蘇 (Su, So) in the Philippines

First published in Tulay Fortnightly, Chinese-Filipino Digest 23, no. 23 (May 23-June 13, 2011): 5.

Surname 蘇 (Su in Mandarin, So in Hokkien) ranks 41st in China among Chinese surnames and 17th among Chinese in the Philippines.

The origin of surname Su is quite interesting. It is linked to the herb su chao (蘇草), literally meaning su grass. It is abundant in China at the eastern foot of Taihang Mountains (太行山), and believed to be effective as a medicine for revival and revitalization.

During 1800 BC, people living in the area revered su chao as magic grass and adopted it as their totem. It was said that heirs of the legendary Emperor Huang Di (黃帝) lived there and established a small state named You Su (有蘇), literally meaning a state with su grass. They called themselves You Su clan.

Still, another interesting story happened during the time of the last emperor of West Zhou (西周) Dynasty, Zhou You Wang (周幽王), 781-770 BC.

The critical blow had to do with the spoiled concubine Bao Si (褒姒). In 779 BC, King You of Zhou attacked the State of Bao, but the State of Bao was defeated and offered Bao Si to beg for surrender. After Zhou You Wang got Bao Si, he was very fond of her. 

Bao Si did not like to laugh. King You of Zhou thought of various ways to make her laugh, but she still did not laugh. 

One day, he lit the beacon-fire which alerted troops far away to come defend the emperor’s court. The troops arrived for naught, but it made Bao Si laugh. So, the emperor did it two more times.

Then rebels attacked. The emperor lit the beacon again but the troops no longer responded. Rebel forces took over and established the next dynasty, Zhou (周).

The emperor finally made Tan Ji laugh, but at the cost of losing his empire.