Royal salute: The Tio family and its link to the Chinese emperors

Leading the way: After prayers at the ancestral temple in Jiexi county, Guangdong province, China, Datuk Michael Tio carried the prayer paraphernalia in two baskets on a shoulder pole to another ancestral temple, 10 minutes’ walk away.

The Tio family learns many things on a trip to discover their ancestral roots in China, including the fact that their lineage is linked to the founding emperor of the Song Dynasty.

Datuk Michael Tio, 46, chief executive officer of PKT Logistics Group Sdn Bhd in Shah Alam, Selangor, was once told that his lineage was linked to Chinese emperors. He brushed it aside, thinking it was a joke.

This year, he found murals of his royal relatives in his ancestral temple in Jiexi county, Guangdong province, China.

It all started when some 31 family members signed up to visit Jiexi (pronounced kek si in Teochew), the family’s ancestral village.

Tio’s father, Sook Keo, 74, paid for everyone.

Tio’s son Max (left) and his nephew praying to ancestors in their ancestral village, in Jiexi.

“Every year, we have a family reunion,” said Tio, who has organised the annual family vacation during Chinese New Year since 2006.

Tio said such reunion holidays are “more meaningful. It brings together family members, some of whom we have never met.”

Usually, their destination is a country in the Orient, where the people also celebrate the Spring Festival.

“Each year, my father’s siblings, their children and grandchildren are invited for this reunion trip to spend Chinese New Year together. We had been to Hong Kong, Macau, China (Yunnan) and Taiwan.

“My father and I are in business, so it’s very difficult for the both of us to travel together,” he lamented, hence the effort made in organising such annual trips.

During the school holidays, Tio will usually spend his time with his own family.

Then, he has the annual company’s management trip to faraway places (such as Alaska, the Rocky Mountains last year and Kenya and Tanzania, the year before).

“Every Lunar New Year, I travel with my father. We can have breakfast, lunch and dinner for five or six days. My father gets to meet his three children and grandchildren. And I get to meet my siblings and cousins,” he said.

Tio and other family members gather for a photo in front of a temple in their ancestral village in Jiexi.

This year, three generations of Tio went on the tour (the eldest being 81 and the youngest, two) from Jan 31 to Feb 5.

“There were 21 of us from Malaysia and 10 (including two aunts) from Singapore,” Tio reminisced of this year’s family vacation.

At first, the older aunt, aged 81, in Singapore declined to go.

“I told her daughter that this might be the last time her mother could see her birthplace in China. My aunt later decided to make the trip. The other aunt in her 60s has always joined us for our trips,” Tio said.

“For the first time, all my father’s four siblings went on this trip,” said Tio.

“We had our own family reunion dinner on the eve of Chinese New Year while the family in Singapore had theirs back home,” he said, showing a self-made brochure, Balik Kampung 2014 Chinese New Year, complete with itinerary.

“On the first day of Chinese New Year, we all met up in Xiamen, China, and had our reunion dinner. The next day, we travelled to Shantou (four hours by road) and stayed overnight,” he said.

Xiamen to Jiexi is six hours by road. However, the group had to break the journey (as it was too strenuous to travel for the elders in the group) in Shantou, two hours from Jiexi.

Tio showing a chart of his family tree.

On the third day, the family journeyed to Jiexi. Along the way, they saw mounds of preserved sour plums (or sin mui in Cantonese), which was left out to dry in the sun, he said. Their relatives gave them some of the sour plums, which they brought back to Malaysia to share with friends.

Tio recounted an unusual reception upon arrival.

“The villagers carried lanterns bearing our surname and some of them were beating cymbals. Our relatives lined up in a row to welcome us.

“We then went off to worship our ancestors at two ancestral temples,” he said.

“This photograph shows my two young children’s (Max Tio, eight, and Mabel Tio, six) first prayers to the ancestors in China. My father believes that such prayers are very important (believing the family business has grown tremendously in the last few years due to their ancestors’ blessings),” Tio said.

When they arrived at the first ancestral temple, to their surprise, they saw murals of their royal ancestors on the walls of the temple.

“Our lineage is linked to the first emperor of the Song Dynasty (960-1279), Zhao Kuangyin,” said Tio, a Teochew.

There are variations of the family’s surname, mainly Tio, Teo, Teoh and Tiew, but Tio’s relatives in China bear the surname Zhao.

The descendants of Zhao were dispersed in various parts of China, including Fujian, Guangdong and Hainan. The emperor was said to have founded the House of Zhao, which recorded his line of descendants.

“When my father first told us about our lineage, we laughed,” recounted Tio, who could not believe his eyes when he saw the murals of a dozen Song emperors in the temple.

When I returned to Malaysia, I did a search on emperor Zhao, who became Emperor Taizu (960–976), the founding emperor of Song Dynasty. After his death, he was succeeded by Emperor Taizong, his younger brother. The dynasty reigned for 319 years before it was replaced by the Yuan Dynasty (1279 to 1368).

A Teochew delicacy made with yam, one of the sumptuous treats at a family reunion.


After the initial surprise, the family proceeded to pray and thank their ancestors.

“After we prayed at one ancestral temple, I carried prayer paraphernalia in a basket on a shoulder pole to another ancestral temple, 10 minutes’ walk away,” he said.

“This photo of me carrying the prayer goods garnered over 500 likes on my Facebook,” he said, adding that his friends joked about his new-found status and called him Prince DMT.

After prayers, everyone sat down to a big feast where 15 tables (eight persons per table) were set up. They were feted to a good meal of Teochew food at the temple. Cooking was done on the spot.

“For the young ones, it was a big discovery to learn about their roots,” he said of his cousins, nephews and nieces.

That is why, this year, Tio’s father, 74, reminded him to thank their ancestors again.

Grandfather Tio

Tio’s grandfather, Tio Ah Kang (1900-1990), was born in Jiexi and passed away at the age of 90. He migrated to Malaya when he was young while his two brothers headed off to Thailand.

One sibling stayed behind in Jiexi, and the families kept in touch over the years.

Tio said: “My grandfather was a famous char kway teow (stir-fried flat rice noodles) hawker in Port Klang. Folks there called my father, kway teow kiah (Hokkien for son of kway teow hawker).”

Rows of preserved sour plums laid out to dry in Jiexi county.

Tio now understands why his grandfather chose this particular trade when he came to Malaya.

“In Jiexi, every household has a rice mill and a steamer tray to make flat rice noodles. My father told me that my grandfather not only fried kway teow for a living, but also made the noodles from scratch,” reminisced Tio.

Although he cannot remember ever tasting a plate of his grandfather’s kway teow, he remembers that his grandfather stayed with his father and his family in Port Klang.

It looks like Tio will have his hands full for the next Chinese New Year holidays, where the family will embark on a new journey together and discover new things in life.

Article type: metered
User Type: anonymous web
User Status:
Campaign ID: 46
Cxense type: free
User access status: 3
Join our Telegram channel to get our Evening Alerts and breaking news highlights

Next In People

5 successful celebrities with hearing loss
As Dubai's food delivery booms, dangers and casualties mount
Malaysian ex-company manager makes charity work his full-time job after retirement
Many disabled music professionals feel unable to reveal their condition, study says
Proud to be Malaysian
From Covid to Ida: Louisiana's marginalised 'see no way out'
After battling Covid-19 in a district hospital, this surgeon gets to go home Premium
After 600 years of night watchmen, Lausanne gets first watchwoman
Boy, 4, enters Malaysia Book of Records for naming 147 country flags in 15 minutes
3 visually impaired Sabahan students win first prize at Atlanta-based International Youth Music Competitions

Stories You'll Enjoy