Ride a fine horse and leave [our] territory,
Wherever [you] arrive, establish ethical norms there.
As years elapse, all alien lands can be our lands;
As days pass, any foreign town can be hometown.
In the morning and evening, do not forget your parents’ instructions.
At dawn and dusk, make sure you attend to the incense burner of your ancestors.
May Heaven bless our mao-jin clan, 
And [my] fourteen sons thrive in prosperity together.
There is a long story behind my discovery of this poem, and I should perhaps start from the tomb-sweeping day three years ago. During the years I lived abroad, I rarely had the opportunity to participate in the family events on traditional Chinese holidays. But in 2017, I managed to join the tomb-sweeping of the Liuzhou branch of our Liu clan.
On our way to the cemetery, my father helped settle a dispute between a girl driving in front of us and a passer-by who claimed that he had fallen down because of the girl’s car. No one in my family actually knew the girl. They blocked the narrow road going through fields, resulting in a long queue. But there was a more important reason why my father took the trouble to help this stranger. He said a person driving on this road must be someone in our clan... I thought his arbitrary confidence was ridiculous.
But my father turned out to be right. In the cemetery, the girl, with her father, found us again to express her gratitude. Then the two families started to locate each other in the genealogy of our clan.
That whole day was a revelation of how much I had been underestimating the size of our clan and our local presence. I remember my father mentioned the booklet of our family tree a few times when I was growing up, but the names on that booklet were mostly abstract tags for me.
It was not until a few years ago that some members of our clan decided to organise collective events for the whole branch in Liuzhou. And there we go. I had never seen so many Lius before that tomb-sweeping day. Hundreds of people gathered in the cemetery and exchanged their greetings. There was a dedicated parking space as well as a temporary open kitchen with a logistics team. It was the first time I experienced the power of genealogy.
Meanwhile, our ancestral temple had gone through a major renovation. I remember the old display about our clan history on the wall of the central hall named Liu Bang 劉邦 (256-195 BCE, ruling 202-195 BCE), the founding emperor of the Han, as our arch-ancestor. Those in charge of the renovation project probably realised this attribution was too good to be true or too remote to be relevant, so we now find instead inscriptions of a few poems by our clan members, family instructions (dated 1827) left by the fifteenth patriarch who first migrated from Guangdong and settled in the outskirts of Liuzhou, and the family tree with me among some 240 members of the twenty-third generation.
Our ancestral temple before renovation.
Our ancestral temple after renovation.
The central hall where we offer sacrifices and libation to the memorial tablet of Liu's ancestors. The poem is inscribed on the right wall.
Positioned at the very beginning of all the inscriptions, the poem translated above sends out the message that our first eminent ancestor is the second patriarch Liu Guangchuan 劉廣傳. Compared to Liu Bang, this much lesser-known person perhaps looks like a more convincing ancestor. But out of my evil habits, I came back and did some research. The author of the poem Liu Guangchuan (1208-1277) was a native of Fujian and is widely recognised as the second patriarch of the Hakka Lius. But with our fifteenth patriarch active in early nineteenth century, I would expect the second patriarch to be active around the fifteenth century (considering 30 years as one generation).
Our family tree only bears the names of the third to fourteenth patriarchs of our branch, and we know that our branch is derived from the second son of the third son of Liu Guangchuan. Hardly any information about them can be found elsewhere. I wonder whether the fifteenth patriarch (the arch-ancestor of the Liuzhou branch) happened to be the descendant of a series of younger sons (e.g. if his father, grandfather, great-grandfather, etc. were all born when their fathers were in their 40s). That would help explain why there were only thirteen generations in about 550 years.
In any case, I believe Liu Guangchuan would be happy to see the long list of our family tree. I like his lines encouraging his descendants to leave their homeland and adapt to wherever they decide to settle. In the long Baidu baike entry dedicated to Liu Guangchuan, we find in the section of eminent descendants Liu Yong 劉傭 (1720-1805, a native of Shangdong and a famous Qing prime minister), Liu Guangdi 劉光第 (1859-1898, a native of Sichuang and one of the Six Gentlemen of the Hundred Days’ Reform), Liu Guoying 劉國英 (an American-Chinese who served in the US air force as a major general), Liu Zhiqun 劉志群 (a former general director of the Hakka Association of Thailand), Andy Lau Tak-wah 劉德華 (a Hong Kong singer and actor and a household name), and many more.
In comparison, our Liuzhou branch seems a bit humble, but our fifteenth patriarch also did exactly what Liu Guangchuan said: exploring new lands. In the family instructions, he recorded in great detail how he settled in Liuzhou, together with a poem about this history of migration which will be the topic of my next blog.
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