Tuesday, 26 November 2013

The Quah (柯) surname in a nutshell

Although my surname is Quah (柯) (alternatively, Ke in Mandarin) and I belong to a closely-knit group of Ow Quah (後柯) clansmen who have our roots in a small village in China's Hock Kian Province, I have to admit that I do not know much about our origins. Where were we from? What was our history? Unfortunately, my ancestors' origins have not been well documented.

All I know about our Penang Swee Cheok Tong Quah Kongsi (檳城瑞鵲堂柯公司) comes from the official Rules and Regulations of the Kongsi, which states that the clan house in Penang, Swee Cheok Tong (瑞鵲堂), was established in 1846 (Pia Gor year in the reign of Emperor Toh Kong (道光帝)) by the Ow Quah clansmen that originated from Tia Boay (village), Tung Uahn Kuan (district), Chuan Chew Hoo (prefecture), Hock Kian Seng (province), China.

In these Rules and Regulations, which were dated 5 Dec 1941, it was acknowledged that the Ow-Quah clansmen that had established the Penang Swee Cheok Tong Quah Kongsi were members of the family of the Hye Inn Tong (海印堂) ancestral worship hall in Tia Boay. The It Keng Tong (一经堂) was the other main Ow Quah ancestral worship hall in the village.

It was related to me that during the 1960s when China was caught up in the midst of their Cultural Revolution, contact between the Hye Inn Tong in China and the Penang Swee Cheok Tong Quah Kongsi was reduced to the point of zero communication. Attempts to re-establish links with the Hye Inn Tong in recent decades came to naught and instead, it was with the It Keng Tong that the link became firmer. The irony of it all, I heard, is that the members of the It Keng Tong are also members of the Hye Inn Tong. Perhaps one day in the future, we can re-grow this link again.

Without actually visiting the place, it is no longer so simple trying to locate my ancestral village in these modern times. As small communities grew bigger, they coalesced, boundaries were redrawn, and names of places were changed, sometimes significantly. For example, the jurisdiction of Tung Uahn Kuan in the early 20th century used to be quite extensive and important. The vast region it administered included the present-day Xiamen municipality, Jinmen county and the north-eastern part of Longhai city. In May 1997, Tung Uahn Kuan (in Pinyin, now known as Tong'anqu (同安區)) lost its earlier administrative status and became a district within the Xiamen municipality itself. It suffered further reduced influence in 2003 when five towns were split off to form a new district.

I know that in present-day China, the two worship halls of my ancestral clan house are now described in Pinyin as the Haiyintang (海印堂) and Yijingtang (hall) (一涇堂), located in Houkecun (village) (後柯村), Dongfuzhen (town) (东孚镇), Haicangqu (district) (海滄區), Xiamenshi (municipality) (廈門) in Fujiansheng (province) (福建省).

Anyway, Hock Kian Province in southern China was where most of the Quah family clan in South-East Asia would have originated from. In this part of the world, the Quah surname can be found in Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines, and probably dispersed elsewhere too, like Indonesia. Other derivatives of the spelling would be Qua, Keo, Kua, Kwa, Kuah, Kwah, Kuo, Ko, Cua, et cetera, but the Chinese character remains as 柯.

Here in Penang, our Swee Cheok Tong Quah Kongsi is a closely-knit society with a small membership almost to the point of exclusivity. It is actually so small and steeped in Confucian values that I fear for its very existence and survival in 50 years' time.

Again from verbal stories told to me, it seemed that in the years before the Japanese Occupation, there was an attempt to reach out to all the Quah people in Penang to raise funds to purchase landed properties on the island. However, only those whose ancestors were from Tung Uahn Kuan responded. As a result, the society's board of trustees then decided that membership would henceforth be opened only to the local descendants of the Quah community from Tung Uahn Kuan. Among all the members, only the names of two notable persons spring to my mind and they were both from the long, distant past. The first one I should mention is Quah Beng Kee, while the other is Quah Sin Kheng. Both were very successful merchants and businessmen.

I should also mention that many people often mistake our Quah Kongsi for the more visible Chay Yeong Tong Sin Quah Chuah Chong Soo (济阳堂辛柯蔡宗祠) in Pulau Tikus, Penang. No, our societies are two separate entities. The members of the Swee Cheok Tong are exclusively descendants of the Quah clansmen in the Tung Uahn Kuan mentioned above, whereas the members of the Sin Quah Chuah can be made up of anyone whose surnames are Sin, Quah and Chuah. The three surnames are supposedly closely knitted (but don't ask me how), regardless of their origins in China. It is interesting to note again that people with the Quah surname whose ancestors were not from Tung Uahn Kuan are not eligible to join the Swee Cheok Tong but they can join the Sin Quah Chuah anytime.

Recently, I came across an old, undated newspaper clipping by Lim Lay Ling - it must have been from the 1990s when The Straits Times in Singapore used to run a regular series on Chinese surnames - which gave a short account of the Quah surname.
The family of Ke had their roots in southern China. They came from the state of Wu (吳國), which was a large territory roughly south of the Yangzi Jiang, in present-day Wuxi county, Jiangsu Province.
History records that Wu state was passed down by Taibo, uncle of King Wen, during the Zhou dynasty (周朝) 3,000 years ago.

[Note: Some explanations are required here before I get too confused myself: 

Ji Danfu (姬亶父) was a legendary figure who lived during the tail-end of the Shang dynasty (商朝). After he established the duchy of Zhou in the Wei Valley, he took the name of King Tai of Zhou (周太王). Ji Danfu had three sons: Ji Taibo (姬泰伯) who was the eldest, Ji Zhongyong (姬仲雍) who was the second son and Ji Jili (姬季歷) who was the youngest.

The Chinese historian, Szu-ma Chien, recorded that Ji Danfu and his son Ji Jili were both renowned for their wisdom. As a result, Ji Jili's two elder brothers Ji Taibo and Ji Zhongyong voluntarily renounced their claims on the throne and left in exile to the state of Wu. As Taibo had no heir when he died, the Wu throne was passed down to Zhongyong.

Ji Jili was later to become King Ji of Zhou (周公季). Ji Jili's son was Ji Chang (姬昌) who was also known as King Wen of Zhou (周文王). Ji Chang's son was Ji Fa (姬發) and later, was the King Wu of Zhou (周武王) who established the imperial Zhou dynasty (周朝) upon him overthrowing the Shang dynasty. Confused? You bet I sure am!]
At first, the place did not attract much attention but after several generations of hard work in the country by Taibo's descendants, the land slowly became known. They migrated southwards and became a prominent clan in southern China, especially in Fujian (Fukien) Province.

Besides the people from the state of Wu, other groups like the descendants of Jiang Taigong (姜太公), a well-known statesman in the Zhou dynasty and some minority ethnic groups also adopted Ke as their surname.

As in other clans, the Ke had their share of brilliant people.
One of them was Ke Su, an official under Emperor Song Shen-zong (1048-1085) of the Song dynasty. It was said that when he was an officer, he often helped and raised funds for the poor. Legend has it that two magpies often built tleir nests on the beams of his house. Later, when his official term was up and he moved to another place, the birds also followed him.This story was mentioned by Su Dongpo, a great poet who also lived during the same period, in one of his prose pieces.

In the Ming dynasty, there was a scholar of noble character named Ke Qian. His aloofness and casual attitude towards life, though quite uncommon in those days, was respected by many people.

Another scholar who deserves mention was Ke Qian's great grandson, Ke Weiqi (1497-1574), who rejected an officer's post so as to concentrate on his research on history. Although he was well-read, he only concentrated his efforts on historical research. He was so meticulous and serious in his work that it took him nearly 20 years to compile the histories of three dynasties - Song (960-1279), Liao (916-1125) and Jin (1115-1234) - into one book. The book, called A New History of Song Dynasty, was highly acclaimed in the academic field.

Then there was Ke Tie. a patriot who came from Taiwan during the late Qing dynasty. He was a paper-maker. When the Japanese put pressure on the Qing government to give up Taiwan to them in 1895, Ke Tie and a few others led an armed resistance.

Although Ke originated in the south, some Chinese northerners also bear the surname. One of these was Ke Shaomin (1850-1933), a contemporary historian from Shandong Province in northern China. He was well-read and had a deep knowledge in history. In 1914, he was made the principal of Qingshiguan, a committee set up by the Republic government to allow a group of people to compile the history of the Qing dynasty.

Ke Shaodong was also the author ol several books. One of them was Xin Yuan Shu, a book on the history of the Yuan dynasty and the Mongolians, which was made the official history by the government. 
Personally, I believe it was wrong of the newspaper editors to say that the Ke was descended from Ji Taibo. It can't be that simple. Even the writer herself was silent about how it came about, especially since Taibo reportedly had no heir. However, in order to put the above narration into its proper perspective, here is an alternative story of the origin of the Ke surname - this time, from north of the Yangtze River - which I had extracted from a deeply-buried post in the soc-culture.china newsgroup, written by Chung Yoon Ngan on 22 April 1996. Read the two and you may be able to connect them together. According to Chung:
Ke means the stem of the branches of a tree or a grass, e.g., Ke is written as Mu (wood) and Ke (can). The surname Ke is about 3,100 years old and this is its history:

Jiang Shang alias Jiang Ziya (and also known as Jiang Taigong) was 32 years old when he entered a monastery. His ambition was to become an immortal. Needless to say, he failed.

During the reign of King Zhou of Shang (1154BC-1122BC), Jiang left the monastery. He married a woman who could not bear him a child. Later, he married again and this second wife bore him two sons. At first, Jiang went into business but he failed miserably as he did not have the know-how. Eventually, he became a part-time fisherman.

Ji Chang was the leader of the Zhou people who lived in the region of Wei Valley west of the great bend of Huang He (Yellow River). His domain was within the empire of the Shang dynasty. He was obliged to serve as an advisor in the Shang Court in the capital Chao Ge (present day Qi Xian in Henan province).

King Zhou was a wicked and cruel King. Later, he imprisoned Ji Chang for three years and also killed his son Ji Kao who was his assistant. After his release, Ji Chang returned to his homeland and died soon after. His son Ji Fa became the leader of the Zhou people.

Jiang Ziya had been employed by Ji Chang before he went to the capital to serve the wicked King Zhou. Now, Ji Fa appointed him as the commander-in-chief of the Zhou armed forces.

Under his command was a young general by the name of Ke Lu. As he was already very old and General Ke was still very young and capable, Jiang Ziya relied heavily on him to do all the active duties. General Jiang spent most of the time studying military strategies and tactics.

In 1122BC, Ji Fa destroyed the Shang dynasty and established the Zhou dynasty. He was known as King Wu. He rewarded the title Hou (Marquis) to Jiang Ziya for his services as the commander-in-chief. Later, King Wu delegated him power to rule a district called Qi (present day Linzi Xian in Shandong province). It was renamed as the state of Qi. With him was the young general Ke Lu who settled down in Qi. Ke Lu married and had many children whom he retained the surname Ke. That was how this surname began.

The surname Ke originated in an area called Ji Yang Prefecture during the Jin Dynasty (265AD to 420AD). Ji means "help, aid, relieve." Yang means "the sun, bright, clear, masculine, positive." The present day location of Ji Yang Prefecture is in Dingtao Xian in Shandong province China.

So this is about all I can gather about the origins of the Quah people and the Quah (Ke) surname, which dated back to the ancient Chinese states of Wu (11th Century BC - 473BC) and Qi (1046BC-221BC). These stories should not be accepted as definitive and I can see so many loose ends which I've not bothered to verify. And I can't! I'm sure that there are lots more stories that can be written but like most other records, they are already lost in the mists of time and would be grossly inaccurate.


Anonymous said...

I am very impressed with your reseach. Well done! I was wondering where did The Quah come from and stumbled upon your article.
I was born in Pulau Tikus, Penang, and when I was young attended functions at Sin Quah Chuah,Association, with my father, who had passed away years ago. I now live in Australia.

Sean said...

i like this also as I am in the process of compiling a Quah genealogy for a close friend. i also understand the Quah and Ong names derive from 2 sons of an Emporer. Space here is limited for a detailed discussion.

Joanie Campsie said...

According to a historical summary given to me by my grandfather, the original ancestors of Sin, Quah, and Chuah were from the Sung Dynasty. Depending on the transliteration protocol used, most texts today spell it as Song. The Wade-Giles translation is Sung.

Sin, Quah, and Chuah were three brothers from this dynasty who took on different surnames when they emigrated from Kor Si District (modern Gushi County) in Honan Province (modern Henan Province), to Fukien Province (modern Fujian Province). They first settled in Hong Tin Teoh Khin Village (pinyin - Feng1 Chen2 Zhang1 Dong4 Xiang1), Har Tua Lor (Xia4 Da4 Lu4 - Lower Main Road), in Fuzhou, Fujian Province, before separating into different clans. I was only able to find the map of Fengchencun, which means Fengchen Village, in Fujian Province. It may be one and the same village.

The eldest brother adopted the surname, Sin, and had the clan style of Cheng Yang Tong marked on the family lantern. His descendants branched out to live in Hui Oan (modern Hui'an County) and then further branched out later to live in various districts in Cheang Chew (modern Zhangzhou).

The second brother took on the surname of Quah. His descendants branched out to live in the outskirts of Chuan Chew (modern Quanzhou, largest city in Fujian Provnce) on the East Gate in Chin Kang District (modern Jinjiang, now a county-level city). The descendants further branched out to Aing Choon (modern Yongchun County), where they acquired a mountain range for their burial grounds and also established an ancestral hall. The clan style on the family lantern was Swee Chhiak Tong (spelling is per original summary).

The third brother adopted the surname, Chuah. His descendants branched out to the outskirts of Quanzhou on the East Gate, about 23 lis (10 lis = 3 miles) away from the city of Quanzhou, to the south of the famous Loke Yan Bridge (modern Luoyang Bridge). Here, they built their homes, established their ancestral hall, and enjoyed prosperity both in family and wealth because of the good land. This leads me to think that they were involved in agriculture.

The tomb of the oldest Chuah ancestor was located at Hong Tin (Fengchencun - Fengchen Village), Har Tua Lor in Fuzhou, where the annual Spring and Autumn festivals were held. The Chuah family bore the clan style of Chay Yang Tong on their family lantern but the other two clans were at liberty to use the same style for their family lanterns as well.

According to the summary, there were records of all three surnames in the ancestral hall in Foochow (modern Fuzhou) in Fujian Province. At this point, the document also mentions that "their" descendants (I assume it means the descendants from all three surnames) further branched out to Ho Geh Tniah (modern pinyin - Hao2 Ya2 Cheng2 - the last character means "courtyard" but I couldn't find anymore info) in Quanzhou, and various other districts in Quanzhou and Zhangzhou. There is specific mention that the descendants also established an ancestral hall in Ho Geh Tniah.

The summary states that this information was copied from the genealogical records kept in the ancestral hall at Quanzhou. I believe that my grandfather must have been a member of the Sin Quah Chuah Association because the document specifically mentions that the three clans established the Chay Yang Tong Ancestral Hall at Burmah Road, Pulau Tikus, Penang. Furthermore, the activities of the Tong were suspended during the Japanese Occupation. A "discussion" meeting was held on March 7, 1948, followed by a General Meeting on March 27, 1948, to pass rules and regulations and to elect office bearers. I now live in US and hope to be able to collect more info in the near future.

Katong Gal said...

Hi, thanks for your very absorbing account. I am also a Quah but my great grandfather moved from Penang to Singapore prob over 100 years ago. Would you know if it possible for me to trace whether he was ever a member of either Association after so many years? I am v interested in tracing my roots.

SS Quah said...

Katong Gal, sorry, but I believe there are no records at the Swee Cheok Tong. Perhaps you could ask the Sin Quah Chuah.

Anonymous said...

My surname is Ho but in Chinese it's 柯. Can't seem to find any information about the history of this thou. Do you know of any?

Anonymous said...

I find all the writings very interesting. My last name in Chinese is 柯 and my English spelling is Quah. But in Singapore during the early days, there were different versions of mis-spelling of the surname 柯 because it was based on phonetics. Several of my brothers and sisters have their last names spelled as Kuah and Kwa. My father's last name was spelled Quek and later we all had to change to Quek. One of my sons told me that our correct spelling should be Ke. My brothers were very interested in the research of all the variations. We now lived in the U.S.

Fire Monkey said...
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Fire Monkey said...

SS, are you still interested in doing more research on this? I have a list of names, passed down over 28 generations, mine is at 27. Taking one generation at 30, that's 840 years. Taking us back to 2016 minus 840 = 1176 AD there about. Not back to the origin but still very far back. Any body interested in the list?

Fire Monkey said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Quah said...

I am Quah clansmen from Singapore, ancestry Quanzhou Anxi county (福建安溪蓬莱魁头柯氏 = 古代 丘城柯氏 = 魁头柯氏,在安溪清水岩山脚). I seek advise from our clan researcher in Quanzhou Jinjiang (泉州晋江), most Quah clansmen (village) in Fujian, Guangdong, Hainan, originate (directly or indirectly) from our common ancestor (柯延熙公,“柯亮” 可能是笔误) in Fujian.


Nanyang Quah Clan in Singapore was mainly formed by clansmen from our village (福建安溪蓬莱魁头柯氏 = 古代 丘城柯氏 = 魁头柯氏,在安溪清水岩山脚).

Quah said...

I am Quah clansmen from Singapore, ancestry Quanzhou Anxi county. I seek advise from our clan researcher in Quanzhou Jinjiang, most Quah clansmen (village) in Fujian, Guangdong, Hainan, originate (directly or indirectly) from our common ancestor in Fujian.

SS Quah said...

Dear Fire Monkey, I would be interested to see your list.

Sean said...

Dear Fire Monkey, I also would be interested to see your list.

Fire Monkey said...

Sean, I have requested SS to put the list on site. If you want direct from me, need your email address. Are you interested to see only or to research more, going to China?