the nobel prize winner Yang Zhenning in the People’s Republic of China.

The family of Yang used to be a branch of “Jis” and descendents of the Yellow Emperor.

It became an independent family name in today’s Shanxi Province during the Western Zhou Dynasty (11th century BC–771 BC).

The King Kang of Zhou granted his cousin Zi Shu the title “Yang Hou” (a noble rank) in today’s Shaanxi Province.

The state was later conquered by the Jin State, the ruler of which was also a descendant of the Ji family. The Yang State was then granted to Bo Qiao as the second son of the King of Jin State.

Descendants of both Zi Shu and Bo Qiao surnamed themselves “Yang” during the process, and became a major branch of the Yangs in China.

A bronze pot antique with inscriptions discovered in Quwo County of Shanxi Province in 1993 seems to prove another Yang State was established by the family of Ji with a different character even before the Zhou Dynasty. The descendants also surnamed themselves after the state.

Many people were granted the royal surname of Yang during the Sui Dynasty. There are also Yangs in ethnic groups including Di, Bai, Naxi, Miao, Hui, Mongolia, Chaoxian (Korean), Lagu and Tong.

Originated in Shanxi Province, the family of Yang went westward and entered Shaanxi and Henan provinces when the Yang State was conquered.


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