En­thu­si­ast col­lects busi­ness cards, shares cul­tural in­for­ma­tion on­line

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - CHINA - By CHINA DAILY

In or­der to ob­tain a busi­ness card from a ven­dor with an ex­tremely rare fam­ily name — Xiang, the char­ac­ter for which means “fra­grant” in Chi­nese — Yang Xiaotie spent 3,000 yuan ($440) on candy to gain the man’s trust.

An en­thu­si­ast of Chi­nese fam­ily names as well as the sto­ries and cul­ture be­hind them, the 58-year-old na­tive of Wuhan, cap­i­tal of Hubei prov­ince, goes out of his way to col­lect name cards and other items re­lated to the sur­names of his new friends and even peo­ple he has never met.

“I ask for busi­ness cards be­cause they prove the ex­is­tence of a per­son and their name,” he said. “If I tell you about a name you have never heard, you may not be­lieve me. But if I show you a name card with a per­son’s in­for­ma­tion on it, you will know they re­ally ex­ist.”

To date, Yang has col­lected more than 1,500 busi­ness cards of peo­ple with dif­fer­ent Chi­nese sur­names, and has been fas­ci­nated by the his­tory be­hind each fam­ily name — each one can be traced back to an­cient China, when they were used as sym­bols of no­bil­ity.

His­tor­i­cally, there were more than 10,000 sur­names recorded in China, though many are no longer used due to fac­tors such as peo­ple tak­ing the names of their rulers, or­tho­graphic sim­pli­fi­ca­tions, and the prac­tice of not us­ing char­ac­ters from an em­peror’s name.

The most com­mon fam­ily names on the Chi­nese main­land are sin­gle char­ac­ters such as Wang, Li, Zhang and Liu. How­ever, some peo­ple have rare sur­names such as Situ, Duanmu and Aix­in­jueluo.

In ad­di­tion to the Chi­nese main­land, Chi­nese fam­ily names are also widely used in Hong Kong, Ma­cao, Tai­wan, Malaysia, Korea, Sin­ga­pore, Viet­nam and among over­seas Chi­nese com­mu­ni­ties.

Yang’s in­ter­est in names started in 1970s, when the then-high school graduate re­sponded to the call by author­i­ties to work in Hubei’s Zaoyang, along with tens of mil­lions of ed­u­cated ur­ban youths en­cour­aged to go and work in the coun­try­side or moun­tain­ous ar­eas.

When in the coun­try­side, Yang of­ten made fun of the names of other fel­low stu­dents and lo­cal farm­ers.

He later joined the army and switched jobs sev­eral times, dur­ing which time he made many friends.

Every­one around me knows my hobby, and they give me cards when­ever they ob­tain them from peo­ple with un­com­mon fam­ily names.” Yang Xiaotie, en­thu­si­ast of Chi­nese fam­ily names

In 2005, Yang at­tended an art fair in Cen­tral China and was struck by what he con­sid­ered to be a lack of name-re­lated c ul­ture on dis­play, which is what spurred him to star t col­lect­ing ar­ti­facts and cards from dif­fer­ent peo­ple.

“Every­one around me knows my hobby, and they give me cards when­ever they ob­tain them from peo­ple with un­com­mon fam­ily names,” he said.

Yang even reg­is­tered him­self on a web­site of an­cient literature, ask­ing its users across the coun­try to help him in his mis­sion. Yang said sin­cer­ity is how he per­suades peo­ple to share their name cards, although a rapid rise in tele­com fraud in re­cent years has made many wary of his in­ten­tions.

Over the years, Yang has used phone calls, text mes­sages, so­cial me­dia plat­forms and hun­dreds of hand­writ­ten let­ters to con­tact peo­ple about his ini­tia­tive.

In re­turn for in­for­ma­tion, he has sent peo­ple the find­ings of his stud­ies about the ori­gin of their sur­name, help­ing peo­ple to learn more about their an­ces­try.

One man, with the rare sur- name Yue, which means “ex­ceed” or “over­step” in Chi­nese, said he was touched that Yang was in­ter­ested in his fam­ily name.

“I have been liv­ing in Beijing for many years but have never met a per­son who shares my sur­name,” said Yue, who is self­em­ployed.

He did not own a busi­ness card, but asked some­one to print one out and de­liver it to Yang to help him with his stud­ies.

Yang has a web­site — yangx­i­aotie.com — to dis­play the name cards of celebri­ties or peo­ple with rare fam­ily names, as well as in­for­ma­tion about their ori­gin and other cul­tural in­for­ma­tion re­lated to the sur­names.

He Qi in Shang­hai con­trib­uted to this story.


A steel sculp­ture con­sist­ing of the char­ac­ters of more than 3,000 Chi­nese sur­names in Shenyang, North­east China’s Liaon­ing prov­ince.

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