The Complicated Chinese Family Tree

youtube / youtube

Man, we have it so easy in English, kinship-term-wise. We only have to keep track of generations (grandmother vs. mother vs. daughter) and sex (aunt/uncle, brother/sister, niece/nephew). We pay minimal attention to the distinction between married vs. blood relatives (an uncle who married in is just an uncle), and we don’t distinguish, as many languages do, our maternal and paternal lines (mother’s or father’s sister is aunt; father of either is grandfather.)

No such luck if you speak Chinese (and this goes for both Mandarin and Cantonese). There, the terms for family members not only keep track of generation, sex, married vs. blood, and lineage, they also take into account relative age (older vs. younger siblings) and other things I can’t even explain because my head starts spinning about 1 minute into this video.

Watch this lively presentation of Chinese kinship terms and be grateful your aunts, uncles, and cousins let you get away with such lazy attention to familial detail. Or, if you’re getting ready for a Chinese family reunion, use it as a refresher.

The Cantonese version: