Chinese Family Relationship

About Chinese Family Relationship

Chinese Family relationshipChinese culture has many fine-grained terms for different types of family relationships. An "uncle" in English can refer to a brother or brother-in-law of either parent. Chinese has different terms for paternal and maternal uncles. This tool helps you look up the specific terms for a relationship. Using the form above, describe the person's relationship to you and click on "Look it up!". For example, to look up the title for a paternal grandfather, in the first column after "You" select "Father" then "Father" in the next column, leaving the final column blank. Use the most direct way of describing the relationship. You can view the file with the relationship data.

The Chinese family titles are divided up by generation. For example parents, aunts, and uncles are all grouped together under the "Parent's Generation" section. Spouses are grouped together. The spouse who is the blood relative is listed first, the spouse who is related by marriage is listed second. For example "aunt" and "aunt's husband." I've used color to differentiate between generations and sexes. Many of the relationship titles have a formal version used for writings and an informal version used in everday speech. Blue represent the most commonly spoken term used in Cantonese and Toisaanwa.

Red represent the most commonly spoken term used in Mandarin. Purple means the term is used in Cantonese, Toisaanwa, and Mandarin. Since there are so many different relationship terms, the easiest way to find the exact relationship you're looking for is to open up the family title jpeg. It is diagram with all the relationship terms. Clicking a box on the diagram will automatically take you to the corresopondig spot on this chart. 

Arguably there has never been a stable human society in which any institution has been more important to the participants than the family. Thus China is by no means unique in considering the family important, and scholars of Chinese life are well served by focusing attention upon it.

The strong institutionalization of the family in traditional China would seem to have made familism even more central in that society than in most.

It is not possible to do justice to the complexity and diversity of this institution on a simple web page, but this page attempts at least to provide a few coordinating principles and define a few terms. (Given the state of college teaching about Chinese society, this web site is probably the only place you will ever have the Chinese terms revealed to you if you happen to be studying Chinese. Copy them now!)

Because this page is devoted to the traditional Chinese family system, I have tended to use the past tense. Many of the institutions, beliefs, and values discussed here are still present in China, but I have preferred to focus on the past in order to stress traditionalism and to avoid dealing with the complexities introduced by the modern growth of industries, urban populations, and foreign influences, especially foreign influences on law.

This page deals with traditional Chinese thought and practice about families. For the text of the associated passages of the late imperial legal code.

This page uses simplified characters, printed in red. When the traditional and simplified Chinese orthographies differ, the traditional equivalents are added in blue.