Crazy Chinese Family Trees

It is time for the first guest post on my blog in 2016. This guest post by Learn Mandarin Now gives interesting facts about Chinese Family Trees and how to address family members the proper way without embarrassing yourself too much. It is not the first guest post you Learn Mandarin Now on my blog and you might remember for example Three Ways To Learn Mandarin Chinese Effectively or the Infographic about the Top 10 Ways to Learn Mandarin Chinese.


I don’t know about you, but I am a long-time follower of Timo’s blog: Crazy Chinese Family. I enjoy it the most when Timo writes about his “interesting” relationship with his mother-in law, which makes me laugh every time!

I know Timo can speak some Mandarin Chinese and, despite this and having first-hand experience about how Chinese-in laws and families can be, it’s probably still hard for him to sometimes understand just how crazy and complicated Chinese family trees can be. In fact, at times, it’s hard to get family relationships all right, even for native Chinese!

Well, if you also feel this way too, we hope we can help you out today!


In my opinion, the Chinese family tree is complicated for couple of key reasons:

  • for example, for the English word “cousin” there are eight Chinese word: 表(biǎo)哥(gē),表(biǎo)姐(jiě),表(biǎo)弟(dì),表(biǎo)妹(mèi),堂(táng)哥(gē),堂(táng)姐(jiě),堂(táng)弟(dì),堂(táng)妹(mèi)。Crazy?
  • as we all know, China is a really big country and, although the aim is to have a standard language for students to learn or remember, there are lots of variations for the same terms. The Chinese word “媳(xí)妇(fù)” means daughter-in law but, in some areas, it can also mean wife… again so crazy!


A Chinese family tree can be talked about forever, but let’s get started with the basics:

A couple: this is easy:

Husband: 老(lǎo)公(gōng),丈(zhàng)夫(fu),先(xiān)生(shēng)

Wife: 老(lǎo)婆(pó),妻(qī)子(zi),夫(fū)人(rén)

In-laws (here’s a more complicated part)

If you are like Timo and married to a Chinese lady, you should call your wife’s parents:

wife’s father: 岳(yuè)父(fù)

wife’s mother: 岳(yuè)母(mǔ)


But what they should call Timo?


Note: 女(nǚ)婿(xù)is the most proper word to use. It’s used more to introduce you to someone. Eg. This is my son in-law. 是(shì)我(wǒ)的(de)女(nǚ)婿(xù)。

In most cases, your in-laws will just say your formal name or your Chinese name (if you have one).

What if your wife has lots of brothers/sisters?

Your wife’s older brother: 大舅子(dàjiùzi)

older sister: 大姨子(dàyízi)

younger brother: 小舅子(xiǎojiùzǐ)

younger sister: 小(xiǎo)姨(yí)子(zǐ)

Seems a bit complicated, right? Well, I don’t want to go any deeper into this today, but really I understand how confused you may feel.


Still, as Chinese New Year is coming soon, if you also are meeting family-in law and family, here are two great tips for you:

  • The number one rule is NEVER call seniors by their name directly. For example, your (future) mother-in-law is 陈大矛(I just made her name up). Don’t call her 陈大矛or 大矛,both are big No-no’s, unless you don’t want to see her again ever… However, when speaking to the younger generation, calling them by their names is acceptable.
  • The second tip is if your Chinese is only at beginner level and you don’t remember the names of relatives at all, just ask before you speak to anyone to avoid making any silly mistakes. Typically, as you might be one of only one of the few foreigners in the room, a friend or colleague or your Chinese family will usually be happy to help you out.


Finally, as a long time follower of Timo, I am always on Timo’s side and hope in the New Year he can win the “war” with his mother in-law. With that thought, I want to offer Timo’s some Chinese wisdom from the “art of the war” in the New Year. 己(jǐ)知(zhī)彼(bǐ),百(bǎi)战(zhàn)不(bú)殆(dài)。

Weekly Chinese Wisdom_01


Anyway, I am just joking. Of course, Timo loves his in-laws and his Chinese family 🙂


Either way, if you are also interested in learning more about Mandarin Chinese, we recently launched our very interesting, daily Chinese Podcasts from Monday to Friday on our site. You can either listen directly on our site Learn Mandarin Now or via different platforms such as iTunes. Feel free to leave your honest feedback or rating to us, we always appreciate hearing from you.

I wish everyone an amazing 2016 and Spring Festival ahead.


Did you ever face the problem of addressing family members the proper way?

Be sure to follow me also on Facebook and on Twitter as I will post there occasionally pictures which do not find their way into my blog posts. Furthermore I also have a YouTube Channel in which some videos might pop up from time to time




13 thoughts on “Crazy Chinese Family Trees”

  1. I have no knowledge about how to address anyone in my Chinese family, so I call them the same as Mr. Panda does, I use the Chinese names for his grandparents and differently from him, the English first names of his aunts and uncles. And really, I don’t care at all whether this is 100% correct or not. They are ok with it, they love me (the crazy airhead foreigner girlfriend) and I love them too. That should be more than enough 😀
    To be true, I would love to call his parents by their first names, but I can’t pronounce them correctly. I can’t even pronounce his name correctly at all. So Mama, and Papa (I use the German pronounciation on top) are perfectly fine with it.
    And really, love for your family shoudn’t be measured whether you can remember the chinese family tree completely or not. 😀

    1. I remember that video as well from a couple of years ago. Thankfully my in-laws and their family (at least the family I’ve met thus far) aint that strict either however it can go crazy sometimes when visiting some former bosses + wife’s and family from FIL’s old work place. They surely got certain terms even my wife doesnt get it right each time

  2. In Malaysia, we (my generation onwards) have given up and just go with “uncle” and “auntie”. Uncle for any man of one generation above us and Auntie for any woman of one generation above us. For same generation or younger, we just go by names.

    Of course, my parents generation are distressed that we are giving up on addressing our relatives properly because seriously, this is one of the major cultural thing that we have. But it is just too… complicated. :/

    1. Yeah my in-laws also kinda gave up in telling me how to address every family member and my wife is also pretty bad remembering most of those names.
      I think it is normal for younger generations to try to make life easier. Afterall how can anything evolve when sticking to old norms. 🙂

  3. Family words are so complicated in Chinese. Definitely shows how important family is in China.

    I also find it difficult to get Chinese people to say “cousin” in English, as they usually call their cousins brother and sister

    1. I know what you mean. My wife also calls her cousin sister. Oh well these days I don’t ask how her cousin is doing but how her sister is doing as she usually just gives me a confused look 🙂

  4. I always get a verbal scolding from my parents whenever I refer to my relatives by their name 😀 Have to add either “Aunty” or “Uncle” to the front of their names and that will be okay 😀

  5. I always struggle with remembering the proper way to address certain relatives. It makes my head spin to see how many different names there are for people depending on which side of the family they are on or whether they are older or younger! Nice guest post.

    1. It is really hard to remember especially due to the different names depending from which side of the family they are from. Thankfully I never see too often most of the relatives so I don’t have to boil my brain always trying to remember the proper names

    1. Hey thank you. Just saw the nomination now as for unknown reason this comment ended up in the spam folder which I only check once a week. Of course I will accept it and will post it someday soon 🙂

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