吳 Go, the virtue of giving way

The surname Go is the 10th most populous in China. It is 吳,Wu in Mandarin. Wu clan members are actually related to the Zhou clan. They descended from the same royal ancestor. Their history is a very touching one.

In the early 11th century BC, Gu Dan Fu (古亶父), who founded Zhou (周) State in Shanxi (陝西), had three sons: the eldest Tai Bo (太伯), then Zhong Yong (仲雍) and Ji Li (季歷).

Ji Li had a son named Ji Chang (姬昌), who was courageous, bright, and eager to study and learn. He insisted on joining his grandfather in expeditions. Aside from protecting the king in battle, he also rendered meritorious service.

Gu Dan Fu liked his grandson very much and was inclined to let him succeed the throne. But in imperial China, only the eldest son or eldest grandson may do so.

The king did not want to break the rule, but he also realized clearly only Ji Chang could rule effectively. He got sick due to anxiety over this dilemma.

Upon learning this, the king’s two older sons privately decided to go away and leave Ji Li to take care of their father. They made plans to travel far away, ostensibly to seek good medicines for their father. In fact, they exiled themselves to the southern, less developed, part of China.

Gu Dan Fu eventually passed away. Before his death, he appointed Ji Li as crown prince but asked him to give way to eldest brother Tai Bo if the latter returned. Upon learning of their father’s passing, Tai Bo and Zhong Yong rushed home to attend the funeral. Ji Li insisted on giving the throne to Tai Bo but the elder brother refused it and eventually returned south again with Zhong Yong.

Gu Dan Fu and his three sons — Tai Bo, Zhong Yong and Ji Li.

When Ji Chang succeeded Ji Li as King of Zhou, he noticed that the reign of Shang (商) Dynasty had weakened. With the help of his eldest son Ji Fa (姬發), in 1006 BC, Ji Li defeated Shang and established the Zhou Dynasty as Emperor Zhou Wen Wang (周文王) and his son Ji Fa as the famous Zhou Wu Wang (周武王).

Meanwhile, Tai Bo and Zhong Yong prospered in self-exile. They lived in a place called Wu (吳), in present-day Jiangsu province. Tai Bo had no heirs so when he died, he gave his throne to his younger brother Zhong Yong, who passed it on to Zhou Zhang (周章). It was at this time that Emperor Zhou Wu Wang conferred the title and territory to Zhou Zhang as king of Wu (吳) State.

It was said that it was during the celebration of Zhong Yong’s 90th birthday, upon Zhou Zhang’s suggestion, the surname of all the heirs of Zhong Yong in Wu State was changed from Ji (姬) to Wu (吳). Thus, another new surname in China emerged.

The Wu ancestors, in giving way to a more competent, albeit younger member of the royal family, resulted in the birth of the Zhou Dynasty, which lasted more than 800 years (1066-256 BC), the longest in China’s history.

In the Philippines, many Tsinoys live in Cebu City with the Wu (Go) surname. So many that a Tsinoy saying refers to Cebu as “Go tiñ go due (吳天吳地 Gos are spread through the sky and earth),” which means that Cebu is full of Gos, in contrast to what is said in Davao, “Ang tiñ Te due (洪天戴地),” meaning “Angs in the sky, Te’s on earth (to mean that there are many Ang’s and Te’s in Davao).”

Among the Tsinoy taipans, there are two Gos – John Gokongwei Jr. and Andrew Gotianun – both from Cebu. — First published in Tulay Fortnightly, Chinese-Filipino Digest 23, no. 5 (August 3-16, 2010): 5-6.