Chinese kin
Alternative Chinese name

A Chinese kin, lineage or sometimes rendered as clan, is a patrilineal and patrilocal group of related Chinese people with a common surname sharing a common ancestor and, in many cases, an ancestral home.


Chinese kinship tend to be strong in southern China, reinforced by ties to an ancestral village, common property, and often a common spoken Chinese dialect unintelligible to people outside the village. Kinship structures tend to be weaker in northern China, with clan members that do not usually reside in the same village nor share property.

Zupu—the genealogy book

A zupu (simplified Chinese: 族谱; traditional Chinese: 族譜; pinyin: zúpǔ; Pe̍h-ōe-jī: Cho̍k-phó͘) is a Chinese kin register or genealogy book, which contains stories of the kin's origins, male lineage and illustrious members. The register is usually updated regularly by the eldest person in the extended family, who hands on this responsibility to the next generation. The "updating" of one's zupu (simplified Chinese: 修族谱; traditional Chinese: 修族譜; pinyin: xiū zúpǔ; Pe̍h-ōe-jī: Siu cho̍k-phó͘) is a very important task in Chinese tradition, and can be traced back thousands of years. After several generations, the local clan lineage will often publish a compendium of these zupus. The overwhelming majority of zupus remain in private hands, though a large number may be found in the Peking University, Shanghai Library, Cornell University and Tōyō Bunko.

Chinese lineage associations

Cài family ancestral temple in Shantou, Guangdong.
People forgather for a worship ceremony at an ancestral shrine in Hong'an, Hubei.

Chinese lineage associations, also kinship or ancestral associations (simplified Chinese: 宗族社会; traditional Chinese: 宗族社會; pinyin: zōngzú shèhuì; Pe̍h-ōe-jī: Chong-cho̍k Siā-hōe or simplified Chinese: 宗族协会; traditional Chinese: 宗族協會; pinyin: zōngzú xiéhuì; Pe̍h-ōe-jī: Chong-cho̍k Hia̍p-hōe), are a type of social relationship institutions found in Han Chinese ethnic groups and the fundamental unit of Chinese ancestral religion. They gather people who share the same surname belonging to the same kin, who often have the same geographical origin (ancestral home), and therefore the same patron deities. They are not seen as distinct from the Chinese kin itself, but rather as its corporate form. These institutions and their corporeal manifestations are also known as lineage churches or kinship churches (Chinese: 宗族堂; Pe̍h-ōe-jī: Chong-cho̍k-tông; pinyin: zōngzú táng), or, mostly on the scholarly level, as Confucian churches,[1] although this term has principally other different meanings.

Chinese kinship associations are the corporate forms of kins and the fundamental unit of Chinese ancestral religion. They provide guanxi (social network) to members and they build and manage ancestral shrines or temples dedicated to the worship of the progenitors of the kins as their congregational centers, where they perform rites of unity.[2]

A lineage is a corporation, in the sense that members feel to belong to the same body, are highly conscious of their group identity, and derive benefits from jointly owned property and shared resources.[3] Benefit derives from the surplus income of ancestral shrines and homes, which is reinvested by the managers or shared out in yearly dividends.[4] Benefit of belonging to a lineage can also be measured in terms of protection and patronage.[4] Ancestral temples also support local schools and engage in charitable work.[5]

Different lineages may develop through the opposite processes of fusion and segmentation.[6] They can also be dispersed and fragmented into "multi-lineage areas" or concentrated in one place, or "single-lineage area".[6]

Ancestral shrine

Gé family ancestral shrine in Shantou, Guangdong.

Main article: Ancestral shrine

Ancestral temples or shrines are the congregation places of lineage associations, by whom they are built and managed. These temples are devoted to the worship of the progenitors of a certain kin, where the kin members meet and perform rites of unity and banquets.[2]


Consort kinship

In Imperial times, a consort kin was a kin with special status due to its connection with an emperor. Throughout Chinese history, consort kins have exercised great power at various times. There have been several usurpations of power by consorts, the most notable being the Han dynasty's Empress Dowager Lü (Chinese: 呂后; pinyin: Lǚ hòu), the Tang dynasty's Empress Wu (simplified Chinese: 武则天; traditional Chinese: 武則天; pinyin: Wǔ Zétiān; Pe̍h-ōe-jī: Bú Chek-thian), and the Qing dynasty's Empress Dowager Cixi (Chinese: 慈禧太后; pinyin: Cíxǐ tàihòu). The Han dynasty usurper Wang Mang was a nephew of the Grand Empress Dowager Wang.[citation needed]

Qing period

During the Qing dynasty, the imperial government encouraged Chinese kins to take up some quasi-governmental functions such as those involving social welfare and primary education.[citation needed]

See also



  1. ^ Scholar of Chinese traditional religion Liyong Dai uses the term "Confucclesia", "Confucian church".
  2. ^ a b Watson, 1982. pp. 595-597
  3. ^ Watson, 1982. p. 594
  4. ^ a b Watson, 1982. p. 600
  5. ^ Watson, 1982. pp. 601-602
  6. ^ a b Watson, 1982. pp. 604-609


  • Watson, James L. (December 1982). "Chinese Kinship Reconsidered: Anthropological Perspectives on Historical Research". China Quarterly. 92 (92): 589–622. doi:10.1017/S0305741000000965. JSTOR 653680. S2CID 145418707.
  • Tsai, Lily Lee (July 2002). "Cadres, Temple and Lineage Institutions, and Government in Rural China". The China Journal (48): 1–27. doi:10.2307/3182439. JSTOR 3182439. S2CID 147239659.
  • Cohen, Myron L. (August 1990). "Lineage Organization in North China". The Journal of Asian Studies. 49 (3): 509–534. doi:10.2307/2057769. JSTOR 2057769. S2CID 163489363.