Is your last name spelled Hsu, Chee, Choo or See? If so, there’s a good chance that the original Chinese surname of your ancestors is 徐, pronounced Xu in Mandarin. 

Xu is the 9th most common surname in China, and many communities worldwide in places like Singapore, Vietnam, Thailand and Malaysia also share the same surname. 

The roots of the Xu family stretch far and wide. Most Xu descendants can trace their ancestry back to the royal bloodlines of Boyi, a cultural hero who lived and ruled during the 2nd millennium BC.

What are the origins of Xu?

Many believe that the surname Xu originated from the state of Xu, or present-day province of Jiangsu.

2000 years before the Roman Empire, Boyi (伯益) was a Longshan tribal leader who helped Emperor Shun (帝舜, legendary leader of ancient China, regarded by some sources as one of the Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors being the last of the Five Emperors) and Yu the Great (大禹, legendary king in ancient China who was famed for his introduction of flood control) control the Great Flood of Gun-Yu (鲧禹治水). According to Chinese mythology, the Great Flood was a natural disaster in ancient China that allegedly lasted two generations. It resulted in massive economic damage, famines and resource shortages. After the torrential waters subsided, Boyi continued his service as a government minister. To express his gratitude, Yu the Great appointed Boyi’s son Ruomu (若木) as the king of the state of Xu.

The state of Xu was later conquered by the state of Wu in 512 BC. Descendants of King Ruomu decided to adopt the name of Xu as their surname in order to commemorate the end of their nation. 

Another account traces the origins of the Xu family name to the Rebellion of the Three Guards (三监之乱, 1042–1039 BC). The civil war was instigated by a group of princes, loyalists and vassal states against the Western Zhou government. However, the Duke of Zhou (周公) was successful in quelling the uprising. He then divided the remaining Shang dynasty factions into six clans, and one of these bore Xu as their family name. 

Did you know?

Picture a beast as tall as a skyscraper, its teeth sharp like knives and its back glistening with emerald scales—for many of us, dinosaurs bring to mind sci-fi thrillers like Jurassic Park (1993) or Journey To The Center Of The Earth (1959), and these ancient creatures remain a fantasy at best. But for Chinese paleontologist Xu Xing (徐星), dinosaurs remain his life’s work. Born in Xinjiang, Xu is a researcher at the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing. Xu earned the title of China’s “Dinosaur King” after he discovered and named a grand total of 34 dinosaur species – more than any other living paleontologist ever has! Xu’s work continues to shed light on not only dinosaurs themselves, but also the developmental nature of ecosystems. The knowledge he has shared with the world brings us one step closer to understanding climate change and our living environments.

Image: China Pictorial


MeaningSlowly, gently
Symbols彳 (step), 余 (surplus)
Legendary AncestorBoyi (伯益)
Founding AncestorRuomu (若木), the king of the state of Xu
Global distribution map of Xu

Spelling Variations

By Dialect
CantoneseTsui, Chui
HokkienSee, Tjhie
By Country
JamaicaTsui, Chi
United StatesChee, Cheui, Choe, Choi, Chooey, Chou, Choy, Chu, Chuey, Chui, Djie, Hsu, Hsue, Hsyu, Seo, Shee, Shi, Shiu, Shu, Shui, Shyu, Su, Sui, Sy, Toi, Tooey, Toy, Tsu, Tsue, Tsuei, Tsui, Tuey, Twey, Xu, Zee, Zi
HawaiiAiina, Aina
IndonesiaTjie, Swee, Dharmadjie, Shui, Djie, Tjhie, Chee, Christiadjie, Chi
SingaporeSer, Su, Cher, Chee, Cheu, Cheer, Chi, Chie, Chin, Choo, Choy, Chai, Chu, Chua, Hsu, See, Yee, Zee
ThailandSrivaddhanaprabha, Raksriaksor
MalaysiaSee, Seh, Cher, Cheu

Who are famous Xus in modern history?

From award-winning movie stars, to boxers, poets and professors: there’s nothing that Xus can’t do. Some of the most prominent Xus in modern history include:

  • Barbie Hsu: Taiwanese actress, singer, and television host who is best known for her leading role in the hit television series Meteor Garden (2001)
  • Xu Can:  Chinese professional boxer who held the WBA (Regular) featherweight title from 2019 to 2021.
  • Xu Zhimo: Chinese romantic poet who is considered one of the most important figures of modern Chinese poetry.
  • Teddy Zee: Chinese film producer/executive whose films he had produced and supervised have amassed over $2.6 billion in revenue. He is now a member of the Oscars and Emmys Academies. 
  • Xu Fei: American developmental psychologist and director of the Berkeley Early Learning Lab at UC Berkeley. Her research focuses on cognitive and language development in infants.
Barbie Hsu rose to fame after her iconic performance as the protagonist in the 2001 Taiwanese TV series Meteor Garden. Hsu portrayed Shancai, a poor girl who gets entangled in a social circle of rich, elite schoolboys. The hit series has since been remade for mainland Chinese audiences in 2018, and once again for Thai audiences in 2021.

How do Xu families stay connected today?

Xus around the world celebrate their ancestry through global and regional Xu clan associations which organize gatherings, community activities and dinner events on a regular basis. Clan associations had their origins in China but were later reproduced overseas by migrant populations. These Xu clan associations thus play an important role in promoting cohesion and togetherness among overseas Chinese communities. 

Members of the Singapore Nanyang Chee (Xu) Clan Association in Singapore gather for a group photo at an annual Lunar New Year celebration. Source: Singapore Nanyang Chee Clan Association

Are you a Xu? Who were your ancestors?

You can find the stories of your ancestors in a Xu zupu, or family history book. Known as the Holy Grail of Chinese genealogy, a zupu records the names of your ancestors, their values, migration journeys, and more.

What do you know about your family history? Tell us in the comments!

Vintage photo of five Chinese immigrants posing in top hats and traditional shirts

Discover the names and stories of your Chinese ancestors!

If you are interested in uncovering your family history, we would love to be of assistance. Our global team of researchers has helped hundreds of families discover their Chinese roots. Learn more about our services or go ahead and get in touch!

With the global pandemic, My China Roots is offering virtual tours packaged with our research trips to your ancestral village. Check out a demo here!

Edgar Foo

As a senior in Peking University pursuing a degree in International Relations, Edgar believes that understanding the world begins with understanding oneself---your origins, your stories and your roots. Having experienced firsthand the richness of cultural diversity while growing up in Singapore, Edgar is passionate about telling stories while writing his own. He is also a long-time fan and collector of Tamagotchi toys; his army of digital pets grows ever stronger.

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