Chinese Family Tree

Talking about family members in Chinese is very complicated due to the Confucian emphasis on relationships and hierarchy. (See also Mates, Terms of Endearment, and Addressing Strangers).

For example, the English word “cousin” has 8 different Chinese translations depending on mother’s side or father’s side, older or younger, boy or girl. By the way, don’t be fooled when your Chinese friends appear to defy the One Child Policy and tell you about their 5 brothers and sisters. They frequently leave off the cousin-indicating prefix and just call their cousins “older brother” or “younger sister.”

To simplify the task of wading through the myriad of family terms, I’ve made a visual representation of the relationships and terms, which is available for download below.

  Chinese Family Tree (16,661 hits)

(requires Adobe Reader, which is available here).

NOTE: To download the document directly to your computer without viewing it in your internet browser, right-click on the link and select “Save link/target as…”

You’ll notice it doesn’t include the great grandparents’ generation. This is because many Chinese don’t know the technical terms for great grandparents, such as “zēngzǔfù 曾祖父” (“great grandfather on father’s side”), and it would be easier just to say, “Grandfather’s father” in Chinese to get your meaning across.

In addition to the terms and tips on the Chinese Family Tree.pdf, here is some vocabulary I’ve found useful when talking about family members and relationships.

General Family Terms

qīnqi 亲戚 = relative
zǔzōng祖宗 / zǔxiān祖先 = ancestor

qīn gēge 亲哥哥 = real older brother (same parents)
qīn jiějie 亲姐姐 = real older sister(same parents)

xiōngdì 兄弟 = brothers
jiěmèi 姐妹 = sisters
xiōngdì jiěmèi 兄弟姐妹 = siblings

fùmǔ父母 = parents
zhàngfu hé qīzi 丈夫和妻子 = husband and wife
àiren爱人/ pèi’ǒu 配偶= spouse / lover
nǚpéngyou女朋友 = girlfriend
nánpéngyou男朋友 = boyfriend

yīng’ér婴儿 = infant / baby
xiǎoháir小孩儿 / háizi孩子 = child

Oh, by the way, I’ve left out the arsenal of in-law terms. If you’ve got a reason to learn those, well, you’re on your own.

Comments

  1. Ingo,

    I’ve heard from my friend in the Northeast that they also use “airen” there. Anyone else know if it’s universal or not?

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  3. Where I am in northern China, people do use airen, but more common is duixiang (not common at all with southerners)

  4. We hear ai4 ren2 (爱人) in Tianjin often. We often use Lao3 Po2 (老婆wife) and Lao3 Gong1 (老公husband). If I address Jessica as 老婆 with the right tone of voice in front of our Chinese friends it always gets a rise out of them. Our teachers have said that young marrieds sometimes use these to be cute or affectionate. I’m still not totally clear on all the various connotations.

    I was planning to make a family tree, but you did all my work for me! Maybe I’ll take yours and expand it?

    I wonder if any of these terms will fall out of use when the single child generation takes over.

  5. The “Chinese Family Tree” illustration is great .. but is it missing any terms?? What about .. 姨丈,姑丈,姑爺,嫂子,家嫂, etc., I dont know how they are related and I cant find them on the family tree. It would be great if you could at some illustration with them.

  6. 爱人 refers to spouse, so the husband can introduce his wife to his friends saying that This is my airen; and the wife can also introduce her husband saying the same thing.

  7. if you are got married then you can call your company is your “airen”, but if before wedding you couldn’t call “airen” , you should call your lover or boyfriend/girlfriend, as if a men said to you” this is my airen…” this means he loves and respects his wife very well.

  8. Hi madarin,
    I’m from Malaysia and I’m a local Chinese.

    姨丈 is your mother’s-sister’s husband,
    姑丈 is your father’s-sister’s husband,
    姑爺 ,if I’m not mistaken is usually address by servants/maids to their master’s daughter’s husband and
    嫂子 refers to your elder brother’s wife,
    and lastly 家嫂 is refered by elders to their family’s daughter-in-law.(Cantonese). Hope I’m right.

  9. (Yi 2)(zhang 4) is your mother’s-sister’s husband,
    but in north China, we usually say (yi 2)(fu)

    (gu 1) is your father’s-sister’s husband, i say 姑夫(fu)

    (GU 1 )(Ye) ,if I’m not mistaken is usually address by servants/maids to their master’s daughter’s husband

    actually gu ye has a lot of meanings varied from different regions in China.(Is this sentence right???)

    For example, your child should call your sister’s husband gu ye

    In addition, if the others ask your parents about your sister’s husband, they will say:”How is your gu ye?”———-This is my understanding of gu ye

  10. All these terms sound weird when I say them in cantonese. everyone thinks im talking like a robot. Is there anywhere I can find a 粵語 version?

  11. Is there a special term for cousins through a different concubine? My Grandfather had three daughters from first wife and my father was from first concubine. Is there a special term those mothers and for the children of those daughters to me? (They were from southern China.)

  12. The explain of and in the family tree picture is inaccurate.
    =your father’s brother’s child.
    表=your father’s sister’s child(姑表)+ cousin of your mother’s side(姨表).
    For example,姑表姐 is your father’s sister’s daughter older than you, 姨表弟 is your mother’s brother’s/sister’s son younger than you.

    some family numbers in-law:
    岳父:father of my wife
    岳母:mother of my wife
    公公:father of my husband
    婆婆:mother of my husband
    大伯子:older brother of my husband
    小叔子:younger brother of my husband
    大姑子:older sister of my husband
    小姑子:youner sister of my husband
    大姨子:older sister of my wife
    小姨子:younger sister of my wife
    大舅子:older brother of my wife
    小舅子:younger brother of my wife
    连襟:husband of my wife’s sister
    妯娌:wife of my husband’s brother

  13. what must my children call my mum in law’s younger brother’s son and daughter? I need yr answer ASAP. Thks.

  14. This is a chance to learn come Chinese language. The pdf with the family tree seems to be very clear. I need to make a family tree as well. Could you told me what software do you use it to make this scheme ?

  15. @Sia

    I know I am half a year late, but, just in case there are others who are curious,

    “what must my children call my mum in law’s younger brother’s son and daughter?”

    Your mum-in-law’s younger brother’s son and daughter would be known to your wife as “表哥/表弟” and “表姐/表妹” depending on your wife’s age wrt them. So to your child, they are “表舅” and “表姨”.

  16. What do you call the children that belongs to your grandfather’s sister, in which you are auntie to them & they have children? Do their children call me old auntie or great auntie?

  17. The description in your question is wrong.
    You cannot be an auntie to your grandfather’s sister children. He/she is 1 generation above you and you should call them auntie/uncle instead.
    Their childrens are in the same generation as you. So they are your cousins.

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