85 percent of Han in China have two-syllable given names: report

Just how common are monosyllabic given names in China? I’ve seen lots of wild guesses, which generally range from about one-quarter to one-half (?!) of the population. Zhang et al., however, give the following figures:

91.06% Chinese have three-character names and only 8.34% have two-character names. People with four characters or more only constitute 0.6% of the population.

This was based on a database of 1,644,911 names in China.

According to a larger survey last year in the PRC, however, 14.22 percent of Han people in China have given names that are monosyllabic … and thus are written with a single Chinese character. On the other hand, 85.61 percent of Han people in China have full names written with exactly three Chinese characters, according to the report released by the National Citizen Identity Information Center, an organization with ties to China’s Ministry of Public Security. (It thus seems likely they have access to especially good data.)

Since the source material is unclear on what is meant by names written with three Chinese characters, it’s possible that some people in the second group have disyllabic family names and monosyllabic given names; but that number is likely to be close to statistically insignificant, given the relative paucity of monosyllabic given names and the outright rarity of disyllabic family names. (Only 0.02 percent of those in Zhang et al.‘s name list had disyllabic family names.)

The sum of 14.22 and 85.61 is 99.83, which leaves 0.17 percent of those in China classified as Han having names that are at least four syllables long and so take at least four Chinese characters to write.

According to a report published last December but which I’m just now getting around to writing about, nearly one thousand names in China are written with at least ten Chinese characters. The news story, alas, does not give any of these names; but it does provide a breakdown of the numbers:

10 characters: 594 names
11 characters: 272 names
12 characters: 94 names
13 characters: 33 names
14 characters: 5 names
15 characters: 1 name

A total of 97 percent of those 999 people live in the predominantly non-Han Chinese region of Xinjiang, which likely indicates that they have non-Han names that are being forced into forms that fit procrustean Mandarinized syllables.

A report from Nanjing states that 309 of the city’s 6 million people have names that take more than four Chinese characters to write.

PRC authorities have proposed limiting given names to two syllables and family names to four syllables (for rare cases in which a child receives a disyllabic family name from both parents).

As for Taiwan, monosyllabic given names are much rarer here than in China. My guess would be about 2 percent. This could probably be worked out from Chih-Hao Tsai’s list of Chinese names; but right now I don’t have the time.

On the other hand, China’s public is being urged to embrace new disyllabic family names, largely because the relative paucity of surnames ensures many, many people in China share common names.

Recent demographic surveys indicate there are about 1,600 surnames, with only 100 or so being frequently used, among Chinese nationals, which means many people share a name. For example, nearly 300,000 people, male and female, use the same common name of Zhang Wei, the statistics show.

The top 1,600 U.S. surnames don’t even cover half of the population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, whose list of surnames found in the United States contains more than 88,000 entries.

sources:

Further reading:

Book reviews, vol. 5

Sino-Platonic Papers has rereleased for free its fifth volume of reviews, mainly of books about China and its history and languages (11.6 MB PDF).

Even if you have no particular interest in the specific works reviewed, I recommend at least browsing through this and all of the other volumes of reviews from Sino-Platonic Papers, as they often feature Victor Mair at his most direct and entertaining about a wide range of subjects.

Table of Contents:

  • Review Article: The Present State and Future Prospects of Pre-Han Text Studies. A review of Michael Loewe, ed., Early Chinese Texts: A Bibliographical Guide. Reviewed by E. Bruce Brooks, University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

N.B.: The following 29 reviews are by the editor of Sino-Platonic Papers.

  • Roger T. Ames, Chan Sin-wai, and Mau-sang Ng, eds. Interpreting Culture through Translation: A Festschrift for D. C. Lau.
  • Sau Y. Chan. Improvisation in a Ritual Context: The Music of Cantonese Opera.
  • CHANG Xizhen. Beijing Tuhua [Pekingese Colloquial].
  • CHANG/AIXINJUELUO Yingsheng [AISINGIORO *Yingsheng]. Beijing Tuhua zhong de Manyu [Manchurian in Pekingese Colloquial].
  • BAI Gong and JIN Shan. Jing Wei’er: Toushi Beijingren de Yuyan [“Capital Flavor”: A Perspective on the Language of the Pekingese].
  • JIA Caizhu, comp. Beijinghua Erhua Cidian [Dictionary of Retroflex Final-r in Pekingese].
  • Julia Ching and R. W .L. Guisso, eds. Sages and Sons: Mythology and Archaeology in Ancient China.
  • FENG Zhiwei. Xiandai Hanzi he Jisuanji (Modern Chinese Characters and Electronic Computers).
  • FENG Zhiwei. Zhongwen Xinxi Chuli yu Hanyu Yanjiu [Chinese Information Processing and Research on Sinitic].
  • Andre Gunder Frank. The Centrality of Central Asia.
  • HUANG Jungui. Hanzi yu Hanzi Paijian Fangfa [Sinographs and Methods for Ordering and Looking up Sinographs].
  • W. J. F. Jenner. The Tyranny of History: The Roots of China’s Crisis.
  • Adam T. Kessler. Empires Beyond the Great Wall: The Heritage of Genghis Khan.
  • David R. McCraw. Du Fu’s Laments from the South.
  • Michael Nylan, tr. and comm. The Canon of Supreme Mystery, by Yang Hsiung.
  • R. P. Peerenboom. Law and Morality in Ancient China: The Silk Manuscripts of Huang-Lao.
  • Henry G. Schwarz. An Uyghur-English Dictionary.
  • Vitaly Shevoroshkin, ed. Dene-Sino-Caucasian Languages.
  • Vitaly Shevoroshkin, ed. Nostratic, Dene-Caucasian, Austric and Amerind.
  • Laurence G. Thompson, comp. Studies of Chinese Religion: A Comprehensive and Classified Bibliography of Publications in English, French, and German through 1970.
  • Laurence G. Thompson, comp. Chinese Religion in Western Languages: A Comprehensive and Classified Bibliography of Publications in English, French, and German through 1980.
  • Laurence G. Thompson, comp. Chinese Religion: Publications in Western Languages, 1981 through 1990.
  • Aat Vervoorn. Men of the Cliffs and Caves: The Development of the Chinese Eremitic Tradition to the End of the Han Dynasty.
  • WANG Jiting, ZHANG Shaoting, and WANG Suorong, comp. Changjian Wenyan Shumianyu [Frequently Encountered Literary Sinitic Expressions in Written Language].
  • John Timothy Wixted. Japanese Scholars of China: A Bibliographical Handbook.
  • YÜ Lung-yü, ed. Chung-Yin wen-hsüeh kuan-hsi yüan-liu [The Origin and Development of Sino-Indian Literary Relations].
  • ZHANG Guangda and RONG Xinjiang. Yutian Shi Congkao [Collected Inquiries on the History of Khotan].
  • ZHANG Yongyan, chief ed. Shishuo Xinxu Cidian [A Dictionary of A New Account of Tales of the World].
  • Peter H. Rushton. The Jin Ping Mei and the Non-Linear Dimensions of the Traditional Chinese Novel.

  • William H. Baxter, A Handbook of Old Chinese Phonology. Reviewed by Paul Rakita Goldin, Harvard University.
  • JI Xianlin (aka Hiän-lin Dschi). Dunhuang Tulufan Tuhuoluoyu Yanjiu Daolun [A Guide to Tocharian Language Materials from Dunhuang and Turfan]. Reviewed by XU Wenkan, Hanyu Da Cidian editorial offices in Shanghai.
  • GU Zhengmei. Guishuang Fojiao Zhengzhi Chuantong yu Dasheng Fojiao [The Political Tradition of Kushan Buddhism and Mahayana Buddhism]. Reviewed by XU Wenkan, Hanyu Da Cidian editorial offices in Shanghai.
  • W. South Coblin, University of Iowa. A Note on the Modern Readings of 土蕃.
  • Rejoinder by the Editor.
  • Announcement concerning the inauguration of a new series in Sino-Platonic Papers entitled “Bits and Pieces.”

This work also continues the discussion regarding the Chinese characters “??” and Tibet.

This was first published in July 1994 as issue no. 46 of Sino-Platonic Papers.

Dagur (Dawo’er) grammar and sample sentences

This week’s rerelease from Sino-Platonic Papers is Introduction, Grammar, and Sample Sentences for Dagur (1.6 MB PDF), by Üjiyediin Chuluu (Chaolu Wu).

Dagur, which is related to Mongolian, is spoken by the Dagur (a.k.a. Dawo’er, Dáwò’?rzú, ????, ????), who live mainly in China in Inner Mongolia and Xinjiang.

The Dagur language belongs to the Mongolic branch of Altaic languages. Dagur is usually divided into Butkha, Tsitsikar, Hailar, and Xinjiang, four dialects….

Since there is a close historical and linguistic relationship between the Dagur and the Mongols, there has been a dispute about whether Dagur is a dialect of Mongolian or an independent language within the Mongolian languages. In the recent studies, Dagur has been mostly regarded as one of the Mongolian languages. Dagur has many similarities in phonetics, grammatical structure, and vocabulary with the other languages of the Mongolian languages, especially, with Mongolian itself.

Most of the vowels in Dagur have similar corresponding vowels in either classical or modern Mongolian. For example….

The sample sentences (268 in total) are given with IPA and English translation.

This issue of Sino-Platonic Papers was first published in November 1994.

Three Brief Essays Concering Chinese Tocharistan: SPP

The latest rerelease from Sino-Platonic Papers is Three Brief Essays Concerning Chinese Tocharistan (1.7 MB PDF), by Victor H. Mair.

Here are the beginnings of each of the three essays.

The Significance of Dunhuang and Turfan Studies:

There are well over a thousand scholars around the world who are working on some aspect of Dunhuang and Turfan studies. Do these two remote places in Chinese Central Asia merit such intense interest on the part of so many? In the first instance, this paper attemps to show that Dunhuang and Turfan studies, though focussing on texts and artifacts associated with these two particular sties, actually have broad ramifications for the history of East-West cultural and commercial relations in general. Another major factor is the unique quality of many materials discovered at Dunhuang and Turfan. Archaeological finds from these locations have enabled us, for the first time, to obtain an essentially first-hand look at China and some of its neighbors during the medieval period. That is to say, we can now learn, for example, about popular culture during Tang times without being forced to view it through a Confucian historiographical filter. In other words, the availability of primary materials for correcting the biases of traditional historians and materials which document the existence of phenomena (languages, religions, popular literary genres, social customs, etc.) that were completely overlooked — or even suppressed — by them. As examples of the vivid immediacy afforded by such materials, two texts from Dunhuang manuscripts S4400 — a prayer by Cao Yanlu — and S3877 — a contract for the sale of a woman’s son — are edited and translated. The paper concludes by stressing that, because of the complexity and vast scope of Dunhuang and Turfan studies, international cooperation is essential.

Early Iranian Influences on Buddhism in Central Asia:

It is usual to imagine that the transmission of Buddhism from India to China was accomplished largely by Indian missionaries and Chinese pilgrims. Until recently, the role of Iranian-speaking peoples in this great process of intellectual and religious transformation has been little known and seldom recognized. Primarily as a result of archeological discoveries during the last century, however, the vital importance of Central Asian Buddhism has become increasingly clear. It is now possible to point to specific doctrinal, iconographic, and textual instances of Iranian influence upon Buddhism in Central Asia and, consequently, in China and elsewhere in East Asia. Here we shall touch upon only a few examples of the Iranian contributions to Buddhism. The items listed in the bibliography should enable the reader to locate many more without much difficulty.

The deep involvement with Buddhism of individuals from the very heartland of Iranian civilization is evidenced by the fact that the fist known translator of Buddhist texts into Chinese was a Parthian of royal descent….

The History of Chinese Turkistan in the Pre-Islamic Period:

The first thing which needs to be pointed out about Chinese Turkistan (also spelled Turkestan) is that, for the period in question, the habitual designation is a complete misnomer. As will become obvious in the course of this article, the place was neither politically Chinese nor ethnically Turkish until after the establishment of Islam in the region. It is probably safest to refer to the area by more neutral geographic names such as the Tarim Basin and the Dzungar (also spelled Zungar and Jung[g]ar) Basin which, together with their associated mountain ranges, constitute the two main divisions of the area, or Central Asia in contrast to Middle Asia (Russian / Soviet Turkistan).

No matter how we refer to it, there is no doubt that this remote, largely desert part of the world is of extreme importance because it lies at the crossroads of Eurasia. From the dawn of civilization, trade and cultural exchange have been carried out by peoples living in and around this “heart of Asia….”

The was first published in March 1990 as issue no. 16 of Sino-Platonic Papers.

pushing Mandarin in Xinjiang preschools

Mandarin (a.k.a. Putonghua) will be pushed even in nursery schools in rural Xinjiang, according to an article originally in the South China Morning Post. Money is being offered to those who participate in the program. It’s interesting, too, that this comes at a time when lots of education officials in China have been complaining that nursery schools in the Han parts of China have been offering too much language instruction, especially in terms of literacy.

Also, in primary and secondary schools Mandarin will be used for the teaching of math and science, while the local languages will be used for humanities courses. This is somewhat similar to the situation in Malaysia, where English is used for math and science but not necessarily for other subjects. The attitudes toward the native languages of these respective areas, however, are very different.

Note, too, that few teachers in the area are capable of teaching in Mandarin. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

Starting this year, children from seven agricultural prefectures in Xinjiang will start learning Putonghua in nursery schools to strengthen the hold of the national language in the autonomous region.

The move is part of an ongoing effort to implement what the government calls a “bilingual” education system in primary and secondary schools. Putonghua is to be the medium of instruction for mathematics and science, while minority languages such as Uygur will continue to be used in humanities classes.

Xinhua quoted Deputy Secretary Nuer Baikeli as saying the only way to solve the problem and improve the quality of education was to start from the “golden period” -toddlers.

To entice pre-schoolers and teachers to join the programme, students will receive a subsidy of 1.5 yuan a day and teachers 400 yuan a month.

According to the PRC’s statistics, the per capita income of farmers and herdsmen in Xinjiang is about 2,300 yuan per year. Elementary school teachers in Xinjiang make about 1,200 yuan per month. So, relatively speaking, we’re talking about a lot of money as an incentive.

The subsidies will not be offered for bilingual education in primary and secondary schools.

The policy has raised questions about the survival of the native culture of Xinjiang, where the largest ethnic group are the Uygurs (45 per cent), followed by Han (41 per cent) and Kazakhs (7 per cent).

“This is a well-planned strategy by the Chinese government to permanently assimilate the Uygur people into the Chinese culture or dilute the Uygur culture,” said Nury Turkel, president of the Uyghur American Association, a non-profit organization based in Washington DC.

“The Uygur language is one of the most important compositions of the Uygur culture. Taking away that right would create another type of Uygur culture.”

About 70 per cent of schools in the region are ethnic minority schools, which -until recently -started teaching Putonghua as a second language in the third grade. The other 30 per cent teach all classes in Putonghua and introduce English as a second language in the third grade.

Ma Wenhua, deputy director of the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region Education Department, said the goal was to implement bilingual teaching in all minority schools so students would speak fluent Putonghua when they finished secondary school.

“We plan to have all minority schools use bilingual teaching from the first grade in 10 to 20 years,” he told the South China Morning Post. “We think that if these children are not fluent in Putonghua, it could affect their job opportunities. It would also be difficult for them to continue their education.”

The only thing that was stopping the government from moving faster was a lack of qualified teachers, Mr Ma said. Most ethnic minority teachers do not know enough Putonghua to teach in that medium.

Mr Ma estimated that only 5 per cent of ethnic minority primary schools had started teaching in Putonghua. The level of participation varied depending on the number of qualified teachers.

One teacher from an ethnic minority school in Urumqi said her school planned to start teaching mathematics in Putonghua next year.

Most teachers did not know Putonghua and had started training in the language.

The teacher would not say whether she thought bilingual education was better.

“We’ll have to see how it goes,” she said.

China: Mandarin Introduced in Uygur Nursery Schools, South China Morning Post (via the BBC via another site), February 2, 2006