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A Guide for Deciphering the Complicated Chinese Family Tree

Ever been at a family reunion and been stunned at the sheer number of people present? Your Lao Pe introduces you to an aunt you’ve never met and you’re left scratching your head because you have no idea what to call her. Even weirder about that introduction is that she’s a baby?!

The Chinese family tree is a strange thing, but it’s all based on generational position and marriages. So here’s a bit of explanation as to how the whole thing works.

The basics

Remember that in a Chinese family, everybody is related to EVERYBODY. By birth or by marriage. It’s a generational hierarchy and you have to respect it. No matter how old or young they are, knowing which generation the person is would be a good place to start. We may know the basics of close family, but here’s a refresher:

Tai-kong and Tai-ma are your great grandparents – great grandfather and grandmother respectively. We’ll call them G1 (G short for generation).

Angkong and Ahma for your grandparents on your father’s side, Gwakong and Gwama for the mother’s side. They’ll be G2.

(Ah)-pe for your dad’s older brother/s, (Ah)-tsiak for the younger ones. (Ah)ko for any of your dad’s sisters. For their spouses, it’s (Ah)-um, (Ah)-tsim and Ko-tiu respectively.

(Ah)-ku for your mom’s brothers, (Ah)-ee for her sisters. (Ah)-kim and Ee-tiu for their spouses. All of these relatives will be in G3.

And then there’s possibly you, your siblings, and your cousins. G4!

Going deeper in the family tree

Now, here’s where it gets tricky, but not really. The key is to disregard age when trying to figure out what to call them. Any siblings of the G2 are referred to as (Ah)-kongs and (Ah)-kims.

Everyone born in G3, meaning your dad’s cousins, your mom’s cousins, their spouses, etc. are all your aunts and uncles! If you’re, you can just call them (name)+peh for the men, or (name)+ko for the women. But there have been instances of baby aunts and uncles and it’s just safer to stick to formalities first unless the parents say you can just call them by their name.

Now your cousins are much easier as you can refer to everyone as Ahia or Achie if they’re older than you, and Shoti or Shobe when they’re younger. You can also just call them by their name, depending on the practice in your family.

Kids from the G5, which includes your sibling’s kids and your cousin’s kids, are now your sun-ahs! It doesn’t matter if they’re 1 year older than you or 30 years older! They’re below you on the family tree and you get to be a cool aunt or uncle now!

The safest bet is to call them Sian-si for men and Sio-chia for the women. Auntie and Uncle generally works too for the modern Chinoy.

Hope this helped in untangling your family tree!

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