An ancient name that flows like water
Teng is ranked the 167th most common surname in China — about 0.06 percent of China’s population, less than a million people.
Despite that, it is considered one of the oldest surnames and is used widely by many ethnic groups.
Minority groups of the Xianbei, Mongolians and the Manchus have used Teng in lieu of their original surnames.
There were two early origins for Teng. While both branched from the Ji clan, their evolution is different.
Teng was the sixth of the 12 surnames given to the 25 sons of the Yellow Emperor. The surname was first written as Cheng (塍), which referred to farm ridges.
Yet, somehow it was changed into Teng (滕), carrying an enriched meaning of water. Today Cheng is used only by a limited number of families, while many others adopted Teng.
Another branch of Teng originated from Cuo Shu Xiu, the 14th son of King Wen of Zhou (1046-256 BC). He was granted the land of Teng Kingdom in today’s Tengzhou in Shandong Province. After the kingdom fell, the families fled and changed their name.
To avoid being recognized, they first surnamed themselves Teng Shu, and gradually changed back to Teng or Cheng. The earliest resettlement of the Teng descendants is in Shandong and Henan provinces after the downfall of the Teng Kingdom. Migration of the people began from the Eastern Han Dynasty (AD 25-220) and some flourished.
During the Jin Dynasty (AD 265-420), the Tengs migrants multiplied and prospered in parts of Henan and Hubei provinces.
Besides shifting southward such as Anhui, Jiangsu, Hunan provinces and Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, the Tengs migration expanded after the Yuan Dynasty (1271–1368) to Sichuan and Yunnan provinces. By the Qing Dynasty (1636–1911), many Tengs had shifted to the northeast and some migrated overseas.
Teng Zijing was a scholar and official in the Northern Song Dynasty (AD 960–1127). He was admired for his charity work in building schools and supporting education.
But his recklessness led to his downfall.
He was accused of corruption by misusing public funds. As a result, he was demoted and sent to Yueyang in Hunan Province.
He gained prominence and respect there for his role in the restoration of the famous Yueyang Mansion after it was destroyed by fire.
First, he called for donations to rebuild the mansion. Then he announced punishments for people who defaulted on loans. The creditors were so pleased that they donated the money needed for the restoration.
The story of Teng Zijing rebuilding the Yueyang Mansion still circulates.
His dedication toward the public service was illustrated in the famous documentation of an officer named Fan Zhongyan (AD 989-1052), in “Meeting Memoir at Yueyang Mansion.”
The statues of both can be found in the Mansion today.