Chinese Village Kinship

Village kinship is a strong connection between individuals from the same village.  It is an especially strong concept in some Chinese circles.  If you and I came from the same village and met each other in some far flung city, we would treat each other like brothers.

One of the most common questions, especially for an older generation of Chinese, is what county is your family from.  If we look at Guangdong province in China.  The province is divided into many counties.  Many of those who immigrated early on to Canada were from Taishan (or Toysan) county.  They spoke a certain dialect and tended to find connection in each other in a foreign land.

I’ll start off by saying that I have little experience with village kinship in my family.  My family had been in Hong Kong for over 100 years.  Whatever ancestral village there may have been has long since been demolished and built over in the über-busy urban Hong Kong landscape.  My family has never talked much about this village or that village.  I’ve never met so-and-so from our home village.  Mainly because our family has long since lost any connection to such a village.

Zhongshan County Society

You can find an actual physical manifestation of village kinship in Vancouver.  There are many Chinese benevolent societies in town.  More specifically, some of these societies are built upon family and clan.  So if you shared the same surname as the society members, then you could join some of these societies.  Other societies are based on county origins.  So if you were from the same county or village, then you could join one of those societies.

Mah Society of North America

These societies provided support to fellow villagers who may were down on their luck.  In the early days, societies provided for members whose family may have passed away; thus, incurring huge costs.  The society would have provided help money and support to these members.

Not all village kinship manifests itself as societies.  Some are just families who have immigrated en masse and settled in towns across the world.  If a significant number are in one town, they will have huge family/village gatherings on important occasions.

One time, our family booked a few tables in a restaurant where one of these gatherings was taking place.  We were three tables among thirty other tables booked by this group.  I’m a little surprised the group just didn’t book the whole place to begin with.  I’m sure the group members were wondering who in the world we were.  The dinner had speeches by elders, announcements by organizers, and what seems to be the trend du jour, karaoke.  There’s nothing like a group of 50-60 year old Chinese singing karaoke in a restaurant.  I wonder what the younger generation there in the audience were thinking.

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