My previous column was about clan temple names. Today, I’ll introduce two related concepts – the ancestral place of domicile (zuji) and “native” place of domicile (jiguan).

Like clan temple names, one’s zuji is increasingly irrelevant to present-day Chinese. Essentially, it is the location where, it’s generally agreed, one’s distant forebears originated. I use the word “agreed” because one can’t very well trace all the way back to the Horn of Africa, and so a place is chosen by a group of descendants as the location where their common ancestor thrived and multiplied. Note that it’s always one’s paternal ancestors because Han Chinese lineage is patrilineal.

Chinese Americans on tours to Guangdong to seek out their roots, and their emotional journeys

My zuji is a place called Tongan, in Fujian province. Six generations ago, an ancestor got on a boat and sailed to Southeast Asia. Those before him might have lived in Tongan (pronounced “daang-uah” in the vernacular Minnan dialect) for generations or migrated there from elsewhere in China. We don’t really know and “Tongan, Fujian” is conveniently taken to be my ancestral place of domicile.

Jiguan refers to the birthplace of one’s grandfather or father. My grandfather was born in Kuala Terengganu, on the east coast of the Malay Peninsula, while my father was born in Singapore. So, if somebody asks me what my jiguan is, technically, I could say either location. However, my nephew’s jiguan is just Singapore because both his grandfather (my father) and his father (my older brother) were born in the Lion City.

In time, several generations hence, perhaps his descendants might acknowledge Singapore as their zuji and Tongan will be forgotten, just as the present generation has forgotten where their ancestors lived before Tongan.