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I was reading one's bio, finding the usage of humble in that sentence confusing to me.

Here's the context.

Born to a very humble family, Charles Zhang’s parents were residential physicians at a small arsenal near Xian, China.

Does it mean that Zhang's family is not well off enough or Zhang's family members are humble(modest)?

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This is a poorly worded sentence, with a dangling modifier...it isn't clear who was born to a very humble family. We presume Charles Zhang was, but it actually says Charles Zhang's parents were. Also, are physicians not paid well and are they considered low status in Xian, China? – JLG May 18 '12 at 2:33
Also, as written, the sentence intimates that Charles' parents were brother and sister. – Jim May 18 '12 at 2:45
@Jim How did you see they were brother and sister? – Terry Li May 18 '12 at 3:12
Because is says they were born to a humble family [singular]. – Jim May 18 '12 at 3:16
up vote 6 down vote accepted

I would say that the meaning here is "low in rank, importance, status, quality, etc.; lowly"

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In this context, I would say that "very humble" is likely to be a euphemism for "poor". "Humble" could also mean "undistinguished" without being poor, but when combined with "very", it suggests some degree of poverty. It's also possible, but unlikely, that it means that they were shy about being wealthy (like Warren Buffet).

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In this context, I would normally assume that humble is used to mean "not very wealthy".

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