Last updated
PronunciationLiú ( [ljǒu] ) (Pinyin)
Lâu (Pe̍h-ōe-jī)
Language(s)Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean
Language(s) Old Chinese
Other names
Variant form(s)Liú (Mandarin)
Lau (Cantonese)
Lieu (Shanghainese)
Lưu (Vietnamese)
Yoo, Ryu (Korean)
See also Lưu
Yoo (Korean surname)

/ ( /lj/ or /lj/ [1] ) is an East Asian surname. pinyin: Liú in Mandarin Chinese, Lau4 in Cantonese. It is the family name of the Han dynasty emperors. The character originally meant 'kill', but is now used only as a surname. Today, it is the 4th most common surname in Mainland China as well as one of the most common surnames in the world. [2] [3]



In 2019 劉 was the fourth most common surname in Mainland China. [4] Additionally, it was the most common surname in Jiangxi province. In 2013 it was found to be the 5th most common surname, shared by 67,700,000 people or 5.1% of the population, with the province with the most people being Shandong. [5]


One source is that they descend from the Qí (祁) clan of Emperor Yao. For example the founding emperor of the Han Dynasty (one of China's golden ages), Liu Bang (Emperor Gaozu of Han) was a descendant of Emperor Yao.

Another origin is from the Jī (姬) clan of King Qing of Zhou. For example, Duke Kang of Liu  [ zh ], the youngest son of King Qing of Zhou, founded the State of Liu  [ zh ] and his descendants took state names as surname.


Liu was a place name in ancient China (located in present-day Henan). The Liu family name has two main origins from this place name.

Kongjia, the fourteenth King of the Xia dynasty, was given a male and a female dragon as a reward for his obedience to the god of heaven, but could not train them, so he hired a dragon-trainer named Liu Lei (劉累), who had learned how to train dragons from Huanlong. Liu Lei was a descendant of Emperor Yao, won the admiration of King KongJia for his skill in raising dragons. In order to reward Liu Lei, King KongJia granted him Liu (place) as his fief. Liu Lei took the name of his fief as his family name. One day, the female dragon died unexpectedly, so Liu Lei secretly chopped her up, cooked her meat, and served it to the king, who loved it so much that he demanded Liu Lei to serve him the same meal again. Since Liu Lei had no means of procuring more dragon meat, he fled the palace. Liu Lei was the first person surnamed Liu in Chinese history, and his descendant Liu Bang founded the Han Dynasty.

During the Zhou dynasty, King Ding of Zhou granted Liu (place) to his younger brother Ji Jizi (姬季子) as a fief. Ji Jizi also took his fief name as his family name. Liu became a State and Ji Jizi ruled the State of Liu as Duke Kang of Liu. After more than a hundred years under the rule of the Liu family, the State of Liu was destroyed by the central government of the Zhou Dynasty.

Liu was the ruling family of the Han dynasty, one of the most prosperous and influential empires in Chinese history. After the Chen Sheng Wu Guang uprising overthrew the Qin, the Han dynasty was founded by Emperor Liu Bang. Later, Emperor Liu Che helped expand the Han dynasty even further, ushering in a golden age for China.

The Han dynasty had 30 emperors were surnamed Liu, making it among the Chinese dynasties that had the most emperors. The Han dynasty lasted 400 years, making it one of the longest lasting Chinese empires in history. The Han is what gives its name to the Han people as well as Han characters / Hanzi / Chinese characters.

Even after the Han dynasty, several Liu continued to hold power within China including Liu Bei (written about in Records of the Three Kingdoms) and Liu Yuan (Han Zhao).

Over history, several non-Han Chinese people have converted to the Liu surname, including Xiongnu and Turks.

Historical figures

Notable people

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  1. "Liu Shaoqi". Collins English Dictionary. Retrieved 1 May 2015.
  2. 张、王、李、赵谁最多—2010年人口普查姓氏结构和分布特点. China Statistics Bureau. 23 June 2014.
  3. 最新版百家姓排行榜出炉:王姓成中国第一大姓 [Latest surname ranking: Wang is the number one surname in China]. Xinhua News Agency (in Chinese). 2013-04-15. Retrieved 2013-11-21.
  4. "新京报 - 好新闻,无止境".
  5. 中国四百大姓, 袁义达, 邱家儒, Beijing Book Co. Inc., 1 January 2013