China Elevator Stories

“Do You Like China?”

I chat with a cab driver in Shenzhen.


Ruth Silbermayr-Song


The cab driver asks me: “Do you like China?”
I tell him: “I do. My husband’s from here.”
“Your husband is Chinese?”
“He is.”

He asks: “When you marry in Austria, will the woman marry into the man’s family or will the man marry into the woman’s family?”
I reply: “I’m not sure what it was like in the past, but nowadays it’s neither nor.”
He tells me: “In China, the woman traditionally married into the husband’s family.”
I answer him: “The other way around is probably quite rare all around the world.”

He inquires: “What’s your Chinese last name?”
I tell him: “Song.”
“So you took on your husband’s last name?”
“I don’t have a Chinese last name, so I use his last name in China. In German, I still have my former last name, with my husband’s last name added at the end. I just don’t use it in China, it would be way too long, like 7 characters just for the last name.”

He replies: “I see. So your last name in German would be similar to two-character surnames in China.”
“Exactly, my last name in German consists of two words. What’s your surname?”
“I don’t know anyone else with this last name.”

He then tells me: “It’s not that common in other parts of China, but many Cantonese people actually go by this family name. Do you know Zhuge Liang (诸葛亮)?”
I ask him: “Do you mean Zhuge Liang, the hero?”
He says: “Yes. He was a famous military strategist during China’s Three Kingdom period.”

Do you like China?

Explanation: Most Chinese last names consist of only one single character. Zhuge — Zhuge Liang’s last name, is one of the rare two-character surnames in China. His given name is Liang , which is a different character from the Liang that is the driver’s last name, which is written 梁.