Follow on Bloglovin

Monday, December 7, 2015

The Complicated Chinese Family Tree

My newlywed neighbour, Jenny, will be visiting her in-laws in their village in China for the first time and she is frantic! That's because the Chinese kinship system is among the most complex  in the world and she is expected to address each and every member of her in-laws according to the different terms for relatives depending on whether they are younger or older than a closer relative (mother or father) and depending on whether they are maternal or paternal relatives. Calling them by their rightful titles especially the elders is a sign of proper respect and etiquette and it is a reflection of your parents. It means that you have been well brought up.

Here's a simple example.
Take my dad, for instance. He's the third child in his family of 2 elder brothers, an elder sister, 2 younger brothers and a younger sister. From young, we were taught to address Dad's  elder bothers as "pak" and his younger ones as "sook", His elder sister is "gu ma" and the younger one is "gu".

Confused already? And I haven't even started on the uncles' wives and aunts' husbands and my mom's side! Maternal aunts and uncles and their spouses and kids have different titles too! Hmmm, I wonder if that's the reason China introduced the one-child policy?!!!!  LOL! Interestingly, how does one address a gay relative and his or her partner/spouse?

This system is spot-on though. Say a friend tells you her ''sei yee cheong" is visiting, you know at once that she's referring to her 4th maternal aunt's husband.  "Sei" is the number 4, "yee" is a younger sister of your mom and "yee cheong" is the husband of your mom's younger sister. And if she tells you her "gu poh" has passed on, you would know that she's referring to a sister of her paternal grandfather.

I am wondering - how do you address the ex-husband of your mom's divorced sister? Ex-yee cheong? We never found out 'cos he passed on before my sisters and I were born!

Here's a video to share

My mind exploded after the first 10 seconds! My boys are lucky I do things the easy way out, They generally address all their aunts and uncles as Aunty and Uncle. So my younger sister is just Aunty J to them and Aunty J's husband is Uncle William! Anyway, I only have an elder and  younger sister which means my boys only have to remember "Tai Yee" (Big Aunty) and "Sai Yee" (Small Aunty). That shouldn't be too difficult!

So Good Luck to Jenny on her visit to China!

From left - Tai Pak (eldest paternal uncle), Yee Pak (second eldest paternal uncle, Sook Jai (youngest paternal uncle)!
Keep Calm and Carry On Linking Sunday


  1. Oh my gosh, that is confusing! I think I wouldn't say anything during the whole visit, but that probably too would be offensive :) I like the least complicated, Aunty and Uncle would be just fine I think :)

    Such sweet cookies!


  2. I hope somebody is gonna whisper in her ear the correct names for everyone! Criminy. Poor thing.

  3. I have such a small family. I only have 6 first cousins, 2 sisters, 3 aunts, and 3 uncles. It does get complicated when my sister's biological family is around (she's adopted). One of her sister's came to my other sister's baby shower. We went around introducing each other and she said, "I'm her sister's sister." We all giggled.

    Families can get complicated.

  4. Talk about confusing!! I never knew the Chinese family tree was so complicated.

  5. Thank you for sharing at the Thursday Favorite Things blog hop

  6. haha.. wow.. that is intense. we too have different names for our maternal aunts and uncles verses our paternal.. but outside of that everyone is an aunty and uncle.

  7. You lost me, I like the everyone being Aunt or Uncle part though #KCACOLS

  8. Oh gosh that sounds so confusing!! I suppose it's just second nature if you've grown up with it, though? #KCACOLS

  9. Oh my goodness, that's so confusing! No wonder your friend is so frantic. Is it considered rude to take a cheat-sheet to refer to?!
    Thanks for linking with #KCACOLS

  10. OMG I just can't be in your friend's shoes at the moment!! This is just too confusing!! Too many names to learn!! Oh Dear thanks God we do things easier here. Although it was funny though!! LOL Loving the cookies as always! Thanks so much for sharing this at #KCACOLS! I hope you join me again tomorrow for the last #KCACOLS of 2015!!! :-) xx

  11. Haha, I am married to a man who is half Chinese and a half Vietnamese so I am familiar with the familial complexities! I am as white as a Canadian winter so it seemed and stills seems very complex to me. Thankfully being white they have been very understanding and relaxed about it if I mess up.