The Complicated Chinese Family Tree

The Complicated Chinese Family Tree

Ever realised how easy we have it in English when it comes to family vocabulary? We only have to distinguish between generations (grandfather, father, son) and sex (auntie/uncle, niece/nephew, brother/sister). Chinese is a whole other ballgame and I can only hope that I never have to take a test on all of the relationships – my head is spinning at the prospect! Oh well, it’s not like we took Chinese because we thought it’d be easy, right? 

In Chinese (both Mandarin and Cantonese) you need to be aware of generation, sex, married vs. blood, lineage and relative age (e.g. older vs. younger siblings) when naming relatives. That means that two cousins may refer to their grandmother in completely different ways despite being in the same room as each other – even though they are both talking about the same person! 

The Chinese family tree is a topic that has always caused trouble for people learning Chinese (it’s also something that confuses people in China when they have to visit relatives!). So, whether starting from scratch or looking to brush up on your skills before the next family Chinese New Year’s dinner, this video at takes a light-hearted approach to learning the vocabulary:

Confused enough yet? For some more relaxed reading, why not learn why China has only one time zone

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