Eric Lien: What's in a Family Name?

The Lien family name (Lian in Mandarin) is very rare in China. Here is the reason.

Emperor Hongwu (1368-1398) of the Ming Dynasty executed 30,000 people - including his prime minister Hu based on suspicion of disloyalty.

In another, 15,000 people related to his army general Yu were killed for communicating with a Mongol chief. The ruthless reign of terror set the tone for his fourth son, Prince of Yan (Peking), to usurp the throne by betraying the second Emperor Jian-Wen (1399-1402) to become the third Emperor Yongle (1403-1424).

Lien was chief of censorate (equivalent to today's FBI chief and attorney general), a trusted advisor to Emperor Jian-Wen. Along with other advisors (Chi, Fang and Huang), Lien opposed the prince's armed rebellion against Emperor Jian-Wen. Unfortunately for Lien, the Prince of Yan won and became Emperor Yongle.

Yongle continued the reign of terror and executed former officials and thousands more related by blood and marriage in any one of nine ways, plus a tenth for being a related student.

Emperor Yongle wanted Lien to issue a proclamation urging all to submit to the throne of Yongle, but Lien openly scolded the emperor instead. In response, the emperor ordered that Lien's tongue be cut, saying "I requested of you just as the Duke of Chou (an ancient sage) was requested to assist the new ruler." Lien wrote with the fresh blood from his mouth, "Where is that new ruler now?"

As a result, Lien's body was cut to pieces and 151 members of his family were beheaded, with their heads being publicly displayed in marketplaces as a warning. The Lien family name ceased to exist, and others went underground until Emperor Chien Lung of the Qing Dynasty ordered Ming officials to be honored for their loyalty to their emperor as national heroes.

The Mongols were brutal as they swept across Asia and Europe. For example, the Mongols razed the city of Baghdad to the ground, taking no prisoners amongst the 800,000 people who lived there.

China was under the Mongol rule for decades when the ever-suspicious Zhu Yuanzhang, a monk and peasant-bandit, led a revolt against the Mongols with even more brutality and terror.

Such oppression by terror continued even after the overthrow of the Mongols, in the brutal Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) in China. Centuries of tyrannical reign of terror left people with a fear to speak up against those in power.

The latest is the example of Mao's fanatical Cultural Revolution, which sent an estimated 40 million people to their deaths. The story shows both the ugly and the admirable sides of human nature: betrayal, ruthlessness, brutality and terror on one side. Loyalty, courage, sacrifices and honor on the other.

Eric Lien is a neighborhood resident.