As far as the population is concerned, Liu is the No. 4 surname at present in China, taking up 5.38% of the whole population. As an ancient surname, it has many origins. One of the branches, also the earliest one, was originally surnamed Qi, starting at Lushan, Henan Province, as the descendants of Emperor Yao of the far ancient China in folk stories. Emperor Yao, kindhearted and judicious, was the leader of the tribe of Taotang whose surname was Qi. Since one of the descendants of Yao had palm lines looking like Chinese characters of “Liu lei” when he was born, that boy was so named. Liulei lived in Yanshi, Henan and raised dragons for the thirteenth emperor of the Xia Dynasty. Later he fled to Lushan with his family to escape the possible punishment of the emperor for one of the dragons died of poor care. Descendants of Liu lei took Liu as their surname, the earliest Liu families in China. Relics of this branch of Liu families in Henan include mainly the Liu lei Tomb standing on the side of the Zhaopingtai Reservoir. Located to the southwest of Lushan with a distance of 13 kilometers to the county seat, Zhaopingtai Reservoir is an ideal summer resort with beautiful landscape, covering an area of more than 60 square kilometers. The hill standing in the water got its name out of the Yao Memorial Temple established by Liu Lei since he moved there from Yanshi. The Liulei Tomb and the stele recording the origin of Liu families standing besides the reservoir have been a holly land for Liu families around the world to worship their ancestors.
Another branch of Liu families originally surnamed Ji started in Yanshi, Henan Province. An ancient city named Liu was taken by Emperor Pingwang of the Zhou Dynasty in 712 B.C., later bestowed to one of his descendants called officially “Liu Kanggong”. Later offspring of Liu Kanggong took Liu as their surname. What’s more, ordered by the emperor, the Dugu families changed their surname to Liu in the Northern Wei Dynasty in 496 A.D. in a reform carried out by the emperor aiming to learn from the Han people. Therefore, to worship their ancestors, the branch originally surnamed Ji shall go to Yanshi of Henan while the branch of Dugu shall go to Luoyang, Henan Province.
In history, Liu families flourished everywhere with a large population, many of them distinguished with great power and fame. As to the number of dynasties established and the years they lasted, surname Liu ranks No.1 in China, with 66 emperors and many dynasties, kingdoms or powers established, lasting for more than 650 years in total. Among them, the Western Han Dynasty established by Liu Bang and the Eastern Han Dynasty established by Liu Xiu, lasting 214 years and 196 years respectively, composed the longest feudalist dynasty of Han in Chinese history.
Liu Yuxi: an eminent poet
Liu Yuxi, also called Mengde academically, was born in 772 A.D. in the Tang Dynasty in Luoyang. To escape the civil war, his family moved to Suzhou in Jiangsu province. Learning Confucian classics and studying poems early in life, Liu Yuxi acquired much in literature and began to cut a figure even before he was 20 years old.
He wrote many poems of ballad style, including Lang Taosha and Tage Ci. In 824 A.D., he wrote a famous poem named Meditation of the Past at Xisai Mountain on his way to his post of Master of Hezhou, winning universal praise. He was a close friend of Bai Juyi, a great poet in Luoyang where they held parties to discuss poem composition and encourage each other. Out of admiration, Bai Juyi called Liu Yuxi “Shihao” which means “the eminent poet”.
Besides being a poet, Liu Yuxi was also an outstanding prose writer and thinker. Tianlun, his philosophical masterpiece, presented his antitheism. His prose of Motto of a Humble House is a famous essay well-known in China.