Tue, May 09, 2000 - Page 8 News List

Watering the many roots of a family tree

By Li Hsiao-feng

Several months ago, I got to know an American named Ronald McGhie. In conversation with him, he told me he was working on his clan pedigree (族譜).

When I heard "clan pedigree" I thought it must be a list of paternal forefathers. To my surprise, it turned out to be a "pedigree chart" (祖譜) that covered both the paternal and maternal family trees.

McGhie traced his ancestry back by recording the names, birth years and birthplaces of his ancestors. He was born in California and his parents and grandparents were from Salt Lake City, Utah. Among his eight great-grandparents were two Danes. Among the 16 parents of his great-grandparents were three Danes, one Swede, two Scots and two English. "Irish" and "Icelander" also joined the long nationality list of the 32 grandparents of his great-grandparents.

His pedigree chart is a great inspiration to me. His ancestors came from different countries. Chinese like to look at people's nationalities from their paternal ancestry. Should McGhie, who includes the ancestors of both his father and mother, be regarded as a person who "forgets his origin (數典忘祖)?"

I used to make a mistake by saying "my ancestors were from Tungan in Fujian Province." In fact, the ancestors I mentioned were limited to those of my paternal family. There were 32 grandparents of my great-grandparents, including those from my maternal tree. How could they possibly come from the same place? And why do I have to only recognize the ancestors from Tungan? Is it just because I inherited their family name?

This reasoning is absolutely patriarchal and male-centered. A clan pedigree in a Chinese patriarch society chooses a male (the first pioneer to Taiwan, for example) as the first forefather and records his offspring generation by generation. Most of the time, women were recorded with their last names only -- females simply were not taken as individual persons.

Discarding the male-centered clan pedigree, I started to work on a chart which includes ancestors from my father and mother's families. Although it is hard to trace the origins of the grandparents of my great-grandparents, I still discovered that the last names of these ancestors include Lin, Yeh, Huang, Yang, Tung, Wang and Chou. I am of one blood with them because I wouldn't exist if anyone of them had not been there.

In addition, I also discovered that many of my ancestors belonged to the Siraya people (西拉雅人) of the Pingpu tribe (平埔族), who were Austronesian.

Given this fact, I think I would be a person who "forgets my origin" if I still indulged myself in the myth of being a descendant of the "Yellow Emperor."

Li Hsiao-feng is a professor of political history at Shih Hsin University.

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