Despite having to deal with frequent misunderstandings and being the object of ridicule, the only family in Taiwan surnamed Chia (假) — meaning fake or pretentious — embraces and takes pride in their distinctive family name.
“This is not fake, this is for real. We’re the only ‘five-and-a-half’ people in Taiwan to have that surname,” 82-year-old Chia Yueh-sung (假月松) said, referring to himself, his four children and his wife, as he proudly leafed through a pedigree of the Chia family that took his family two years of research to compile.
He said his wife and his daughter — a doctoral graduate who teaches abroad — are often jokingly referred to as “Mrs Fake” and “Dr Fake” respectively.
“Sometimes, I just play along by saying that my ‘real’ wife is at home,” he said.
Before retiring from law enforcement, Chia said his last name also caused him problems at work, as he had to occasionally show his identification card to prove that he was not a “fake police officer.”
Harmless jokes aside, the family name has landed Chia and his ancestors in China in dire predicaments at times.
After migrating from Henan Province to Jiangsu Province, several of Chia Yueh-sung’s ancestors who were military officers were detained by the Chinese military police after they were wrongfully accused of identity fraud due to a misunderstanding over the character “Chia” embroidered on their uniforms.
“They were further prosecuted when the Chinese Communist Party launched land reforms in 1950,” Chia added.
In 1951, as the turmoil wrought by China’s land reform spread, Chia Yueh-sung fled to Hong Kong-based Tiu Keng Leng refugee camp, also known as Rennie’s Mill, and later sought shelter with an acquaintance, surnamed Chu (屈), in Taiwan.
Chia Yueh-sung subsequently changed his family name to Chu in an attempt to obtain permanent residence through family-sponsored immigration in Taiwan.
After living under a false surname for about three years, he was able to restore his real family name after the Taiwanese government sought to address the problem of rampant name changes among displaced people fleeing the war in China.
Chia Yueh-sung became the first person in Taiwan to register under the name Chia — only to discover that returning to his original name would open the door to more misfortune.
In 1954, he sought admission to the Central Police College — the predecessor of the Taoyuan-based Central Police University.
During his first admission test, he could not find his seat in the examination room. His inquiries were met with “no comment” by the proctor and personnel from the National Policy Agency’s Public Security Office.
On further investigation, Chia was surprised to learn that he had been blacklisted by the police agency as a “suspected communist bandit” after his rare surname caught the attention of concerned government agencies.
He was only allowed to retake the test and admitted the following year after his persistent efforts to assure skeptical government departments that he “had nothing to hide.”
“The surname was chosen by my parents and I have nothing to complain about,” Chia said.
Chia said that while there are about 1,000 people comprising 100 households that bear the same surname in China, his family is the only one in Taiwan.
“When I got married, my dream was to have a dozen children. Although that wish was never unfulfilled, at least the number of people with the surname Chia in Taiwan has increased from one — myself — to five,” he said.
Expressing relief that Taiwan’s maturing democracy has spared his children the suffering he experienced in China, Chia said his only hope is that his 40-year-old single son would start a family soon, so that he could welcome the third generation of “fake babies.”