The Bai3 Jia1 Xing4, or Hundred Families' Surnames, is a traditional village schoolroom reading primer of unclear authorship. According to a critical commentary by scholar Wang Mingqing of the Southern Song, it was the work of a commoner of the Qian retainer clan's realm of Wu-Yue Guo in today's Zhejiang area during the Northern Song; the first character is the surname of the Song Dynasty's ruling family, Zhao4. The next is Qian2, surname of the king of the Wu-Yue feudatory, then Sun1, Li3, Zhou1, Wu2, Zheng4, Wang2 and so forth down to perhaps the tenth name, all of these being the surnames of his queens and favorite concubines. This story seems to make sense. According to historical records, the Qian clan's Wu-Yue feudal grant was set forth in the second year of the Xing Guo era of the Song's Tai Ping reign, 977AD. It is indeed possible that the Bai Jia Xing was put into writing at that time.
All told, there are over 400 surnames gathered in the work; most are single characters, while a few are double character names. Four hundred characters, skillfully composed into lines of four with each eighth character carerefully rhymed so as to roll melodiously off the tongue. It still does, over a millenium later. The book received a warm welcome in the village schools of its time, taking its place next to the long-established "Thousand Character Essay" as a primary character literacy text, soon to be joined by the San Zi Jing or Three Character Classic, another product of the Song, until the early 20th century.
Naturally the order here came into use for ordering and describing Chinese surnames ("Our first emperor's Qin2, the one between Zhu1 and You2 in the Hundred Names", says a protagonist in the novel Ping Yao Zhuan, describing his surname) as well as a valuable reference for the study of Chinese clan lineages and origins.
Here you will find as hyperlinked notes the origin legends and lineages of some of the better-known Chinese surnames, along with the names of illustrious bearers of these names down through time, as far as the very recent past in a few instances. Each hyperlinked line will open a new page to scroll down of as many as all eight names. A few lines are not linked. This is a temporary solution; I will post new lines of my own with individual character links as I produce them. The work is based on a translation of the illustrated GB text of San Zi Jing, Bai Jia Xing and Qian Zi Wen by Xu Ronghai, chief editor and others, Zhongguo Mengxue Tushuo series, 2001, Huaxia Publishers, Beijing, ISBN ISBN 7-5030-2584-9, RMB 10.00, handy and highly recommended.