7. Types of Surname Association in Hong Kong : Their Precursory Organisations in China and the Development of Surname Associations in Contemporary Hong Kong*

Yoshihara Kazuo


In crowded Chinese cities outside China, it is not unusual to find voluntary associations organised by people bearing the same surname. This type of Chinese kinship organisation is not something new but rather something deep rooted in the native place from which the people came. It was invented within the motherland culture in China. The new organisations outside China are modelled on the existing kinship organisations inside China, although they have been reconstructed to fit into the new social environment.
A study of surname associations based on studies of kinship systems in southeast China has yet to be carried out, but the review by James L. Watson has been very helpful in laying the basis for such a study (1982: 611) He stated clearly the distinction between clan and surname associations in his discussion of the English terminology relating to Chinese kinship. But he did not argue in detail about the groups called common surname associations, which is the usual translation of the Chinese term zongqinhui, supposedly because of the relatively little information he had about these groups.[1] The cases in Hong Kong introduced here will offer something about these zongqinhui.
The earliest surname association in Hong Kong was founded in 1915, and four more associations were founded in the interwar period. Eight associations were founded in the 1940s, thirty-eight in the 1950s, and twenty-four in the 1960s. By the mid-1970s a total of seventy-seven associations could be counted. About 80% of the surname associations were established during the 1950s and 1960s. In general, the 1970s can be said to be a decade of decline for these Chinese associations. But several associations were organised even in the 1980s (Yoshihara, 1987: 150-152; 1991: 140-150). In Hong Kong as well as in North America, the English words "clan association" or "clansmen society" are generally used in the names of such organisations. This reflects the Chinese popular understanding of the meaning of the English word clan. The word is widely used to denote a certain kind of Chinese organisation composed of members bearing the same surname. But if we stick to the literal meaning of the word clan used in the English names of the associations, we may fail to understand the actual characteristics of these Chinese groups which are generally called zongqinhui.
These surname associations, or so-called clan associations can be grouped into two categories: single-surname associations and multi-surname associations. Typical examples of the former are the Hong Kong Wong Clan Association, and of the latter, Hong Kong Au Choy Clansmen Association and Hong Kong Gee Tuck General Association. Single-surname associations, however, include some associations which have additional words indicating certain names.
The above shows that the general term "clan association" actually covers a number of different kinds of association. Furthermore, even among the district associations with organisational principles quite different from one another, we find a few associations similar in substance to the surname associations. It is, therefore, necessary to analyze not only surname associations but also certain types of district association in order to grasp the nature of this kind of Chinese association.
I have not made a complete survey of the surname associations in Hong Kong. Nevertheless, I propose a tentative typology based on research which I have carried out both in China and Hong Kong during the past few years. While I suppose that this typology will be modified by further research, it might be useful for the time being to clarify the characteristics of this kind of Chinese association in Hong Kong.
My research is based on the supposition that surname associations in contemporary Hong Kong have their precursory organisations in mainland China, simply because most of the associations of this kind were organised by migrants from China, in particular by migrants from Guangdong Province. After examining some associations relating to Kaiping County, in the inner part of the Pearl River Delta, I found that the traditional lineages in Guangdong provide a basic model for the contemporary surname associations in Hong Kong.
To understand the characteristics of surname associations, the membership of the organisation deserves more attention. Yen Ching-hwang discerned two types of Chinese surname associations which he calls clan organisations in early Singapore and Malaya, and these are, firstly, a localised lineage and secondly, a non-localised lineage (1981: 65). But he does not seem to pay attention to the voluntariness of the membership of these organisations. David Wu (1985: 199-203) supports Yen's view on the similarities between kinship organisations based on traditional lineages in overseas Chinese society and those within China, but he does not pay any more attention to the difference in the nature of the membership. Concerning kinship associations in Hong Kong, Xie Jian regards the voluntary nature of membership as their basic feature (1981: 5).
In addition to the voluntary nature of its membership, admission of women to full membership is said to be another feature of a certain kind of surname association, and at this point they differ entirely from traditional clan organisations. Unmarried women can join the associations of their fathers' surname, and even married women, together with their husbands, can join the surname associations of their husbands. A more detailed analysis will be made on another occasion.
By the words "precursory organisations" in the title of this paper, I mean organisations which not only provide the organisational principle and model for the cardinal activities of later associations but also provide potential members and sometimes corporate property as well. Each type is classified according to the precursory organisation which organisers of associations in Hong Kong are assumed or observed to follow.

Types of surname association

Type 1. Lineage Associations

Some district associations were organised around 1960 and during the 1980s as shown below. The Chinese names of these associations include the words tongxiang (the same district). It is a little perplexing when the words "Clansmen Association" are also used in the English name for registration, as in the fourth case in the list below. The years of foundation and the common surname of the members are also shown.


Hoiping Yu Leung District Association




Hong Kong To Ching Countrymen Association




Hoiping Zeng Kiu District Association




Hong Kong Hoiping Lowkong Clansmen Association




Hong Kong Bolo District Association



In Guangdong, villages and groups of villages comprised of inhabitants with identical surnames are not unusual, and Kaiping County is no exception. Here is an example of the Lowkong (Lougang) Clansmen Association. Lougang xiang consists of five large villages with a total of about 3,000 households. The original villagers in Lougang had the common surname Wu, and formed a local lineage.[2] It is said that all the original dwellers of this area are patrilineally descended from the first ancestor who settled there about seven hundred years ago. Nowadays they belong to four major segmented branches, each of which is named after the first ancestor of the respective branch. There are several more minor branches. Each village in Lougang is occupied to a certain extent by one or two of the major branches. In each village there used to be at least one ancestral hall.
In 1874 the ancestral hall of the third ancestor was founded in the market town of Lougang in order to show the integration of all the branches of the Wu. The reason why this was done for the third ancestor, and not the first, is that no other segmentation was observed before his generation. Villagers shared the ancestral property both in the name of each hall of the branch and of the central hall in the market town. Most of the ancestral halls including the central one were unfortunately destroyed by the 1960s.
In 1985 the club building of Lougang was established especially for the villagers who returned from Hong Kong, Macau, and overseas, and it is worthy of note that a memorial hall for worshipping the third ancestor was opened on the top floor of the club building. As the pictures of the ancestors are enshrined on the altar, and the periodical ceremonies are observed there, the memorial hall is observed to be actually regarded as the re-establishment of the central ancestral hall at Lougang.
An interesting point is that the funds for the club building were raised mainly through the Lowkong Clansmen Association in Hong Kong. This association in Hong Kong played an important role in raising funds in collaboration with its counterpart in Canada. Almost 500 people living in various countries in the world made donations. About 70% of the total funds were raised by the members of the association in Hong Kong and their families in China.
The establishment of this association was once scheduled for the mid-1970s, but actually the planners failed to start organizing in spite of their intentions. The association was finally established in the spring of 1984,[3] when the future of Hong Kong after 1997 was better understood. I have written about the factors contributing to the success of the association in another paper (Yoshihara, 1991: 137-140, 147-150) This type of lineage association in the Philippines is called a single-name hometown association in Chinben See's paper (1981: 231), and he recognised them as agnatic corporate descent groups transferred from rural China. He might be mistaken in regarding them as true lineages in spite of the voluntary membership of the hometown association. But in the Hong Kong setting also, a lineage association cannot be regarded as a transferred lineage but an association newly organised voluntarily among immigrants sharing a common ancestor.
The lineage organisation in Lougang has lost its corporate ancestral trust and has been dissolved already, and yet the agnatic descent group consciousness was so deep-rooted in the villages that no institutional devices of the government could exterminate it. The economic policy of China in the 1980s, which was earnestly implemented by the county administration allowed lineage consciousness to revive in China and abroad. So the post-1997 issue in Hong Kong appears to have been the trigger for ambitious ex-villagers to establish a lineage association there. The association made the local lineage organisation in Lougang its model, but it is not a branch of the same lineage group because of its organisational principle being voluntary.
The number of members of the association in 1986 was about 200, which is less than one tenth of 2,500, the estimated population of ex-villagers of Lougang then living in Hong Kong. The same ancestral representations which are worshipped in Lougang, but smaller in size, are enshrined in the club house of the association. The activities of the association can be roughly divided into two, that is, those concerned with the friendship and mutual assistance between the members in Hong Kong as well as the conducting of the ancestral rituals there, and those concerned with their home village affairs. The former includes the ancestral rituals in spring and fall at the club house, the provision of money for congratulations and condolences, and the award of scholarships to the children of the members' families. In this association the latter activities seem to be more important.
Group tours by ex-villagers to Lougang to worship at the graves of shared ancestors started in 1981, before the association was organised. Since the establishment of the club building for the returned villagers from abroad in Lougang, frequent tours for the annual ceremonies at the graves have been organised by the association. The association in Hong Kong has raised much money by donations for public facilities in Lougang such as school buildings, a hospital, and roads etc. One more important contribution for the home villages is the organisation of a committee with funds for publishing the genealogy of the Wu in Lougang. In spite of the genealogies of each segmented branch of the Wu being retained, an integrated one was lacking. The association in Hong Kong played a crucial role in compiling the latest branch genealogies in which it was well supportedly by the cooperative efforts of ex-villagers around the world.
The lineage organisation in Lougang no longer exists. Even though it appeared to be revitalised by its counterpart in Hong Kong, we should avoid confusion between the lineage association in Hong Kong and the awareness of these matters in China. And finally it might be said that this type of lineage association is the simplest of the types of surname association.

Type 2. Clan Associations I

The clan as the precursory organisation of this Type 2 is not so tight in its consanguineal ties as the local lineage and higher-order lineage as defined by Freedman (1966: 21). The entity indicated by the clan here is different from the clan described as Type 3 on two counts. One is the relatively well demonstrated patrilineal agnatic ties among the founders of some of the member lineages, and the other is the consequent level of ritual integration concerning the ceremonies at the shared ancestral hall which was specially built to show the symbolic integration of the clan. The core lineages of this kind of clan compose a higher-order lineage as the example below will illustrate.
In 1976 the Chow Limkei (Zhou Lian-xi) Clansmen Association was established in Hong Kong by immigrants with the common surname Zhou from Kaiping County but not from other parts of the province. The organisers as well as the other members of this association identify themselves with the descendant members of the clan in Kaiping which established a shared ancestral hall named Lianxi zhou gong ci in 1903. The ancestral hall dedicated to a common ancestor in the Song dynasty was built near a market town of considerable size which is the center of the four core lineages. The members of this clan organisation called themselves "The Six Branches of the Zhou in Kaiping." This clan organisation should be regarded as the precursory organisation of the Chow Limkei Clansmen Association in Hong Kong.
Four of the lineages in the vicinage carry on close patrilineal relations with each other, and form a higher-order lineage with a common ancestor, that is, with two of the founders who were brothers and with the rest who were members of segments which branched from one of the two. The shared ancestor among these four lineages is claimed to have come from Nanxiong, which is located in the northern part of Guangdong Province and which is the legendary home county of the founding ancestors of many of the lineages in this province. On the other hand, the shared founder of another two lineages, one located in the neighbourhood of the four core villages and the other far from them, migrated into Kaiping County by another route and consequently the historical agnatic relationship to the founder of the other four lineages is not demonstrated. Yet the great ancestor of the higher generation common to all the six lineages is claimed to be the famous thinker Zhou Lian-xi in the Song dynasty.[4]
In 1908 several businessmen of the clan, purchased a building for rent in the Crown Colony of Hong Kong. They signed a contract for the building on behalf of the clan. The building as a part of the corporate property in the name of the ancestral hall was bought with funds raised by the descendants of the six lineages then dwelling in Kaiping and Hong Kong. Most of the income from this common property was used to cover the expenses of ceremonies at the ancestral hall. The seasonal and annual ceremonies lasted until the end of the Second World War in 1945. For a period of almost three decades after the establishment of the new government in China, any formal communication between the clan members in the home county and the ex-villagers in Hong Kong was impossible.
The successors to the corporate property in Hong Kong purchased another building for rent in 1959. And the Chow Limkei Clansmen Association succeeded to all the property of the ancestral hall registered in Hong Kong when it was established in 1976. A part of the periodical income from the buildings for rent has been spent on fraternal activities and mutual assistance among the members. There are about 300 members of the association.
The association dispatched a friendship mission to their home county in 1987. The mission visited all of the six villages of the Zhous after a reception party given by the county government. In 1990, sixty members of the association organised a group tour in order to attend the ancestral ceremony at the the clan hall which had managed to survive during this harsh period in Chinese politics. There they were reunited with about 1,000 local members of the clan.
Although the membership of the association differs clearly from the membership of the clan in China because of its voluntary nature, the shared consciousness of the descendants for the common ancestor, and the retained ownership of common property as well, might lead observers to take it for the clan itself. Indeed the association's club house looks like a clan hall in many respects except that the object of the ancestral worship is only a copy of the picture of the great ancestor instead of the many ancestral tablets, and consequently the club house of the association in Hong Kong seems to function as a substitute for the clan ancestral hall in China.
The clan was disorganised by the Communist government and lost all its local collectively-owned property, but a part of this, notably the clan ancestral hall itself, was recently returned to the local villagers for ceremonial use. The altar and ancestral tablets in the hall had been completely destroyed, and the building had been used as a storage shed.
The close relationship between the six lineage villages based on clanship in the past made it possible for some of the ex-villagers in Hong Kong, who had succeeded to their respective family's right to share in the ownership of the building as a corporate property, to organise a clan association for the purpose of preserving the corporate property through the period of possible crisis after 1997.
The open-door policy of the Chinese Government in the 1980s enhanced the prospective benefits to be gained from the rebuilding of the agnatic relationship between Hong Kong and the homeland. Businessmen hoped that their own businesses would prosper thanks to public investment or the charitable activities of the association in their home county, and the local government desired more commercial and manufacturing investment from outside China, especially from Hong Kong, to accelerate economic modernisation in the area. The government officers expected an administration permissive toward the celebration of ancestral rituals in the lineage or clan halls. It was hoped that pilgrimages to ancestral graves would stimulate the ex-villagers' love of their homeland, and furthermore encourage them to invest money there. The clan ancestral hall in the home county which had fortunately survived was supposed to serve a meeting point for the intentions of clan members in China and in Hong Kong.
The association in Hong Kong made the clan in the home county its model. Since all the members of the association came from the clan in China, the clan in the period before the Communist government can be said to be the precursory organisation of the association.

Type 3 Clan Associations II

Another type of association is also based on clanship. The Japanese word gouzokushi means a kind of ancestral hall especially constructed with the funds raised by descendants belonging to many lineages of the same surname.[5] This word literally means the ancestral hall as a building, but at the same time it also means the clan organisation which established the ancestral hall. The promoters of the project of constructing the clan ancestral hall were some of the leading members, or members of the gentry class, rather than all the members of each local lineage. The agnatic descent ties among the component lineages were not demonstrated, but were merely insisted on in the genealogies, many of which were specially edited on the occasion of the establishment of the clan ancestral halls. This kind of clan is often referred to in writings by anthropologists, and the similarity or difference between it and the clan association is sometimes discussed (Freedman, 1966: Chapter 1; Baker, 1977: 505-508; 1979: Chapter 3). The Chen Clan Academy in Guangzhou is a well known example of a clan ancestral hall. As it was established by the educated elite and the wealthy with a view to increasing their social prestige, the building looks magnificent even today. The establishment of a hall for ancestor worship was not its primary purpose, which was rather the political and economical influence to be derived from having such a majestic ancestral hall.
I will introduce here one more example of first a clan, and then of the second type of clan association whose organisation was based on the clan. The ancestral hall for the first settler of the Tams who moved to Guangzhou from Jiangxi Province was built in the Song period, during the latter half of the 10th century AD. The ancestral hall was established by one of his great-grandsons. At that time it was supposed to be an ancestral hall just for the family. But interestingly, eight centuries later it was re-established by forty-eight influential persons with the surname Tam in various counties of Guangdong Province. The re-established ancestral hall appeared as that of the provincial-wide clan in 1753.
The ancestral hall was repaired in 1872 by the many descendants, a total of about 2,300 Tams. They shared one of the instigators of the 1753 re-establishment as their common ancestor. About half of them lived in Kaiping, Xinhui, Chunshan, and Nanhai Counties, approximately 300 in each county.
I will now give a contemporary example of a Clan Association II. In 1948, the Tam Clansmen Association of Hong Kong was established by immigrants with the surname Tam mainly from Kaiping, Xinhui, Taishan, Donguang, and Nanhai County of Guangdong Province. This association organised a company for investing in real estate with the purpose of purchasing and possessing a building for rent in 1958. The committee of the association decided to collect funds for the company from members of the related organisations overseas as well as from members in Hong Kong. Some of the leading members, heavy shareholders in the company, were appointed as managing directors. The profits from the common properties were divided according to shares. The clan association had its clubhouse on a floor of the building, which is located in the central commercial area of Hong Kong island.
An altar for ancestral worship was placed in the hall of the clubhouse. The Chinese characters signifying all the ancestors of the Tams are inscribed on a tablet in the center of the altar.
The number of members in 1960 was about 1400. The latest number of members is far less than that at the initial stage. But generally speaking, this type of clan association can recruit a considerable number of members, because the precursory organisation is a provincial-wide clan. This type of clan association sometimes includes sub-groups of members who share a relatively close agnatic tie, such as is the case with the lineage associations described as Type 1. And the sub-groups sometimes form the core of the clan association. An example is given below.
Many of the members of the To Ching (Ducheng) Countrymen Association of Type 1 are members of the Tam Clansmen Association at the same time. The association, composed of immigrants from Ducheng Village, was organised as the counterpart of that in Montreal, Canada. One factor leading to the establishment of this lineage association in Hong Kong was that in 1960 Communist China did not allow overseas villagers to return home so overseas Chinese went to Hong Kong as a substitute. Another is that emigrants in Hong Kong from the same village wanted a more cohesive organisation based on the lineage relationship. The newly established lineage association is consequently an independent organisation in spite of the dual membership of its members. And it is not unusual that the positions of secretary as well as some of the directorships are occupied by the same person. So it might be said that members of a component lineage-village of the clan form the core of the clan association.
The Tam Clansmen Association made the clan which had established an ancestral hall in Guangzhou the model for their organisation. Most of the members of the association in Hong Kong came from the same counties as the clan members who had repaired the clan ancestral hall in 1872. The precursory organisation of the association coupled with the investment company is the same clan as in 1872. The ancestral shrine in the clubhouse of the association does not look like a miniature of the altar at the clan ancestral hall in Guangzhou, but symbolises it.

Type 4 Multi-surname Associations

Multi-surname associations are based upon the consanguineal ties in ancient days among the component surname groups, but these appear to be a mythological, and not historically provable reality. Multi-surname associations are grouped into two by their names. The first group contains the constituent surnames in their organisational names, such as the Au Choy Clansmen Association, the Au Ou Au-Yeung Clansmen Association, and the Hong Kong Shoo Yuen Tong Lui Fang and the Kwong Clansmen Society. The second group uses symbolic words in their names, such as the Hong Kong Gee Tuck General Association, the Hong Kong Chew Lun Clansmen Association, and the Lung Kong Association of Hong Kong.
In the United States and Canada, the Soo Yuen Benevolent Association and Sue Yuen Tong are used as the names of the associations whose members have the three surnames, Lei, Fang, and Guang. Their development in this century in North America is quite well known, but the precursory organisations are relatively unknown.[6] It is said that an ancestral hall named Suyuan Jia Shu was established in 1847.[7] The ancestral tablets of the three surnames enshrined at the central hall used to be worshipped every New Year. A lot of descendants bearing the three surnames assembled at the hall to observe periodical ancestral ceremonies. They lived not only in Kaiping County but also in adjoining Taishan County. The date of the foundation was, of course, not later than that of the associations in America. It was earlier than the first influx of Chinese immigrants from Guangdong. It might be argued that the principle of organizing a multi-surname association was not initially invented by minor surnames in America, as described by Uchida (1976: 108). The model organisation was considered to be the organisation that had established and maintained the ancestral hall in Kaiping. This view might be applicable to the second example of the Lung Kong Association discussed below.
The Shoo Yuen Tong in Hong Kong was established with the financial assistance of its counterpart in the United States in 1958. Whether any existing clan associations related to the three surnames supported this multi-surname association being organised or not in Hong Kong has yet to be investigated. Most of the members surnamed Lei and Guang are from Taishan County, while members bearing the surname Fang come mainly from Kaiping and Donguang as well as several counties in Chaozhou. And later on, immigrants surnamed Fang from Kaiping organised an independent association in 1988, that is the Hong Kong Hoi Ping Fong's Mutual Aid Association. About 200 people joined this association, and in the same year the association sent a mission to the clan ancestral hall in Kaiping to attend the ceremony for its repair. The association lays stress on financial support for the modernisation of the home county as its main activity.
Aside from the Shoo Yuen Tong and the association organised by the Fang from Kaiping there is a clan association of the same surname. It is the Fong (Fang) Clansmen Association of Hong Kong established in 1958, claiming about 500 members in the year 1971. The members came mainly from a few counties in Chaozhou where a quite different dialect from other Guangdong dialects is spoken, and a small number of members came from a county in the Pearl River Delta region and not from Kaiping nor Taishan. This association does not have any relations with the clan ancestral hall in Kaiping, nor with the Shoo Yuen Tong nor with the Kaiping Fong's association.
A similar history about the Lung Kong Association around the world is reported in an article in Kaiping Wenshi.[8] A temple dedicated to the four ancestors with the surnames Liu, Guan, Zhan, and Zhao was constructed at a market town in Kaiping. The establishment of the temple was the result of the sworn brotherhood between the four heroes in the popular novel The History of the Three Kingdoms. The year of foundation was 1661.[9] In New York the Lung Kong Association was first established in 1888. I myself regard the temple as the model for the later Lung Kong Associations around the world.
In 1959 the Lung Kong Association of Hong Kong was organised. The basic component organisations already existed. They are the four clan associations of each surname, the Ciu (Zhao) Clansmen General Association of Hong Kong established in 1947, the Hong Kong Zeng (Zhan) Clansmen Association established in 1953, the Hong Kong Lau (Liu) Clansmen Association established in 1956, and the Hong Kong Kwan (Guan) Clansmen Association established in 1958. Although there is an interlocking relationship of office holders between the Lung Kong Association and each of the four associations, the membership is independent and voluntary in each case (Yoshihara, 1982). These independent clan associations are classified as Type 3.
The third example is the Gee Tuck Association of Hong Kong which was established in 1960, whose members have the five surnames, Wu, Zhou, Cai, Weng, and Cao. The representative of the Gee Tuck in the United States, which was established in 1920s, visited Hong Kong to urge the foundation of a counterpart. At that time the Ng (Wu) Clansmen Association, Chow (Zhou) Clansmen Association, and Au Choy (Ke Cai) Clansmen Association had already been established in Hong Kong, and the leading members of each association formed a committee for the new united organisation. In 1963 a campaign to raise funds for the club house started in Hong Kong and North America, and three years later it was opened. They insisted on patrilineal kinship prior to the time of the bestowal of each surname in the ancient days as the base upon which the union was realised. It can be said that associations of Type 3 may be the components of an association of Type 4, but without any particular model in this instance.
The process of establishment of the last example, the Hong Kong Chew Lun Clansmen Association, is similar to that of the above mentioned case (Yoshihara, 1988: 155-8). In 1963 the association was organised by members with the four surnames, Tan, Tam, Xu, and Xie. The delegate of the Chew Lung Clansmen Association of America requested their counterparts in Hong Kong to organise a united association. Immigrants of three groups surnamed Tam, Xie, and Xu had already established their respective associations. The Tam (Tan) Clansmen Association organised by one of the four surnames here, which was introduced in the section on Type 3 associations, has a close relationship to this Chew Lun Clansmen Association. A member of the preparatory committee for the new united association made an interesting statement at a meeting. The point is discussed below.
Hong Kong is close to China. Many of the Overseas Chinese left their families and relatives in Hong Kong, which they often visit as it holds a strategic position in Asian trade and transport. The establishment of the Chew Lun Clansmen Association of Hong Kong will contribute to the broadening of the network of the Chew Lun Clansmen Association in the world. Hong Kong is a second homeland for the Overseas Chinese.
From these four examples of multi-surname associations we can recall the diplomatic policy of China at that time as the background for the establishment of associations in Hong Kong of Type 4 under outside influence, and perceive a lively concern of the Chinese immigrants for the "agnatic tie" expressed in their organisation of united clan associations based on a very artificial kind of kinship. We also see a strong tendency for them to try to expand the ethnic network using surname ties.
Multi-surname associations are called quasi-kinship organisations by Hugh Baker (1979: 164), and the Lung Kong Association is an extreme case as it is authorised by fictive brotherhood in a fictitious story.


In previous sections the relationship between types of surname association has been introduced, but it is necessary to say more about the relationship between associations with the same surname. The Chow Clansmen Association established in 1948, which was organised by the Zhous, does not have any formal organisational relationship with the Hong Kong Bolo District Association nor the Chow Limkei Clansmen Association, which were also organised by the Zhous, but only those from Kaiping, and which are classified as Type 1 and 2 respectively.
A publication of the Chow Clansmen Association contains a picture of Zhou Lian-xi, who was born in Hunan Province, and regards him as the founding ancestor of the Zhous in Guangdong Province. One of his great-grandsons moved to the province, and later an ancestral hall dedicated to Zhou Lian-xi was built in Guangzhou City. The ancestral hall was named Lianxi shuyuan. In former times many lineages of the Zhous in this province maintained ancestral halls, so that this could be called a clan ancestral hall. In this century, it was placed under the rotating care of forty-four lineages of the Zhous. The six lineages in Kaiping were also included. The Chow Clansmen Association seems to have made this clan their model of organisation, and it was insisted that almost all the members of the association were descendants of the clan. Nevertheless, it is said that no members of the Chow Limkei Association have dual membership. The Chow Clansmen Association, on the one hand, as well as another two associations of the Zhous, has a close relationship with the Gee Tuck Associations in Hong Kong and North America. The Chow Clansmen Association keeps an indirect relationship with the other two through the Gee Tuck Associations.
On the other hand one of the lineage associations of Type 1, the Hong Kong Bolo District Association is organised among the ex-villagers of a lineage village with the surname Zhou, and many of the approximately 100 members of this district association are accordingly members of the Chow Limkei Clansmen Association at the same time. One reason for the dual membership of many of the members of the district association is its accommodation service, which clansmen associations lack. Single sojourners or relatively poor aged members are quite numerous in the district association. Immigrants from Bolo village after the period of the establishment of the district association, could join it in addition to their own clan association.
The Hong Kong Ng (Wu) Clansmen Association, established in 1948, also does not have any formal relations with the Hoiping Lowkong Clansmen Association organised by the members with the surname Wu from Kaiping. Both the directors and ordinary members of this association come from many counties of Guangdong Province, and several even from Fukien Province. Consequently their ethnicity on the basis of dialects varies, from Chaozhou, through Cantonese and Hakka, to Fukien. This association might be classified as Type 3, but the model seems to be different from that of the Tam Clansmen Association. The precursory organisation of the Tam Clansmen Association was a province wide clan, and the members of the association come from within the province, but in the case of the Ng's this is not so.
In contrast to the previous example of the Chow Clansmen Association, the Tam Clansmen Association holds formal relationships with the To Ching District Association and the Toishan Tam Kwong Yu Tong as well as with the Chew Lun Clansmen Associations around the world, and thus it maintains a large international network.


In this paper, in introducing several surname associations relating to Kaiping County in Guangdong Province, I started by talking about lineage associations of Type 1 because lineages are considered to be the basic model for all kinds of surname association. Clans in traditional China adopted a similar organisational principle and structure to lineages. Even the precursory organisations of the multi-surname associations found in Kaiping made the lineages one of their basic components.
It does not matter whether the kinship relationship is based on a natural or an artificial agnatic tie. We do not think that only natural kinship is true and consequently artificial kinship is nonsense. Unverified belief as well as verified is sometimes meaningful when the persons concerned are persuaded of its authenticity and motivated into action. This kind of unverified belief may be called ideology.
For Chinese people, sharing the same surname means more or less having a patrilineal agnatic kinship relationship even if it is not demonstrated by consanguineous ties. The unverified belief of the Chinese proves to be actually persuasive, because the consciousness of sharing the same surname restricts marriage between those with the same surname for fear of incest. This kind of unverified belief among Chinese people might be called the ideology of the patrilineal kinship tie, which is a feature of Chinese ethnicity.[10]
An attempt to enlarge the network of the related organisations based on natural or artificial kinship was accelerated during the 1950s and the 1960s. At that time the Chinese government did not have an open-door diplomatic policy. It may be said that the close relationship among the surname associations in and out of Hong Kong is the basis of both inter-group and ethnic networks of Chinese abroad, and it has become important as 1997 approaches and the numbers of new immigrants into North America from Hong Kong and mainland China increases.


*This paper develops in much greater detail parts of a paper read at the 12th Conference of the International Association of Historians of Asia, held at the University of Hong Kong, June 1991. An earlier version first appeared in The Hong Kong Anthropologist, no. 7, 1994, entitled "Clan Associations in Hong Kong".
1. Except for the work by local anthropologist Xie Jian (1981), works on the surname associations in Hong Kong are few.
2. The word "local lineage" is used in Maurice Freedman (1966: 20), but J. Watson (1982: 607) uses "localised lineage". I have adopted the terminology of Freedman.
3. Geoffrey Howe visited Beijing to meet Deng Xiaoping in April 1984. The Sino-British Joint Declaration Agreement was signed in December 1984.
4. Other ancestral halls for Zhou Lian-xi were built in several cities in Guangdong Province. They were constructed by local groups with the surname Zhou. The clan ancestral hall of the Zhou in Guangzhou city is mentioned later.
5. The word gouzokushi is used in the papers by Makino Tatsumi. The Chinese word shuuyuan was often used in the names of clan ancestral halls of this kind in Guangdong.
6. For example a Japanese scholar Uchida stated the history of Soo Yuen Benevolent Association in San Francisco, but he failed to mention the model organisation in China. See Uchida (1971: 98-108).
7. The Suyuan Monthly Magazine, no. 2 (1985), p. 35
8. Kaiping Wenshi, no. 8 (1984), pp. 43-44.
9. When I visited the temple in 1991, I could not confirm the year of its foundation. I found the date of repair in 1884 written on a pillar in the temple.
10. David Wu pointed out the importance of shared patrilineal ancestors and surnames as the basis of ethnic identity among the Chinese.(1985: 204-209).

Return to Contents page

Updated 4 June 2020