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Chinese Surname Shortage Sparks Rethink

With more than a billion people now sharing just 100 surnames, Chinese authorities are considering a landmark move to try to end the confusion, state media reported Tuesday . Current Chinese law states that children are only allowed take the surname from either their mother or father, but the lack of variety means there are now 93 million people in China with the family name Wang.

In a country of around 1.3 billion people, about 85 percent share only 100 surnames, according to a nationwide survey conducted by the Ministry of Public Security in April and published in the China Daily newspaper on Tuesday.

The survey found 92 million people shared the surname Li, while 88 million were called Zhang. A further seven surnames -- including Chen, Zhou and Lin -- are held by at least 20 million Chinese. Another report by the Chinese Academy of Sciences found at least 100,000 people share China's most popular name, Wang Tao. Under a new draft regulation released by the ministry of public security, parents will be able to combine their surnames for their children, a move that could open up 1.28 million new possibilities, the China Daily reported.

For instance, a father named Zhou and mother named Zhu could choose to call their child either Zhou, Zhu, Zhouzhu or Zhuzhou, the report added. Guan Xihua, a household registration officer with the Beijing public security bureau, said the lack of variety caused trouble in daily life and the new regulation would slash repetition. Du Roufu, from the academy, said combined surnames had already become popular with younger couples even though such combinations were not strictly permitted by law.

The draft also allows ethnic minorities to register some letters and characters among new names, but bans any foreign letters. Du said the move for ethnic minorities would encourage them to use traditional surnames and avoid the practice of taking Han Chinese surnames, which reduces the variety of names and harms the ir cultural heritage.


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