Yuan: A people of diverse heritage

There are an estimated 7 million people surnamed Yuan, comprising 0.54 percent of the total population in China, ranking it the 37th most common surname.
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There are an estimated 7 million people surnamed Yuan, comprising 0.54 percent of the total population in China, ranking it the 37th most common surname.

There are mainly four sources of Yuan as a surname. The most ancient originated from the family of Yao (姚), as during the rule of Emperor Shun (2277-2178 BC). It is derived from one of the family member’s given name’s Bo Yuan (伯爰), with the same pronunciation as Yuan (袁).

More Yuan were found to be the tribe of the Yellow Emperor (2717-2599 BC). Good at making shafts, the people took Xuanyuan (轩辕) as surname, which later transferred to Yuan (袁). 

The Yuan family was once mainly in ancient ethnic groups, such as Gaoche and Dingling. Today, there are many Yuans in ethnic groups like the Manchurin, Mongolian, Hui and Tujia.

Another branch of Yuans can be traced back to Yuan Kui, a magistrate in Hongdong County, Shanxi Province, during the reign of Emperor Chongzhen (1628-1644).

He adopted hundreds of abandoned or orphaned children as local people suffered from famine at that time. To show their gratitude, these children took on Yuan’s surname. 

Henan Province is the birthplace of the Yuan family, which mainly dwelled in Zhejiang, Jiangsu and Jiangxi provinces in the Song dynasty (AD 960-1279).

Many celebrities surnamed Yuan are covered in the literary classic “Records of the Three Kingdoms.”

Yuan Tiangang, living in Chengdu in the early Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907), was a very famous person who was good at fortune-telling.

When Wu Zetian, the only officially recognized empress of ancient China, was an infant, he predicted that she would be a “lord of the world.”

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