Gu (surname)

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Family name
Region of origin China
Language(s) of origin Chinese

Gu can refer to several different Chinese family names. Some places, such as Hongkong, usually romanize this family name into "Koo" or "Ku".

Gu Surname Variation[edit]

1958 old photograph of Chinese-Indonesian of Gu (古) surname, first until third generations
  1. The family name (simplified Chinese: ; traditional Chinese: ; literally: "to care for"), the most common and is ranked #88 on the list of top Chinese family names, according to the 2006 Chinese census (excluding Taiwan).
  2. The family name (谷, meaning valley), came about when a noble family of the Zhou Dynasty was rewarded a fief in a valley area. The descendants of the family adopted the name to link their lineage to that history.
  3. The family name (古, meaning ancient), is extremely rare in China.
  4. The family name (骨, meaning bone), is even more rare.
  5. The family name (辜, meaning crime), is just as rare. Prominent bearers of this surname include Koo Chen-fu (Taiwanese diplomat, businessman and former head and heir to the Koos Group) and Gu Hongming (Malaysian-born intellectual and polyglot).
  6. The family name (顾, meaning take care), is known for the family of doctors and lawyers


Northern lineage[edit]

The survivors of uncultured unknown kingdom adopted the name and became the northern lineage of the family Gu. After the area annexed by Shang Dynasty.

Southern lineage[edit]

A second, southern lineage of the family Gu came around the Spring & Autumn Period. Although they technically did not obtain that name until the Han Dynasty. The Southern lineage of Gu family makes up the majority of all those who bear the name today. A book of family tree was published.[1] According to the page:


Roughly translated, "the book details 2100 years of the family through some of the most famous person bearing that name. All of whom are descendants of King Gou Jian of "Yue" Kingdom during the Spring Autumn Period."[2]

King Gou Jian of "Yue" Kingdom was a descendant of the Yellow Emperor. His ancestors established the Kingdom of "Yue" in South of the Yantze River near current day 浙江绍兴. Near the end of Spring Autumn period, Yue Kingdom fought with the neighboring Wu Kingdom for regional supremacy and the unofficial title of "Hegemon".

In 496 BC, a year after King Gou Jian of Yue ascends his throne, King of Wu attacked Yue to take advantage of young King Gou Jian's father's death and King Guo Jian's inexperience. Wu's army easily won several battles and besieged Yue's capital. King Gou Jian devised a strategem, whereupon 3 rows of condemned Yue prisoners were sent before the Wu army, and committed ritual mass suicide. Wu's army witnessed this spectacle and was terrified into thinking that Yue soldiers had no fear of death. At that moment, Yue army charged Wu army, and the Wu soldiers retreated. King Gou Jian turned a defeat into a victory, and Yue soldiers even managed to wound King of Wu in the chase. King of Wu died from his injuries after returning home.

The new King of Wu vowed revenge for his father's death. He prepared 3 years for a war with Yue and succeeded where his father failed. King Gou Jian surrendered his throne and agreed to become a tributary king in service to Wu, but he secretly vowed his revenge. He disavowed his kingly privileges and lived and worked among his people, to strengthen his Kingdom of Yue. History records that King Gou Jian was made a servant of King of Wu and made to work in the horse stalls. King of Wu had men watch Gou Jian's every move to make sure that he genuinely submitted to defeat and no longer had the will to fight. Gou Jian endured all forms of humiliations, and knowing that his life and kingdom are on the line, he even went out of his way to debase himself to demonstrate that he was truly happy as a servant of Wu. At the same time, Gou Jian's ministers sent women and treasures to Wu to please the King of Wu. Finally, King of Wu let his guard down and allowed Gou Jian to return to Yue.

Back in Yue, Gou Jian foregone on all privileges and eat plain food as a reminder of the humiliation of his defeat. He slept on a bed of straw and hung a piece of gallbladder from the ceiling, so that at every meal, he could lick the gallbladder to remind himself of the bitterness of defeat. Because of this story, 卧薪尝胆 ("sleep on straw and taste gall") has become a Chinese proverb since. After 22 years, he managed to build a sufficiently large army to defeat Wu. He refused to take Wu's surrender and ordered his army to sack the kingdom. After that, Yue united the region under its supremacy. King Gou Jian of Yue became the last "Hegemon" of China for the Spring and Autumn Period. Chinese historians roughly tabulated the scale of violence occurred during the Spring and Autumn Period by going over historical documents. They estimated that over 450 battles occurred in that 230-year period, 36 Lords and 52 Dukes were defeated and killed, and their estates and city states were sacked.

Soon after King Gou Jian's reign, the 7 large Kingdoms began a series of continuous expansionist wars that would be later called the "Warring Nations Period". Above historical events were chronicled in the "Spring Autumn" Chronicles by later Chinese historians.

Yue Kingdom was later destroyed around 306 BC during the Warring Nations period. Kingdom of Yue disintegrated from within, when Royal descendants split the Kingdom in civil wars, after a series of unclear successions. At the beginning of Han Dynasty, King Gou Jian's 7th generation descendant was named Yao, a regional warlord. He assisted the Royal family of Han dynasty in establishing the new dynasty. For his service, the Han Emperor rewarded Yao with the title of "King of Eastern Sea". Yao later bestowed his own son the title of "Duke of Gu Yu". Thus his descendants proclaimed themselves the last name "Gu", and called "Gu Yao" as the 1st Ancestor of "Gu".

According to a 2002 article [3] similar trace of that family was confirmed through historical archives. Other commentaries are found at [4] and [5]

Most recent[edit]

The surviving members of disputed official changed their names and concealed their royal bloodline to hide their shame. One of the adopted names was Gu.


This family name can be found mostly in eastern and southern Chinese provinces, especially in Jiangsu, Northern Zhejiang, and around the city of Shanghai. This surname can also be found in Korea, Vietnam and Indonesia.

Notable people[edit]

Prominent bearer of this surname include:

  • Gu Yong, minister of the state of Eastern Wu during the Three Kingdoms period
  • Gu Tan, minister of the state of Eastern Wu during the Three Kingdoms period
  • Gu Yanwu, a scholar in late Ming and early Qing period.
  • Wellington Koo, the diplomat who represented China in the League of Nations.
  • Gu Jiegang, the modern Chinese historian who advocated a modern view of China as a diverse culture, rather than the traditional homogeneous culture.
  • Gu Changsheng 顾长声 (1919- ), Chinese scholar of the history of Christianity in China. Gu was born in on July 19, 1919 in Wuxi, Jiangsu province and grew up in a Chinese Christian family. His parents worked for American missionaries of the Adventist Church. He was educated in mission schools in mainland China and Hong Kong. During World War Two, he served as an interpreter for the Nationalist Army. He attended Peking University in the 1950s. However, he suffered during the Cultural Revolution after which he devoted his expertise to the history of Christianity in China. He was a professor of China's Eastern Normal University in Shanghai. His most influential work is "Missionaries and Modern China" which went through three editions in Chinese. He was a visiting scholar in America in the mid-1980s and he came to the United States again in 1989 upon the invitation by U.S. Congress to attend the 1989 National Prayer Breakfast. Soon after he arrived in America, he got married (his 2nd marriage) with an American citizen. His memoir entitled "Awaken: Memoirs of a Chinese Historian" was published in English by AuthorHouse in 2009 when he was 90 years old. Ever since the late 1980s, Gu has lived in Massachusetts.

Popular cultures[edit]

  • In 2007, a Chinese TV series 卧薪尝胆, was released, on the historical events of King Gou Jian.