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What's in a name? Not much to the Chinese police.

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Pity poor Mr. Shan, and his couple of hundred relatives with the same name in a small village in Eastern China.

The Chinese character for their surname is so unusual the police are forcing them to change it.

The great majority of Chinese people share about 100 surnames. There are more people named Li than the entire population of Germany. “Old one hundred names” is the Chinese way to say “Joe Blow.”

But the Shans have a problem. The police computer system does not support the character, one of the rarest among the 85,000 symbols in the Chinese language. So the authorities could not issue them a new computerized ID card.

New name, please

The Shans have been told to become Xians since 2003, when the new generation of ID card first came into use. But for some reason the state news agency Xinhua publicized their ongoing plight only last month.

“Nobody wants to do it, but under the circumstances we have no choice,” Xian Xuexin told state television recently.

The story has provoked widespread comment on Internet chat rooms and blogs, with most sympathetic to the villagers.


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