First Family of Southern China


The First Family in the South of the Yangtze River is a historic and cultural site situated in the village of Zhengzhai in Pujiang. it was built in the Yuan dynasty, covering an area of 6,600 square meters.

The Zheng family clan legacy began during the Southern Song dynasty (1127) and carried through the Ming dynasty (1487); over 360 years. During that time the family had 173 career officials and the family was recognized by the Ming dynasty emperor as jiangnan yi jia, the first family of Southern China.” On both sides of the Zheng Ancestral Hall are ten characters: loyalty, faith, family, fraternity, propriety, justice, honesty, shame, farming and reading. From these words we can see that the family advocates loyalty to the country, being a person of integrity, having filial piety, humility towards neighbors and to have a clean and simple principled life.

Over generations the family accumulated and refined a set of 168 house rules or norms offering guidance on ethnics and interpersonal relationships, as well as rules on managing a communal clan. The rules are essentially detailed instructions on various clan affairs and can be grouped into five categories: memorial ceremonies, organizational structure of the clan, weddings and funerals, the clan and local people, and personal conduct. Clan members are obliged to show obedience and piety to parents, to show brotherly love to siblings, and to show respect for spouse, describing this as the basis on which prosperity of the clan is built. The aforementioned instructions for men and women are like a kind of code of conduct.

According the Zheng family an in-corrupt government culture means using morality to cultivate the character, etiquette to develop one’s personality, rules to balance the family relationship and using the self-sacrificing spirit to help the rest of the world; the main thoughts of Confucius.

The family rules state that the offspring who desire to be an official are supposed to be given considerable financial assistance and encouragement. To those who have become a government official, they should abide by the laws and make every effort to deal with those laws earnestly.

Rule 88, specifically addresses corruption. If a family member abuses their position they will bring about shame onto themselves. The rules specifically state that their names will be crossed out of the family tree, their remains will not be kept in the family mausoleum and they will not have a chance to return to the family even after their death.

Other rules speak to social responsibility. Rule 97 states that if neighbors or relatives are short of food, Zheng descendants would better lend them some food and get the food back after the harvest season without asking for interest. Then in Rule 99, it states that if a Zheng descendant has extra money, they are expected to donate some to repair a collapsed bridge or a muddy road. In a simpler sense, help the community and infrastructure. In Rule 100, if a neighbor becomes seriously ill, Zheng descendants should care for them.

During the Ming and Qing Dynasties, the state emphasized village society control, encouraging families throughout the kingdom to set norms upon family members and vested family elders with the power to enforce these norms. It was in this period that the family rules achieved rapid development, having increasingly mature content and form and general support from authorities; therefore, the Ming and Qing Dynasties became a typical time for the development of ancient family rules.

Family is the most basic unit of traditional Chinese society. Individuals are inseparable from their families. People in ancient times wrote about their successful ways of managing a large family, i.e., the so-called family disciplines, to be followed by future generations. The writings pass down not only experience in managing a large family, but also Confucian values followed by many Chinese people, and exercise profound impact on individuals.