chinese family tree

I still remember the first time I was invited in a Chinese family party. Everybody started to tell me to who are related. Of course, I did not understand anything. Firstly, because my Chinese was not that good at that time and secondly because a Chinese Family Tree gives you a headache. Surely, remembering 爸爸(baba/father) and  妈妈 (mama/mother) is not that difficult. But what about all the other ones?

My picture shows an intricate tree showed to me by a Chinese friend of mine, after I explained to her about my embarrassment at that party.

Let’s see word by word or should I say relative by relative?

Paternal side:

爷爷 (yeye) = Grandfather

奶奶 (nainai) = Grandmother

姑姑 (gugu) = Aunt

姑夫 (gufu)  = Uncle

爸爸/父亲 (baba/fuqin) = Father

伯伯 (bobo) = Uncle

伯母 (bomu) = Aunt

叔叔 (shushu) = Uncle

婶婶 (shenshen) = Aunt

Mothernal side:

老爷 (laoye) = Grandfather

姥姥(laolao)  = Grandmother

妈妈/母亲 (mama/muqin) = Mother   姨夫 (yifu) = Uncle

姨姨 (yiyi) = Aunt  da non confondere con pancreas

舅舅 (jiujiu) = Uncle

舅妈/舅母 (jiuma/jiumu)  = Aunt


Having a look at these words, 爸 (dad),妈(mom) and老(old) make more sense together  other additional words. 夫 means husband or ordinary man, 伯 means earl or count and 姑 “for the time being”. Furthermore 婶 is a form of address to a woman about one’s mother age and亲 means “related by blood/intimate in terms” but also “kiss”. Pay attention to this姨太太 (yitaitai) which means  concubine (what did they do in the past with their aunt??) or do not confuse 姨  with 胰 (pancreas) which  they have the same pronunciation, but different radical:  女(nu/women) and 月(yue/moon/month/bright)


In my opinion, the Chinese family tree is really, really, ridiculously complicated. But why?

In Chinese, in addition to keeping track of age and gender, other factors such as maternal and paternal lineage, relative age, married or blood related persons all need to be considered. For example, the word cousin does not mean anything because it can be split eight different ways based on mother/father’s side, gender, and their age. In addition to that, it is very important in Chinese culture to address everyone by their correct kinship term as a sign of politeness and respect.

Of course you can start with your immediate family and see later, if you need to remember other family members:


Your Mom – 妈妈 (māma)

Your Dad – 爸爸 (bàba)

Your Wife – 妻子 (Qīzi) or 老婆 (lǎopó)

Your Husband – 丈夫 (Zhàngfū) or 老公 (lǎogōng)

Your older brother – 哥哥 (Gēgē)

Your older sister – 姐姐 (Jiějiě)

Your younger brother – 弟弟 (Dìdì)

Your younger sister – 妹妹 (Mèimei)

Your son – 儿子 (Érzi)

Your daughter – 女儿 (Nǚ’ér)

Your older sister’s husband – 姐夫 (Jiěfū)

Your younger sister’s husband – 妹夫 (Mèifū)

Your older brother’s wife- 嫂子 (Sǎo zi)

Your younger brother’s wife – 弟妇 (Dìfù)

I will suggest to practice those ones and look at their reciprocral similarities.

And what about the cousins? Not now, too many!


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