劉 Lao: the dragon raiser

With more than 65 million Chinese carrying this surname, 劉 (Lao in Hokkien, Liu in Mandarin) is certainly the fourth more populous family name in China. The origin of this surname has close links with the dragon.

The earliest ancestor of the Laos was Liu Lei (劉累). He took care of the emperor’s dragons. Little did he know that thousands of years later, one of his descendants would be revered in history as the founder of a great dynasty, and rule as emperor, and have a lasting influence on China’s culture.

For starters, the family name used to be Qi (祁). The Qis were said to be heirs of the legendary emperor of China Yao (堯), they were granted title and territory at a place called 劉 (Lao/Liu).

Liu Lei was born during the Xia Dynasty (2100 B.C.-1600 B.C.). He was said to be have learned the skill of raising and training dragons, so the 13th emperor of Xia, Kong Jia (孔甲) told him to take charge of raising his four dragons.

Unfortunately, one of the dragons died. Fearing imperial punishment, Liu Lei escaped with his family to the Lu (魯) municipality in Shandong province.

Hence adopting the surname 劉 taken from the place where they were granted their title, they became the earliest people with the surname 劉 in China.

In China’s history, there were more than 60 emperors and kings with 劉 surname. The first one is Liu Bang (劉邦) who founded the Han Dynasty in 206 B.C., which lasted more than 400 years until 220 A.D.

The Han Dynasty is quite significant in China’s history and civilization. Although Han is the second dynasty that unified China after Qin (221 B.C.-207 B.C.), it had a more lasting impact than Qin because Qin only lasted 14 years.

Most Chinese belong to the Han nationality and the ethnic Hans are generally called the Han people or Han ren (漢人) due to the influence of the Han Dynasty.

Furthermore, it was also during the Han dynasty that China began to have contact and exchanges with the West, both culturally and economically. — First published in Tulay Fortnightly, Chinese-Filipino Digest 22, no. 16 (January 19-Feb. 1, 2010): 5.