Family Stories #8: Lim Family Ancestors

family-word-images-587998To continue writing up on family stories, building upon the previous article on Khoo Family Ancestors, the focus here takes a slight detour to acknowledge the other resident family genealogist – my uncle/mother’s first cousin. In the previous article, the final section was attributed to the final chapter of his Genealogy work. In this article, the vast majority of information is sourced from the middle sections of the work entitled Genealogy of the Lims.

Note: even though this is a lengthy article, it is still a much reduced sub-set of the actual work.

Bi Gan – The Lim Family Founder’s Father

The last Shang King had the name Zi Shou Xing but he is better known in history by his formal name Zou. He is the infamous cruel King Shang Zou vilified by generations of Confucian scholars. He was notorious for his lechery and cruelty. Relevantly, his notoriety gave prominence to the martyrdom of his paternal uncle Zi Bi Gan. (The latter is normally referred to simply as Bi Gan. That he was surnamed Zi is often not realized and a constant source of confusion). Bi Gan was killed by his own nephew King Shang Zou because the latter could not stand his “direct and fearless criticism.” The method of execution is never left out of the narrative: they opened up his chest and removed his heart.

In due course, the Shangs were overthrown by the Zhou’s who were considered slightly less civilised as they had come from the west (modern-day Shensi), some distance away from what would then constitute China Proper where the Shangs, verily the ‘true’ or ‘proto’ Chinese, had reigned. The Shangs had invented and/or inherited a culture which still characterize the Chinese until today. The writing which they invented, preserved in the thousands of “oracular bones” found around Anyang, are clearly the forerunners of modern Chinese writing. The Zhous, like the Manchus 2000 years later, decided they would be more Shang than the Shangs or more Chinese than the Chinese. One evidence of this was that the founder of the Zhou Dynasty (Zhou Wu Wang), upon his ascension to the throne, immediately sent for the posthumous son of the martyred Bi Gan and conferred on him the surname Lin (Lim) — a very Chinese act. He also gave the young infant a fiefdom in a place call Bo Lin, also in Henan.

There can, of course, be a political twist to all this. The new Zhou rulers may well have perceived that the legitimacy of their government (Heavenly Mandate as it were) rested very much with the benevolent act of removal of a tyrant. Honouring the most renowned victim of that tyranny would be an effective way of advertising that fact.

And so we have at this point arrived at the founding of the Lim clan – right at the start of the Zhou Dynasty in 1122 BC. To repeat, the surname Lim was conferred on the infant son of the martyred minister of the last Shang King by the founder of the Zhou Dynasty.

Here it is useful to note that the original ancestral place is west of a river called Qi. For this reason, the Lims usually display a board above the main door of their houses containing the characters “Xi He” (or Sai Ho in Hokkien) meaning West River. The sign in fact proclaims (though this is nearly forgotten) that they are from the west of the river. This river, named Qi, is a small tributary of Huang He and not the great Huang He itself. There is a district by the name of Qi in modern-day Henan so presumably the river or the area has retained its ancient name.

Migration & Arrival in Fujian

There is a commemorative tablet at the entrance to the Jiu Long Tang in Singapore*. The inscription thereon gives the most concise history of the Lim clan from the time of founding to their arrival in Fujian. It aptly ends just before the further migration to Hainan and Guangdong, thus ensuring that the Hokkiens, Teochews, Hainanese and most of the Hakkas and Cantonese who are surnamed Lim, would share this same Ancestral Hall. To retain the flavour of the original, the following translation of the relevant part of the inscription is as verbatim as is practical. Words in brackets are added to clarify the meaning:

We Lims were originally surnamed Zi, descendants of Huang Di (The Yellow Emperor). At the time of the Yin (Shang), (Zi) Bi Gan martyred himself for advice given directly and fearlessly to a tyrannous king (who was his nephew). His wife Chen was three months into her pregnancy. She sought refuge in a stone room (cave?) in (a place called) Chang Lin (the Long Forest). In due course, Quan was born.

Zhou Wu Wang received the mandate (of Heaven, and became the first King of the Zhou Dynasty). He sought the son born (to Bi Gan) and conferred the surname Lim (Lin, from Changlin — the birthplace). Quan’s name was also changed to Jian. He was appointed Duke of Qing He and given the fiefdom of Bo Ling.

For generations, the Lim were high officials. From then on, they multiplied and they moved —- to Jinan (in Shantung) to Xia Pei (in Jiangsu), to Jin An (in Fujian) and thence (they divided) into two branches, namely Que Xia and Jiu Mu*.

There was no lack of outstanding individuals in every generation…

Some of the Lims soon moved and established themselves in Jinan in Shantung. By the time of Confucius (551-479 BC), there was this famous ancestor Lin Fang. Pointing to him, the great sage was to say to his disciples: This is a man to whom you can address your questions (and truly be rewarded).

The next recorded move took place in the Eastern Jin era (circa 300 AD) when Lin Li moved to Xia Pei which is in the northern part of Jiangsu. The older of Lin Li’s grandson (Lin Mao) became the governor of Xia Pei in the era of the Eastern Jin.

Lim Lin Lu (To Fujian)

The younger grandson Lin Lu accompanied the Jin emperor in crossing the Yangzi River (fleeing from the Barbarians?) and was rewarded with a sort of viceroy-ship in the relative wilderness of Fujian. His tombstone bears the inscription: “Jin An Jun Wang” meaning the “Viceroy of Jin An territory”. This has been restored in recent times and can be seen from the curb of the main trunk road from Xiamen to Fuzhou — just before leaving the modern district of Hui An.

Lin Lu is the Founder of the southern branch of the Lims which comprises the various dialect groups found in Fujian, Hainan and Guangdong. The chart (5a) at the back of this narrative will show that our generation is 52 generations removed from Lin Lu (the Fujian Founder) and 115 generations from the original founder Lin Jian.

Lin Lu had arrived in Fujian in 326 AD and the original founder (Lin Jian) was born 1120 BC. So we have the following:

The Lims have been around for some 3135 years (1120+2015) and have been in Fujian for 1705 years.

In Fujian (from Jin-An to Ankuay)

Fujian history records that eight clans (Lim, Ng, Tan, Tay, Chiam, Khoo, Ho and Oh) moved into the relatively unexplored Fujian in the early 4th century AD when the Jin Dynasty was in its dying throes.   Earlier on in this essay, I have suggested that our respected ancestor, when he crossed the Yangzi River in the company of the Jin emperor, may have been part of the royal entourage that was fleeing from the invading barbarians. But “fleeing” is not a term that conjures up a sense of decorum. It would be disrespectful to say this of one’s venerable ancestor. Worst still in the present context, it could be lese majestie, a punishable offence against royalty. So all along the chroniclers have assiduously avoided elaborating on this event.

Less charitable souls have labeled the Eastern Jin as an extremely incompetent regime in exile. But the regime dragged on for a few more decades. Part of the reason for this was that China at this time was a very fragmented country. And the end of the Jin Dynasty was followed by the Epoch of the North-South division in China which was not resolved until the unification with the establishment of the Sui Dynasty in 581 AD, some 250 years later.

Although there was at least one successful mandarin in each of the generations from the 11th to the 14th, there was none that was genealogically (or intrinsically) significant until it came to Lin Wan Chong of the 15th generation. This is because all the Lims in southern China are now traced to him. The founder of the Que Xia Branch (Lin Zan) was the grandson of his oldest son Tao. The ancestor who established the Que Xia branch lived in Putien. His name was Zan and was of the 18th generation (from Lin Lu) and lived around 800 AD during the Tang Dynasty. 12 generations after the Que Xia founder, Lin Fa Wang (of the 29th generation) moved his family westwards and settled down in a village called Chikuay (Zi Xi) in the district called Da Tien. Chikuay is north of Ankuay but separated by the district of Eng Choon. A lot of the records for this period were destroyed by fire but the record suggests that this move took place around 1160 AD during the Southern Song Dynasty.

Lim Siong Choon (In Ankuay)

Lim Siong Choon was the grandson of the aforesaid Fa Wang. He arrived in Ankuay around 1250 AD at the beginning of the Yuan Dynasty when the anaemic Southern Song was finally gobbled up by the Mongols. He was a geographer/geomancer and his calculations had told him that he was not gong to prosper if he stayed put in Zi Xi. So Siong Choon moved from Zi Xi southwards to Peh Hio in Ankuay. Peh means Cypress and Hio means leaves. So the name means Cypress Leaves. He was even told by the local deity, who appeared in his dream, that here he would prosper. Yet he was not quite convinced. To be doubly sure, he planted a cypress shoot which grew into a healthy tree a year later. Now satisfied, he decided this was the place where he would bring up his family. Lm Siong Choon alias Lim Kh(n)ee became the founding father of the Peh Hio branch.


It would appear that around this time the custom was being established under which each family would select or compose a poem. Members of each generation would take, in proper sequence, a word in the poem for his formal name so that his ranking in the generational table would be known from his formal name. Such a (forty character) poem was selected by Siong Choon. You can tell that the Lims from Tapah belong to the 22nd because our generational “name” is Gan which is the 22nd character in the afore-mentioned poem.

Seven generations later (circa 1440 AD), two brothers moved out of Peh Hio. The older brother went to Leng Mng which was mentioned earlier. The younger one came to Chia Nia. Both these branches share the same familial poem.


The founder of Chia Nia was Lim Hock Choon. His “Official” name is Pek Siong (Pek being the generational name and from its position in the poem one can tell he was from the 7th generation in the Peh Hio Branch).

Chia (Chi) means red or barren. Nia (Ling) means mountain. Chia Nia means the Red (or Barren) Mountain. The present denuded state of these mountains would suggest barrenness but historically it was probably not so. The village is flanked on one side by a hill and is next to a river. It could be quite idyllic were it not so poor and overcrowded. It is almost exactly 100km from Xiamen and takes about three hours’ driving. It is about 25km from the District capital called Hong Sia where facilities are somewhat better than that obtaining in the village.

Lim Hock Choon (1406-1479, Ming Dynasty)

Hock Choon had five sons. Each of the sons eventually form a sub-branch called a Pang (literally this means a room). Those of us Lims from Tapah belong to the 4th Pang as does the expert craftsman who runs the bicycle shop also in Tapah as we have the same great-grandfather. Belonging to the 4th Pang means having descended from the 4th son of the founding father.

Hock Choon is actually his posthumous name. His original name was Phok Ong and his formal name, which is linked to the Poem, was Pek Siong. He was a man of some charisma and great moral courage. According to the Annals of the District of Ankuay [Anxi Xian Zhi], when his elder brother was wrongfully detained, he appealed all the way to the Capital City (Ming, presumably Nanjing) which, in those car-less days, would take weeks of walking. I have not read anywhere that any of our Hokkien ancestors had distinguished themselves as equestrians. That, plus the cultural and linguistic gulf that existed between the mandarin in the metropolitan area and a country gentleman, must make the process of appeal a highly hazardous undertaking. Against these odds, he succeeded. Later he helped to resettle some 300 refugees who were involved in an uprising in the neighbouring province of Jiangxi. When their properties were later confiscated by the authorities, Hock Choon interceded successfully on their behalf. No doubt his earlier experience in the capital and the consequent prestige helped but we see here a man prepared to take risk or an unpopular cause. A willingness to side with the underdog for the sake of justice is leadership quality and provides cohesion for the community. It confers moral authority. He is an ancestor worthy of admiration. In 1458 AD, there was a famine. Hock Choon donated 800 Tous of corn to help the starving thousands. He was conferred the Imperial Honour of the 7th Rank.

Hock Choon’s descendants are still largely in the area around Chia Nia except for the 5th Pang all of whose members migrated to Wenzhou in southern Zhejiang. A few years ago, members of this Pang compiled their genealogy in which they clearly recorded that their ancestors came from Chia Nia.

Toa Chao Por

Most of the following material was derived from a handwritten copy of a genealogy of the Residents of Sai Thia Chu (Western Hall House) in Toa Chao Por and the Annals of Ankuay District. It is believed that these Annals were compiled during the time of Emperor Quan Lung (1711 to 1799 AD). They record two more achievers. One was Lim Chey Yeoh who made it to the magistracy in Zhaozhou in Guangdong in the mid 16th century (Jia Jing era of Ming). The second relative was more colourful and interesting. He was Lim Cheong. He was “uninstructed in the books and of dirty bodily habits”. But he was smart and considered a military strategist and armourer. This self-taught relative (ancestor) put these skills to good use.

The end of the Ming Dynasty was plagued, among other things, by frequent raids by Japanese pirates along the coasts of China. Surprisingly, they did what their better-equipped progenies did not do in the 20th century — they penetrated all the way from the coastal area to Ankuay. (In WWII, the Japanese invaders occupied Xiamen but not Ankuay). The Annals says that people used to have to escape to the hills to avoid these marauding Japanese pirates. Lim Cheong designed and built a walled village where the women, children and the elderly would live in the inner sanctum and the able-bodied would stay in the outer parts. He equipped his men with bows and arrows and explosives. In one encounter, he killed more than forty enemies at the cost of one person injured by the enemy’s arrow. He died at a great age (90 plus) and “entered the Temple of the Loyal and the Just”.

A 5th generation descendant of Hock Choon (Chi Nia founder) moved into Toa Chao Por. His name was Chong Beng (circa mid 17th century). Chong Beng begot I Ki. I Ki (6th generation) begot Chong Boon (7th). Chong Boon begot an un-named individual (8th). 9th generation ancestor was Chun Kok and he begot three sons, one of whom was Khuan Kow. Khuan Kow begot Kee Hong (11th) who begot two sons Chwee Teck and Teck Geok. One of these two begot Lim Khi who is of the 13th generation. Lim Khi is our great-grandfather. He had five sons, the youngest of whom was Hock Joo (alias Li Ho according to the name engraved on the tombstone). Grandfather came to Teluk Anson and died there. His ashes were taken back to Chia Nia for re-burial by his oldest grandson. The family of this oldest grandson today occupies the ancestral home which they share with their three three-times-removed cousins.

Lim Boon Seong (Lim Family in Malaysia)

An entire new generation of the Lim Family was born in the town of Tapah in the State of Perak in Malaysia (then known as the Federated Malay States) from the 1920’s to the 1940’s. This family’s patriarch began with Lim Boon Seong born in the year 1890 in the village of Chia-Nia in the district of Ankuay in the Fujian (Hokkien) province in China. He came initially to the town of Teluk Anson (now known as Teluk Intan) at the age of fourteen. It is presumed that he had gone there to join his father Lim Hock Joo who had gone there before him. There he stayed until around 1919-1920 when he moved to Tapah some 33 miles to the North East. In 1921, he married Khoo Saw Eng, who was from a Penang family but at that time was staying with a relative in Tapah.

The first two sons of Lim Boon Seong were born in China/Ankuay. The eldest came to Tapah where he stayed for several years before returning to the ancestral village in 1931/2 at the time of the Great Depression. He died young leaving behind his widow and two sons. It it this family who now live in the ancestral home in Ankuay.

It is at this point that the story joins with the final chapter/material already shared in the previous article Family Stories #7: Khoo Family Ancestors.