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Tuesday, June 11, 2019, 12:09
In the name of art, sculptures explore history of Chinese nomenclature
By Wang Ru
Tuesday, June 11, 2019, 12:09 By Wang Ru

A bronze sculpture features the Chinese family name Sun. The ongoing show exhibits 101 bronze sculptures created by Li Tinggui of the most common Chinese family names. (WANG RU / CHINA DAILY)

When two Chinese people meet each other and exchange names, they will naturally feel closer if they find they share a common family name. It shows the cultural connotation behind family names in China.

The Bronze sculptures of 101 Chinese family names are designed by sculptor Li Tinggui on the basis of some prehistoric characters

A sculpture exhibition of Chinese family names, which opened on May 18, and will run through July 21, helps to introduce the culture of Chinese families in Beijing's Overseas Chinese History Museum of China.

Bronze sculptures of 101 Chinese family names that are mostly used in China are on display. The sculptures are designed by sculptor Li Tinggui on the basis of some prehistoric characters. They contain some features of the oldest character forms found on animal bones and tortoise shells, known as oracle bone inscriptions, and another ancient Chinese character, usually used as a bronze inscription.

"Family names are public cultural symbols, and they can be seen as living fossils which are passed down from ancient times," Li says.

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According to Yuan Yida, an expert who studies Chinese family names at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, 21 percent of the Chinese population share the three most commonly used family names-Wang, Li and Zhang, while about 42 percent share 10 common family names and about 84 percent share 100 family names. Those numbers have not changed much over the past 1,000 years.

"It means the inheritance of Chinese family names has some historical rules. The 101 names chosen to be exhibited this time are shared by over 85 percent of Chinese people," says Yuan.

Li introduces a sculpture of Xi as a family name. "In ancient times, according to the oracle bones, Xi was written as a combination of two wings and a sun, and the sculpture is designed to show such combination."

As well as the sculptures on display, viewers can see the development of the character and its origin and history as a family name on the wooden table that holds the sculpture.

A bronze sculpture features the Chinese family name Sun. The ongoing show exhibits 101 bronze sculptures created by Li Tinggui of the most common Chinese family names. (WANG RU / CHINA DAILY)

Li also highlights a sculpture of the name Ma, which means horse in Chinese. He says this sculpture is similar to the character of ma that was used in the state of Chu during the Warring States Period (475-221 BC). At that time, nearly each state wrote this character in a different way, Li says. "The Chu-style ma seems like the eye of a horse running on a vast land, showing the imagination of ancient people."

This sculpture also shows symmetrical aesthetics, and the lines of the work are carefully designed. "We use 'live' lines to make this sculpture. The bend of the lines lead to different feelings of the shape. You cannot see any right angle on this work, since they are formed by 'dead' lines."

Speaking about the sculpture of Yang, Li also says its ancient form can be seen to be a combination of three parts, which he shows in his work. He put the left part of the character on the top of the sculpture, with the other two parts of the character below, constituting a seemingly different, but actually similar form of the name.

All of the sculptures designed by Li have the connotation of gestation. They all can be seen as a woman who is gestating a child. It signifies the inheritance of family name culture.

Li has spent 12 years designing the pieces. Each had to go through a 26-step process, with over 120 people contributing to the effort.

Li also says people are supposed to respect family names and the culture behind them. "In ancient times, those who committed crimes were kicked out of their family trees and were denied burial in family graves." In other words, a misdeed may deprive someone of their family name.

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"Life is a journey of seeking roots. People seek the roots of their lives to understand the world and themselves better. I am lucky to find some genes of traditional Chinese culture in family names," says Li.

wangru1@chinadaily.com.cn

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