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4000 Years of Zeng* Clan and Shelley Tsang

* Zeng, Tjan, Tsang, and Chandra refer to the same clan that has different romanisation in different periods and regions.

Written by Shelley Tsang, Summer 2022

The Zeng clan has a long and rich history. The Zeng clan, which began with Qu Lie in the Xia Dynasty and continued with Prince Wu of the Zeng Kingdom, has been flourishing for 4,000 years, spreading its branches throughout the country from Henan and Shandong, and even across the sea to the world. Today, the Zeng clan has a rich source of talent in all areas of society, cooperating and interacting with many parties to promote the beautiful and outstanding Chinese traditional culture.

According to historical records, the surname Zeng is derived from the surname Si, which in turn originated from the Xia Dynasty (c. 2070 BC - c. 1600 BC) and is a descendant of the Yellow Emperor. In the 13th year of the Xia Dynasty (1972 BC to 1912 BC), the emperor Shao Kang conferred his second son, Qu Lie, in the state of Zeng (present-day Fangcheng County, Henan Province). The state of Hang was recorded in the oracle bone inscriptions of the Shang Dynasty (c. 1600 BC - c. 1046 BC) and in the “Historical Records” of the Zhou Dynasty (1046 BC - 256 BC). During the Spring and Autumn Period of the Zhou Dynasty (770 BC to 476 BC), the state of Zeng was destroyed by the state of Ju in 567 BC, and the prince of Zeng, Wu, escaped to the neighbouring state of Lu (now Lanling County, Shandong Province). The descendants of Zeng who fled to Lu became officials in Lu and spread out to the surrounding areas, spreading their people throughout Shandong and Hebei. The descendants of Zeng used the original state name Zeng as their surname, without the radical阝, to indicate that they had left their hometown but did not forget their ancestors. This is the origin of the Zeng family name.

In the Xia Dynasty, Qu Lie passed through 54 generations to Wu and 58 generations to Zeng Shen. Zeng Shen (known as Zeng Zi, 505 BC to 435 BC) was 16 years old when he studied under Confucius. Zeng Shen's political philosophy of "Cultivate the self, regulate the family, govern the state, then lead the world to peace", his cultivation of self-discipline and prudence, and his filial piety, have influenced China for more than 2,000 years and provided the profound moral cultivation ideas for the establishment of a harmonious society today. Confucius' grandson, Kong Ji, studied under Zeng Shen, who in turn taught it to Mencius. In this way, Zeng Shen has both inherited and developed the Confucian school of thought. Zeng Shen played an important role in the history of Confucianism, wrote the Great Learning (Daxue, which is one of the “Four Books” in Confucianism and one of the Five Classics) and Classic of Filial Piety (Xiaojing), and was revered by later generations as one of the Four Sages of Confucius, who were enshrined in Confucian temples.

In the Qin-Han (221 BC to 220 AD) period, due to war and other reasons, the Zeng clan moved from the originally active Shandong and Henan areas into the provinces of Hebei, Hunan, and Shaanxi. Because of the chaos of Wang Mang at the end of the Western Han Dynasty (202 B.C. to 8 A.D.), more than a thousand people from the clan moved south to Jiyang, Luling County (nowadays Yongfeng County, Jiangxi Province), therefore Luling County became the second place where the Chinese Zeng clan originated. Entering the period of Wei, Jin, and Northern and Southern Dynasties (220-589), the society was in turmoil after long years of war and chaos, coupled with the “Yongjia Rebellion” at the end of Western Jin (265-317), a large number of the Central Plains scholar clans moved south, hence the Zeng clan also entered the southern provinces in large numbers during this period. From then on, before the Tang Dynasty (618 to 907), the Zeng clan was all over China, famous people emerged, and the family power was getting stronger.

Social stability and clan development accelerated during the glorious age of the Tang Dynasty (650-755). In the first year of Emperor Xi Zong's Qianfu reign (874), Huang Chao revolted and many clans from the Central Plains went south. During the years of Tang Guangqi's reign (885-887), Zeng Yanshui, the 36th descendant of Zeng Shen, who was the official of the Tang civil corps, the ambassador of Guangzhou, the marquis of Kaimin, and the general of Jinwu who was presented with the title of Jinlu Daifu, was ordered to lead his family and his brother-in-laws Wang Chao and Wang Junchi to attack Fujian and fight in the states of Fu, Ting, Zhang, and Quan. In 886, he settled in Longtou  (Dragon Head) Mountain, west of Quanzhou City, Jinjiang, Fujian. To stabilise the situation in Fujian, Zeng Yanshi carried out a series of strategies such as light taxation, support for agriculture and weaving, protection of industry and commerce, the rectification of officials, the appointment of wise scholars, promotion of Confucianism, revitalisation of culture, etc., so that the Min region could be stabilised and entered into a period of prosperity rarely seen in history. Longshan (Dragon Mountain) was the birthplace of the Zeng clan's history of expanding the southern border, and the “House of Longshan" became a major faction of the Zeng clan. Zeng Yanshi made a great contribution to the development of Fujian, and became the "First Ancestor of the Longshan House of the Zeng Clan”.

During the Song Dynasty (960-1279), the Zeng clan developed into a prestigious family with a wealth of talents. In the second year of the Duan Gong's reign of Emperor Taizong of the Song Dynasty (989), Zeng Yan Shi's eighth-generation grandson, Zeng Hui, got the top two results in the national level state examination and became a lieutenant of the Ministry of Justice. After Zeng Hui made his career, he rebuilt his former residence as the “House of Longshan Zeng Clan Ancestral Hall". The second son of Zeng Hui, Zeng Gongliang, was born in Jinjiang, Fujian Province in 999 A.D. He served through the reign of Emperor Renzong, Emperor Yingzong, and Emperor Shenzong, and served as the Prime Minister with outstanding merits. Zeng Gongliang was not only a famous politician but also a famous military scientist and theoretician. In 1044 A.D., Zeng Gongliang took four years to compile forty volumes of the "General Principles of Military Science", which is not only an important document in the history of military affairs but also an important work in the history of science, recording the birth of the world's first gunpowder rocket in China and highly valued by later scholars in China and abroad. Zeng Gongliang died in 1078 AD and was given the title of "Xuanjing" by Emperor Shenzong of the Song Dynasty. After Zeng Gongliang, his son Zeng Xiaokuan became the Prime Minister of the Northern Song Dynasty, Zeng Huai became the Prime Minister of the Southern Song Dynasty, and Zeng Zonglong (the Champion of the national level state examination) became the Prime Minister of the Southern Song Dynasty as well. For about 200 years, the Zeng clan's prestige has been spread throughout the country, and has gained the reputation of “Half Zeng Dynasty", "Four Ministers and One Champion", "Four Ministers in One Clan", "Nine Ministry Founding Officials", and “Appointment of Eleven Dukes by the Emperor".

After the fall of the Song Dynasty, the Zeng clan continued to flourish. During the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368), Zeng Shen was given the honorary title of "Duke of Cheng", making him the third Confucian saint after Yan Yuan and Confucius himself. However, the Zeng clan was unwilling to serve the Mongolian royal family, and the entire family left the imperial court and remained anonymous for nearly a century. After leaving the court, the Zeng clan became one of the most important families engaged in international import and export in Quanzhou and Zhangzhou. Quanzhou was the starting point of China's Maritime Silk Road, and during the Song and Yuan dynasties, it was hailed as "the largest port in the world" by the medieval traveller Marco Polo, while Zhangzhou became a major port for trade with Portugal and Spain in the 16th and 17th centuries.

It was not until the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) that the Zeng family resumed their surname and served the imperial court. Zeng Zhongkui, the 25th ancestor of the House of Longshan, a Ming Dynasty scholar, and a court official, presided over the restoration of the "House of Longshan Zeng Clan Ancestral Hall". In 1405, when Zeng Shoulun, the imperial teacher of the Ming Emperor Chengzu retired from the government, Emperor Chengzu remembering the merits of Zeng Shoulun's teaching, granted permission to use the national treasury to build the Great Ancestral Hall of the Zeng Clan. During the Qing Dynasty (1636-1912), the Zeng family inherited and carried on the family tradition of "cultivate the self, regulate the family, govern the state, then lead the world to peace" as a fine family tradition and a family heirloom.

Zeng Guofan (1811-1872, 70th generation of the Zeng clan) was a military man, a scientist, a politician, a calligrapher, and a literary scholar of the Qing Dynasty. During the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom Rebellion (1851-1864) movement, Zeng Guofan founded and commanded the Xiang army, and after many years of fierce battles, he destroyed the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom Rebellion. The rise of Zeng Guofan had a profound impact on the politics, military, culture, and economy of the Qing Dynasty. Under the initiative of Zeng Guofan, the first Chinese ship was built, the Chinese navy was established, the first military academy was built, the first Western books were printed and translated, and the first group of students was arranged to study in the United States. Zeng Guofan was not only one of the four most famous ministers of the late Qing Dynasty, together with Li Hongzhang, Zuo Zongtang, and Zhang Zhidong, but also a pioneer in the modernisation of China.

In the mid-nineteenth century, fleeing the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom Rebellion, some of the Zeng clan (including the elders of Shelley Tsang’s family) emigrated from Fujian to Southeast Asia and further developed the family business, actively promoting international trade between China, Southeast Asia, Europe, and the Americas. In addition to the international import and export business, the Zeng family developed integrated industries in Indonesia to expand the family's influence and promote modern industrial reforms. In the early 20th century, the family's investment in the industrialisation of rice mills was a great success, revolutionising the rice production industry. This created great wealth for the family and led to the development of the largest rice mill group in Indonesia. In the 1950s, the Zeng family became one of the wealthiest families in Indonesia, and the flourishing family business led to new developments in other integrated businesses, including rubber, logging, shipbuilding, and manufacturing.

After graduating from the prestigious Fudan University in Shanghai, Zeng Kunyu (also known as Tjan Khoengiok, 1904-1977, 73rd generation of the Zeng clan, grandfather of Shelley Tsang) devoted himself to expanding the family business. In addition to helping the family's rice mill business, he developed his steel, powerboat, and aircraft businesses in Asia. He was the inventor and patent holder of the vertical take-off and landing aircraft, and in the 1930s, he had interacted with Henry Ford, the founder of Ford Motor Company, about the future of the engine and aviation industries. In the 1950s, with his unique powerboat design and the most advanced technological breakthroughs, he won the championships of the International Powerboat Competitions for three consecutive years. As a result, the family's powerboat business flourished, and Zeng Kunyu opened a new shipyard and started cooperation with many top yachting and powerboat clubs. Later, his business partners began building military vessels for the Indonesian Navy. In his later years, Zeng Kunyu joined the music industry. With a wealth of scientific knowledge and top-notch craftsmanship, he was the first generation of Chinese violin makers and made violins for many of China's top violinists and collectors.

Tsang Kwok Cheong (father of Shelley Tsang, 74th grandson of the Zeng family, 1955-present) and Yeung Siu Ping (also known as Yang Xiaoping, mother of Shelley Tsang, 1955-present) graduated from the oldest Christian comprehensive school in Beijing, founded by the Anglican Church as Chongde College (now Beijing No. 31 High School) in 1911, located west of the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. The first principal was the English missionary Bishop Francis Lushington Norris, who was succeeded in 1927 by Ling Hin Yeung, a graduate of Cambridge University. Graduates of the College included the son of Chen Baochen, the imperial teacher of the late Qing emperor Pu Yi; Yang Zhenning, winner of the 1957 Nobel Prize in Physics; Deng Jiaxian, an important Chinese nuclear physicist; Liang Sicheng, a famous architectural engineer; and more than a dozen academicians from the Chinese Academy of Sciences. After the turmoil of China's Cultural Revolution, Tsang Kwok Cheong and Yeung Siu Ping left Beijing to live in Hong Kong in the late 1970s. Tsang Kwok Cheong studied mechanical engineering and worked for the Kowloon Motor Bus Company Limited in Hong Kong. It is the oldest and largest franchised bus company in Hong Kong and one of the largest private bus companies in the world.

Yeung Siu Ping’s family made great contributions to the building of new China, starting in the energy industry in 1943 when Niu Zhenmin (Shelley Tsang's maternal great-grandfather, 1906-1994) founded the Taiji Coal Mine in Beijing. With his outstanding business skills, Niu Zhenmin became one of the four major players in the energy industry in Beijing at that time, and he also owned businesses in China, including construction materials and railroads. Niu's younger brother, Niu Jin-ching, served as Party Secretary of the 120th Division of the Eighth Route Army, the North China Bureau of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, and the Beijing University of Science and Technology, and was honoured by Premier Zhou Enlai. Niu Zhenmin's daughter, Niu Shuqin (grandmother of Shelley Tsang from 1934 to 2019), worked for the Beijing Sixth Construction Engineering Company. Beijing Sixth Construction Engineering Company is a large international construction enterprise group, founded in 1958 under the Beijing Construction Industry Group Co. Niu Shuqin has participated in a large number of construction projects in New China, including the Great Hall of the People, the Beijing International Convention Center, the People's Bank of China Financial Center, and the China Arts and Crafts Museum.

Yeung Siu Ping's father, Yang Yugeng (1925-2016, Shelley Tsang's maternal grandfather), graduated from China's top National Central University during the Republican era and then began his political career with the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Youth League. He devoted himself with great enthusiasm to the construction of the new China and was proud to have participated in the construction of the Beijing Workers' Stadium. This was one of the ten major buildings built in 1959 to celebrate the Tenth Anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China. During his decades of service in the Chinese Central Government, he was the founder and member of the organising committee for many major national sports events, such as the First and Second National Games of China in the 1960s and the famous Sino-US Table Tennis Friendship Tournament (known as Ping Pong Diplomacy) in the 1970s. He has represented China in promoting sports and peace around the world, including organising multinational sports events and sponsoring sports equipment to African and South American countries.

Since China's reform and opening policy in 1979, the family has been invited by the Chinese State Council to showcase the traditional lifestyle of China's upper class to the world, enhancing cultural exchange and international understanding. In the 1980s, more than 3,000 distinguished guests from various countries visited the family's Beijing courtyard south of Zhongnanhai, and the family's life was filmed by the director of a West German television for broadcast in Europe. Since the 1980s, the family has been an active supporter of the development of the new China and has kept pace with the development of the new era, working in the fields of global business, government and military. In 2019, the family elders were awarded the "70th Anniversary of the Founding of the People's Republic of China" medal jointly by the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, the State Council, and the Central Military Commission in recognition of their outstanding contribution to the People's Republic of China.

Born in Hong Kong and raised in the family courtyard south of Zhongnanhai in Beijing, Shelley Tsang (1985-, the 75th generation of the Zeng family) was one of the youngest members of the Mensa International High IQ Club at the age of 17. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree with honours from the University of Hong Kong and was awarded a Hong Kong scholarship to study in Italy. To enhance her business knowledge, Shelley studied business analysis, economics, and financial accounting at Harvard Business School in the United States of America. With a passion for earth science and gemmology, Shelley Tsang completed her studies at the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) to become an "Applied Jewelry Professional (AJP)". In addition, as a lifelong learner, she has completed courses at Oxford University, Harvard Medical School, the World Bank Group, and the United Nations Global Compact Academy.

As the founder and Chairman of SIG Group Holding Limited, Shelley Tsang actively integrates family businesses, explores new business opportunities, and develops new markets. Through partnerships with governments, corporations, and academic institutions, SIG Group Holding develops its global business in eight areas: cities, investment, energy, innovation, lifestyle, trade, research, and agriculture, and continues to seek innovative, effective, and sustainable long-term development models. Some of the major large-scale projects that SIG Group Holding has been involved in are the 120,000 square kilometres Yellow River Ancient Village Revitalisation Project in Shandong in 2017; the world's largest 80 kilometres urban greenway project in Chengdu in 2018; and the launch of the first art and science artificial intelligence project with Chinese internet giant Baidu in 2019, "Walking with the Masters", which was showcased internationally at the Baidu World Conference. In addition, Shelley Tsang is one of the founding members of the China New Urbanisation Construction Steering Committee and serves as the Secretary General of Guangdong, Hong Kong, Macao, and the Greater Bay Area and International Business. The China New Urbanisation Construction Steering Committee is an integrated body established under the approval of the Hong Kong SAR Government through the joint initiative of relevant central governmental and financial institutions and domestic enterprises. Since its establishment, the Committee has joined hands with various ministries and commissions of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, research institutes, China Development Bank, China Agricultural Development Bank, foreign banks, and many state-owned enterprises under the State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission to promote the economic prosperity of local governments in China. It is an important force in supporting the development of rural revitalisation and new urbanisation in China.

In 2020, Shelley Tsang began working with Zero Emission Research and Initiatives (ZERI) and founded ZERI China. ZERI was founded in 1994 at United Nations University (UNU) by Professor Gunter Pauli, known as the "Steve Jobs of sustainability", under the direction of Prof. Heitor Gurgulino de Souza, then Rector of UNU, in response to the need to translate ideas, visions and scientific knowledge into concrete projects at that time. Over the years, ZERI has grown into a global network of more than 3,000 scientists and experts dedicated to finding innovative solutions to the world's current and future problems. For many years, it has been ranked as one of the "Top 10 Most Innovative Policy Idea Think Tanks in the World" by the University of Pennsylvania's Global Think Tank Index. Inspired by the 1972 report "The Limits to Growth" by the Club of Rome, one of the top three think tanks in the world, and the 2010 report "The Blue Economy" by Professor Gunter Pauli, Shelley Tsang is leading the ZERI China team to develop and promote the Blue Economy and Happiness Economy projects in China.

Shelley Tsang has been actively promoting high-level international cooperation at the national level and supporting inclusive multilateralism for many years. In 2014, Shelley Tsang organised a series of academic seminars at Sciences Po in Paris to celebrate the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between France and China. She also sponsored and organised a conference at Tsinghua University in Beijing in 2016 for art historian Ms Badre, wife of the former CFO of the World Bank Group and participated in the first Belt and Road International Cooperation Forum in 2017. In 2018, during the 45th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and Spain, Shelley Tsang founded the “Spain China Cooperation" initiative, which she launched with the Spanish Ambassador in China, Ambassador Alberto Carnero Fernández, at the Spanish Embassy in Beijing to strengthen cultural and economic interactions between the two countries. Shelley Tsang convinced the Internet giant Baidu to join the "China-Spain Cooperation" initiative and co-found the world's first "Gaudi Digital Museum". In 2018, as a representative of a Chinese company, Shelley Tsang participated in the United Nations Global Compact Leaders Summit, convened by UN Secretary-General António Guterres at the UN Headquarters in New York. In 2020, Shelley Tsang signed the United Nations "Statement from Business Leaders for Renewed Global Cooperation" as a representative of Chinese companies, demonstrating her support for the United Nations and inclusive multilateralism. This powerful statement, which includes a complete list of CEO supporters from over 100 countries, was presented to the UN Secretary-General during the high-level meeting of the UN General Assembly to mark the 75th anniversary of the United Nations.

Shelley Tsang has held various positions in various non-profit organisations, including supporting the United Nations 17 Goals for Sustainable Development, the Nature Conservation and Climate Change Initiative, signing the UN Women's Empowering Women's Principles (WEPS) CEO Statement of Support, organising the Science Education for China Charity Foundation, and founding the Gaudi Research Centre (firmly known as Gaudi Asia-Pacific Research Institute), the International Castles and Palaces Society, the Southeast Asian Cultural Hub, the KNOCKWOOD Global Culture Connections, the Religious Art Studies Association, Nepal Mountain of Hope, and the Anti-Generational Poverty Association. She has translated and proofread hundreds of TED talks, including “Why the Only Future Worth Building Includes Everyone” by His Holiness Pope Francis; “This Decade Calls for Earthshots to Repair Our Planet” by Prince William, The Duke of Cambridge; “What is COP26?” by the 45th vice president of the United States and 2007 Nobel Peace Prize co-winner Al Gore; “We can make COVID-19 the last pandemic” by renowned entrepreneur, philanthropist and founder of Microsoft Corporation Bill Gates, “Why we have too few women leaders” by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg; “Abundance is our future” by the founder and chairman of the X Prize Foundation, co-founder and executive chairman of Singularity University Peter Diamandis; “Join the SETI search” by the TED Prize awardee SETI Institute's Jill Tarter and other important speeches, spreading their insights to a largely Chinese audience. From 2019-2021, Shelley Tsang serves as a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations-registered Arts and Culture Without Borders (ACWB) Foundation, where she collaborates with other Goodwill Ambassadors, including Her Royal Highness Princess Saba Kebede of Ethiopia, Her Royal Highness Princess Anna Maria Senussi of Libya, Her Royal Highness Duke Palden Namgyal of Sikkim, Her Royal Highness Princess Amal Alamini Al-Sabah of Syria-Kuwait, and Her Royal Highness Princess Mina Legarie of Pakistan, among others, to promote philanthropy in the arts and cultural activities.

Until now, the House of Longshan Zeng Clan Ancestral Hall has a history of over a thousand years. With the joint efforts of the Zeng clansmen, the Quanzhou Municipal Government returned the site of the original Zeng Ancestral Hall on Longtou Mountain. The first phase of the Ancestral Hall, with a construction area of 1,070 square meters, took three years to complete on March 24, 2005, at a total cost of over $7 million. Sir Donald Tsang, the Chief Executive of the Hong Kong SAR, Zeng Xianzi, a member of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, Lin Zhaoshu, the Chairman of the Overseas Chinese Association, Lin Yixin, the former Director of the Overseas Chinese Affairs Office, Zhuang Yanlin, the former Chairman of the Overseas Chinese Association, Wu Xiuping, the former Vice Chairman of the Chinese People's League, Zhang Jiakun, the Deputy Director of the Standing Committee of the Fujian Provincial People's Congress, and Elsie Leung, the Attorney General of the Hong Kong SAR, congratulated the completion of the Ancestral Hall in Longshan.


In 2021, the China New Urbanisation Construction Steering Committee, co-founded by Shelley Tsang, purchased the land in Huangshi Mountain, Fangcheng County, Henan Province. Fangcheng was an ancient Zeng country, the first fiefdom of the Zeng clan during the Qu Lie period of the Xia Dynasty, and the "ancestral root of the Zeng clan in China". This ancient land was named after the abundant production of “hang”. From 114 B.C. to 127 A.D., this western transportation route through the medium of the silk trade between China and the Middle East region and between China and India was called the Silk Road. However, in the Han Dynasty, the term "silk" did not exist at that time, and the silk-woven products that were popular among the Western countries were called "Seres", and the place where Seres were produced was Fangcheng, the former place of the ancient Zeng Kingdom. Seres were the earliest silk fabric exported overseas, and it was also the silk-woven products that made the ancient Silk Road and proved the origin of the Silk Road. In the future, Shelley Tsang will lead all partners in planning and developing this ancient piece of land to protect the ancestral root of the Zeng clan, hoping for the sustainable development and longevity of the Zeng clan.

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