Taishan County

Map of TaishanTaishan (台山縣) or Hoy Sun (Hoi Sun) in the local dialect was part of Xinhui (新會縣) until 1499 when Xinhui’s borders were redrawn resulted in the formation of a new county from the area on its southwest. The new county, Xinning (新寧), is generally accepted to be Taishan’s forerunner. However, one writer said this Xinning was located west of present day Xinxing (新興). On the other hand, the writer didn’t see fit to enlighten us as when was present day Taishan (Xinning) established. We’ll continue to accept the general consensus until proven otherwise.

The name was changed to Taishan in 1914 to avoid confusions with counties having the same name in other provinces. However, this switch creates another problem. The name in pinyin is exactly the same as China’s most famous mountain in Shandong (山東泰山). As a test go to any search engine, do a search on Taishan and see what happens.

Taishan is generally accepted as the county with the most overseas-Chinese. Up to and until the early 1970′s it’s dialect, Taishanese, was the de facto Chinese language of North America’s Chinatowns. At the time for a person who didn’t speak Taishanese it was next to impossible to find work in a Chinese establishment.

This created an unique problem for the boomer generation. The language of their parents are Taishanese yet at Chinese school (99.9% of us attended Chinese school at one time or another) the teachers taught in Cantonese. So what’s the problem you ask? There’s no problem until the student started to do the assignments, if my experience is any indication, generally it’s the night before and always encountered at least one new and forgotten word. What to do? Ask your parents. What’s more logical?

The next day in class, the student may be asked to recite the previous week’s lesson in Cantonese or the teacher may randomly tested students on the new words from the previous lesson. The Taishanese speaking students would find their lesson with their parents on the previous evening resulted in incorrect answers. However, because of similarities between the two dialects the parents’ pronunciations were not always wrong according to the teacher. This lack of consistency just added to the confusion of whether to consult with one’s parents or not.

One would think this only happened to those students who asked their parents for help. Those who didn’t wouldn’t have this problem. But this is not really true because most parents liked to monitor their children’s progress and reviewed the school works at home. Their good intention would started to confused the non-confused and compounded for those who were.

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25 Responses to Taishan County

  1. robert bloomer
    February 26, 2010 at 12:50 pm

    Hi. I grew up in NY. I am curious, have you visited
    Taishan? I was wondering if the dialect there is the
    same as what used to be spoken in NY’s Chinatown or
    is it now closer to standard Cantonese? I was wondering
    if I visited Taishan, would I still here the same
    language that fascinated me so much as a kid.


    • Woodson
      February 26, 2010 at 10:33 pm

      Hi Robert,

      It is similar to the language spoke in New York Chinatown prior to the 1970s. Cantonese became the main dialect in North America’s Chinatown from the early to mid-1970′s onward. The trend today is towards Mandarin as people from other parts of China migrate overseas.

    • February 18, 2012 at 11:13 pm

      hi robert, i was born & live in boston. half my customers only speak taishan. my customers are quite surprised to learn that my taishan is so accurate. that must mean the taishan in the villages hasn’t changed much. otherwise you must be on guard not to use terms your parents used when they emigrated. for example, don’t call a door knob “the ghost of the door” they call it something else now!! my brother and sister all went to the village and talked just like them jeff

    • Allie Goldstein
      March 24, 2015 at 10:16 am

      I grew up in New Jersey, but my dad worked in NYC’s Chinatown from the 70s to 90s. The Taishanese dialect I spoke in his restaurant and at home is almost exactly like that of the villages. We went to China last summer. I had such an easy time conversing with my cousins in the village. It was quite remarkable.

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  3. joyce
    September 28, 2010 at 12:49 am

    We will be visiting Toisan tis December.Im very excited as I finally have the chance to see with my own eyes the place where my ancestral once lived.My grandfather was from Toisan.He didnt keep intouch with any of the relatives there.Will it be possible to track my village if I know the name?How about the ancestral house?I heard if I know my grandfather’s name it will be possible.Is that true?

    • adam chen
      March 16, 2012 at 9:41 am

      Joyce, have you found the village yet?

  4. Woodson
    September 28, 2010 at 8:11 am

    Congratulation on you upcoming trip. Yes, it is possible to visit your ancestral village providing you have the name in Chinese characters. As for the ancestral house it all depends on its condition. If it is still standing then you should be able to visit it also. Again make sure you have your grandfather’s name in Chinese characters also. It is best to local the village before embarking on the trip.

  5. joyce
    November 14, 2010 at 10:54 pm

    Hi WOodson,

    Thank you so much for your reply.I dont know anyone in Taisan.Who should I ask for help?By the way do you happen to know of anyone there who is able to help me?

  6. Wong Ee Lynn
    February 3, 2012 at 4:26 am

    Thanks for the insightful write-up. I am of partial Toisan heritage, and have only recently developed an interest in the language of my paternal grandparents. Now here’s something interesting that is hitherto unconfirmed– According to my father, the Sunning / Xinning people / dialect is a subgroup/subdialect of the Toisan people/dialect. I have compared Sunningwa to Hoisanwa, and there are differences. Can someone tell me, even if based on anecdotal oral evidence, whether the Sunning community is a separate subgroup of the Toisan community? All information on the Net believes it is one and the same, and that Sunning/Xinning is just an old name for Toisan. I fear the subdialect is at risk of extinction. Any feedback / discussion on this would be greatly appreciated!
    Ee Lynn,
    Kuala Lumpur,

    • Woodson
      February 3, 2012 at 8:50 pm

      It is not a believe that Sunning/Xinning is just an old name for Toisan. It is a fact. The dialect does varied from one part of the county to another. This may due in part to poor road system in the old days confining people to small geographic area thus contributing to the localization of the dialect. In other words nobody can really say their dialect is the standard Hoisanva.

      • Wong Ee Lynn
        February 15, 2012 at 7:55 am

        Thanks very much for your response, Woodson! Sure is fascinating tracking down my roots.

  7. June 8, 2012 at 1:49 pm

    Hi we are looking for the family of Quong Sing who came from Chong-yun village. He was born in 1848 and died on December 1, 1906. His remains were shipped back to China in 1848 but never made it home because of the communist take over.

    He bought the Chinese Laundry in our small town of Ashland, Oregon in 1893. We would like to make a connection with his family or home town of Chong-yun.

    Victoria Law

  8. Woodson
    June 8, 2012 at 6:00 pm

    Is the surname Quong which sounds similar to Kwan? Would you happen to have the names in Chinese characters?

  9. Lana Mee Yee
    September 28, 2012 at 10:59 pm

    How do I start to search for my family’s history? I know their origins begin in TOISAN

  10. Kay
    October 28, 2012 at 10:59 am

    Oh my, I finnally found some ppl whom is talking about taishan/ sunning/ xinning language. Hi bros n sister! It’s so tough to find ppl that speaks this now.

  11. edie
    February 2, 2013 at 10:37 am

    hi,i am looking for my great grandfather hometown.
    As i been told, it is at JIANG HUA village in Tai Shan.Could anybody help me to find it? or give me some information about it.


    • Woodson
      February 2, 2013 at 11:29 am

      A bit more information would be helpful. What is the surname? Do you have the village name in written Chinese?

  12. Hal Wolverton
    February 17, 2013 at 4:13 pm

    My wife’s ancestors are from the Fong, Yee, Tom, and Chin families in Taishan area. I do not yet know a village name but I do have the names in Chinese characters and birth years. I am not Chinese and speak/read none. She speaks the language of the area with her siblings but doesn’t really understand Cantonese and knows nothing at all of Mandarin.

    I’m interested in my wife’s genealogy to be able to hand it down to our 4 children and our ganddaughter. Are there online resources that could help me find it ? We are considering a trip to China in maybe 2017 or so. If we do make such a trip are we likely to be able to find information on her families ?

    • Woodson
      February 17, 2013 at 4:24 pm

      Most of the Yee and Tom clans are from the northern part of Taishan. It is possible that the Yee village is now part of Haiping (Hoy Ping) rather Taishan. To go further you’ll need the village names.

  13. edward lew
    May 22, 2013 at 7:33 am

    Hi All. I went to Taishan late 2011 and hope to go back again this year. I never went to my ancestral beginnings before but I’ll let you know that even though the country is still in the midst of a metamorphosis, I enjoyed my introduction to my originals and hope to come back again and stay. My family is from a village that is not listed on the maps but it is quite accessible, a short ride for hoisyung. Anyone familar? Wong Woo. We stayed at the Gaoye Hotel. Quite good I must say. Don’t hesitate to go back. Weather is much better during the end of the year (late November through December and January through February. Outside of that the weather really mirrors the weather in South Florida, closer to Cuba. It would be good if you spoke the language too. It helps. Don’t get caught by the street peddlers but if you do, haggle, haggle, haggle. Try to find time to head to the beach.

  14. Richard 'S' Lee
    September 18, 2013 at 11:06 pm

    I’ve been to Taishan twelve plus times. The latest last March, returning again in Oct/Nov. My goal is a photo exhibition in the San Francisco MOMA or the SF Asian Art Museum.

    FYI: Taishan is twelve hundred square miles, almost one million citizens, and, composed of sixteen towns (used to be 20) Taicheng special zone is it’s economic heart. As for visiting your ‘village,’ collect as much information before hand and have all the information doubled checked before leaving for Taishan. Beware of Wades-Gile and Pinyin difference.

    As for me, I am a fourth generation American of Chinese heritage. I speak a little Taishanese and learning Putongwa. I cannot read nor write Chinese. I’ve made friends in Taishan who help me.

    Have fun and safe travels. Richard

  15. Carole
    April 26, 2015 at 7:37 am

    I am looking for the location of the following: San Duo village, Tan Main town in Taishan. (This ran slating is Mandarin. I would really love to know the Taishanese translation. My father immigrated from there to the U.S. In 1922. He is from the Louie family. That is the Americanized spelling. The name means “thunder/ the sound that lightning makes.”

  16. Carole
    April 26, 2015 at 7:41 am

    Should have proofed the spelling. The above should have been: Tang Mian town and “ran slating” should read “translation”

  17. Sharon
    May 4, 2015 at 2:32 pm

    Successfully found the Chan and Mark ancestral villages in Oct. 2014 by traveling with Friends of Roots, Roots Plus. Check out their website: FriendsofRoots.org. The learning experience was more than I could ask for. Included in their program are seminars and meetings about Chinese history in China and America, culture, geography, genealogy research, trip planning, etc. Two groups, one for younger, and another group for older folks like me, are prepped and led through Southern China each year. Our group included East and West Coast travelers. Some Canadian travelers were previously committed, too. I highly recommend traveling with this org.

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