Tang: Tale of breaking the hat tassel

Tang, a popular surname, ranks the 18th most common family name in China.


There are an estimated 14 million people surnamed Tang, accounting for 1.05 percent of the Chinese population.

Tang, a popular surname, ranks the 18th most common family name in China. There are an estimated 14 million people surnamed Tang, accounting for 1.05 percent of the Chinese population.

A major branch of Tang originated from the legendary Emperor Yao (2377-2259 BC) in ancient times who was surnamed Yiqi. As he titled his reign Tang, the emperor was also called Tang Yao. Some of his descendants took Tang as their surname. 

There are also Tangs in ethnic groups. The sinicized surname of a leader of the White-wolf Kingdom in the Eastern Han Dynasty (AD 25-220) was Tang, according to the “Book of the Later Han.” There are also families surnamed Tang in many ethnic minorities today including the Manchurin, Hui, Yao, Miao and Mongolian. 

Primarily living in Shanxi, Shaanxi, Hebei and Henan provinces, the Tang families moved southwards to Fujian and Hunan provinces in the Northern and Southern Dynasties (AD 420-589). The Tangs can be found in various countries, such as Japan, Indonesia, Koreas and the Vietnam. The number of Tangs in Hunan Province today constitutes 18 percent of the total population of Tang.

Famous people of the family include Tang Shuyu who established the Jin Kingdom during the Spring and Autumn Period (770-476 BC), Tang Yin, a famous painter, literary figure and calligraphist in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and Tang Jiao, the famed general of the Chu Kingdom in the Warring States Period (475-221 BC).

A story in bibliographer Liu Xiang’s historical story collections saw an old Chinese saying derived from Tang Jiao’s repentance.

A concubine of King Zhuang of Chu Kingdom was sexually harassed by an unknown man at a victory celebration party as the lights went out by accident. 

She pulled off the hat tassel of the offender and asked the king to punish him. Instead of doing so, the king ordered everybody to take off their tassels before the light was on again. He told the concubine that it is improper to kill a hero at the celebration party for such a “trivial incident.” 

Tang Jiao, the sex offender, admitted the crime many years later, and saved the king’s life in a battle disregarding his own safety. 

There later comes the Chinese saying of “jueying,” literally meaning breaking the hat tassel, and is used to describe magnanimity.

However, some experts challenged the story as fictional and discrimination against women.



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