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Chinese Who’s Who – A late CNY feature

Time for some tidbits of Chinese. This should have been a CNY (Chinese New Year) feature. But I didn’t have anything to write about, and now the year of the dog has already begun more than 10 days ago. I could have put up something cliché like writing about Chinese customs for CNY; Otherwise I could have talked about dogs - I don’t know much about dogs though. Also, in the Chinese history dogs do not have a good social status. Almost all idioms related to dogs are negative, like this one:


Ivory doesn’t grow out of a dog’s mouth

I would rather not explain the meaning of it. We avoid saying bad things during CNY. :-)

Then my feature topic just came up by itself. In CNY, all my family members gathered in our tiny home – not just my family actually, but the families of my brothers and sisters, including their children, grandchildren. It was a big, loud and noisy party.

As you know, children get red packets in CNY. Before they are given their lucky money, they need to greet an adult by familial title and make some good wishes. However, they often need to be reminded as it is not an easy thing for a child to know the correct familial title in Chinese.

Almost each of the combinations of gender, generation, elder/younger, paternal/maternal relationship gives a different Chinese familial title. When you go through the Chinese tree, there are a total of 3 Family skills. You probably would feel confused why brothers and sisters have to be divided into elder and younger, and why there are 2 types each of grandpa and grandma. However, that is only the start. There are also 2 types each of nephews and nieces, and a number of types of cousins, and then their spouse and children would have other different familial titles. According to Wiki, it is one of the most complicated kinship systems.

If you want to go beyond Family3 of the tree, check the “Chinese Kinship” Wiki for reference. The Chinese version gives you a lot of links to details of each category of relatives.
English version
Chinese version

Certainly, unless you are Chinese, you don’t have that many people to greet by their Chinese familial title. In the case you or someone in your family marry a Chinese, you probably want to print this out and start studying now:

Do not despair – even we Chinese are not always good at calling relatives outside our core family. Believe it or not, there are Apps for “calculating” the correct titles.

Note: There are regional differences for familial titles.

February 27, 2018



Wow! Thanks for the link and the image. Do you think most mainland Chinese families still ask their children to use these traditional titles or are they only used by one segment of society?


The titles are still in use, and there are actually no "modern" ones. As I mentioned regional differences exist. The ones you see in the picture already have some differences from what I am using (I believe those are from Wenzhou, by the footnote. Wenzhou language is also different from Mandarin.). A large part of the titles are common though.


新年快乐!Happy Chinese New Year!


元宵节啦! Happy Chinese Valentine's Day!



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