Royalty and fame source of Cen name
There are an estimated 576,000 people in China with the surname Cen, accounting for 0.036 percent of the population. It ranks the 235th Chinese family name in terms of the population.
There are mainly three sources of Cen as a surname. One is derived from Ji Qu, cousin of King Wu of Zhou, who was the first king of the Zhou Dynasty (c.11th century-221 BC). Dating back to about 3000 years, Ji was awarded with the fief in Cen in today’s Hancheng, Shaanxi Province. Ji’s descendants, therefore, took the name of the fief as their surname. This origination of the surname Cen was recorded in the “Lvshi Chunqiu.”
Cen was also used as a sinicised surname by people from ethnic groups in ancient China like the Li (俚), living in the Leizhou Peninsula in the Qin and Han dynasties.
The heyday of the Li group was in the transitional period from the Northern and Southern dynasties to the Sui and Tang dynasties. In the late Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907), one branch of the Li group immigrated to Hainan Island and became the Li (黎) ethnic group. Today, the character Cen can be found in many place names at the junction of Guangdong and Guangxi.
Another branch of the Cen family was from the Zhuang ethnic group. Originally, the Zhuang ancestors were nameless so one day five tribal chiefs discussed the problem. Four chiefs had decided their surnames, which were Huang, Mo, Lu and Ma, while the left one was still extraordinarily anxious about his surname, using a knife to knock on the cutting board. Intriguingly, all the other chiefs agreed to surname this tribe as Cen meaning “cutting boards” in the Zhuang language.
Although the family name Cen is not common, there are many celebrities surnamed Cen. Cen Peng, perhaps the first notable in the history of the Cen family, was a general during the reign of Emperor Guangwu of Han.
Another famous name is Cen Yuying, governor-general of Yunnan-Guizhou provinces. He proposed three countermeasures to defend Taiwan. Acting as a supreme commander in the Sino-French War, he invented the “Diying Zhanfa,” which was later evolved into the tunneling tactic.
Cen Chunxuan, the third son of Cen Yuying, was also one of the celebrities surnamed Cen. Though he was a playboy when he was young, Cen gradually became a meritorious statesman.
In 1900, he offered timely support to Empress Dowager Cixi when she fled to Xi’an with Emperor Guangxu.
In 1902, Cen founded the “Shanxi Daxuetang,” today’s Shanxi University. He also established the police system and impeached over 40 corrupt officials during his stay in Sichuan Province. Thus, he was known as “Guan Tu,” translated as the “butcher” of the officials.