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The Hakka Chinese: Their Origin, Folk Songs And Nursery Rhymes


The study of Hakka is a study of conservation and survival of an ancient heritage under constant impact of others, which is something all cultures are facing in today's world.  Some paraphrase Hakkas as Jews of Chinese. A more appropriate paraphrase may be dandelion. A little flower, tough enough to survive the harshest environment, travels to all corners of the world, plants its roots in the poorest soils and blooms with yellow flowers. It has a lot of useful culinary and medicinal applications yet few people know about them. There are many varieties, tall and short, large and small. They adapt to the surrounding, but still remain well recognizable as dandelion. 
According to the well-known Chinese dictionary
辭海 (Shanghai Book Publisher), Hakkas are inhabitants at the junction of Guangdong, Fujian, and Jiangxi. Others have settled in Sichuan and Taiwan.  They are a group entering the southern provinces after Jin dynasty. Hakkas are characteristic of hardworking people and their spoken language can find roots in ancient classical Chinese.

In Store Price: $33.00 
Online Price:   $32.00

ISBN:1-9210-0550-5
Format: B5 Paperback
Number of pages: 348
Genre: Non Fiction


Author: CHUNG Yoon-Ngan 
Imprint: Poseidon
Publisher: Poseidon Books
Date Published:  2005
Language: English

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Preface - please note: some web browsers may not display the Chinese characters.

海外作客

天下為家

 

I have been asked many times, "Why are you interested in Hakka? It is a dying language, and a disappearing culture." My answer may be quite surprising to many, including Hakka. My interest started from the curiosity to find out about my own roots. It grew into the exploration of how cultures are preserved and how they interact with others.

 

The study of Hakka is a study of conservation and survival of an ancient heritage under constant impact of others, which is something all cultures are facing in today's world.  Some paraphrase Hakkas as Jews of Chinese. I think a more appropriate paraphrase may be dandelion. A little flower, tough enough to survive the harshest environment, travels to all corners of the world, plants its roots in the poorest soils and blooms with yellow flowers. It has a lot of useful culinary and medicinal applications yet few people know about them. There are many varieties, tall and short, large and small. They adapt to the surrounding, but still remain well recognizable as dandelion.

 

My experience as a Hakka

I was born in a Hakka family, but I knew little about Hakka.  Brought up in Hong Kong, I had little use of the Hakka dialect except to understand the conversation of my father's friends and employees. My parents spoke to me in Cantonese.  The chance for me to be in touch with Hakka was close to zero after I came to US. In the early 1990s, I spent 4 years back in Hong Kong. Browsing in a bookstore, I picked up a book about Hakka. Only then did I start to learn more about what Hakka meant to me, and especially to my Father. After 40 years of speaking not a word of Hakka, I gave a 15-minutes speech at a local Hakka gathering. To my surprise, my Hakka speech was still considered very genuine by the native Hakka folks. 

 

United Nations estimates that 6000 languages are under the threat of disappearing from the pressure of other dominant languages.  Along with it, some cultures might vanish altogether. The Chinese language fortunately has a written language that  has endured history. It is one of the few languages that texts written 2500 years ago are still readable today. The spoken language, however, may have a different fate. Will the Hakka dialect survive? Only time will tell. Nevertheless, a tongue spoken by few does have some advantage.  The Navajos have proved that. During the Second World War, the American military employed a score of Navajo natives to code messages in their own tongue, evading all attempt of deciphering by the enemies. This was the best example of the use of an endangered tongue.

 

Hakka definition

According to the well-known Chinese dictionary 辭海 (Shanghai Book Publisher), Hakkas are inhabitants at the junction of Guangdong, Fujian, and Jiangxi. Others have settled in Sichuan and Taiwan.  They are a group entering the southern provinces after Jin dynasty. Hakkas are characteristic of hardworking people and their spoken language can find roots in ancient classical Chinese.

 

The term Hakka (guest families) is a misnomer, only used since Qing dynasty.  Although there are some theories about the origin, most scholars agree that Hakka Chinese migrated from northern China to the south starting from East Jin dynasty (317-420 AD). Some even date the first migration as from Qin dynasty (220 -206 BC) when the first unified Chinese nation was formed.  They were the early settlers in the Yellow River basin. The infusion of tribes from the north, flooding, grasshopper plaques, droughts, famines, and wars in the north drove people en masse to the south.  The local people in the south called these northerners"guest families"when they started to settle in this area.  In fact many of the southern Chinese were also from the north at an earlier time.  So, who can say who is "guest"?

 

Hakka people have migrated repeatedly many times in China's history. Each time they carry with them something old and something new. In the end this tradition also is carried by migrating Hakkas to other countries.

 

The characteristics of Hakka people is they all claim to be Chinese and there is no provincial difference to divide them. All those who are fortunate to still master the tongue would find a lot of "Tziga Ngin" 自家人 (our own people) anywhere in China.  Hakka dialect(language) is the thread that holds people together. There is now an annual international Hakka conference held in different countries. The last one held in Longyan, Fujian had the biggest participation in years with many from Taiwan, showing that political  issues cannot stop the root finding of Hakka people.  At this conference, there was a moving piece of news was. A Caucasian American adopted by a Hakka family during the war also participated the conference and speaking in fluent Hakka, he proudly declared himself a Hakka.

 

There are roughly 50 million to 75 million Hakkas all over the world. Hakka Chinese probably can claim the widest coverage by a single people.

 

Different theories about origin of Hakka

Since Professor Lo Hsiang Lin 羅香林 (Luo Xiang Lin) started research on the origin of Hakka, many theories have been developed.  Basically, it can be divided into the following theories:

1. Han emigrants from the north

2. Indigenous southern She畬族 / Yue 越族

3. Xiongnu 匈奴 descendents

 

I would say all of them are correct, yet none alone explains the origin of Hakka.

 

The confusion is escalated by the different definition of  'north and south', and 'ancient and recent'.  There is a research project using DNA typing to compare Hakka people with other southern Chinese people today.  The conclusion from such study is Hakkas were not from the north, but indigenous to the south.  The problem of this type of research is in typing modern people we cannot ascertain who are really the southern Chinese because many of them were also from the north, Hakka or non-Hakka.  Even comparing with other Southeast Asian ethnic groups may have the same problem, because many are descendents of ancient northern Chinese or related to them through inter-ethnic marriages. Unless each subject has a detailed genealogy to verify his/her ancestry, it would be inconclusive.

 

Some claim Hakka as "pure" Han people. But pure Han really does not exist. Recent archaeological studies have shown that China had multiple centers of civilization, developed rather independently of each other. Yangshao 仰韶 (Henan), Banpo 半坡 (Shaanxi), Hongshan 紅山 (Liaoning), Liangzhu 良渚 (Jiangsu / Zhejiang), Sanxingdui 三星堆 (Sichuan), Longshan 龍山 (Shandong) all eventually merged into the Han culture. Han people are thus the integrated composite of several different tribes. In a way, the definition of Han is just as difficult as the definition of American. Hakkas as Han cannot be ethnically pure. Hakka have been at the interface of ethnic conflicts for many dynasties. Genetically speaking, some Hakka people have clearly inherited some non-Han features such as wavy hair and high nose bridge. Hakka must have incorporated these features from the different ethnicities along the migration path through out the 2000 years of history.  The characteristic of Hakkas can only be recognized by the dialect and the adamant preservation of ancient Chinese custom.

 

This is a second book that grew out of Asiawind forum, the first one being "History of Chinese Surnames" also authored by Mr.Yoon-Ngan Chung. I am extremely pleased that the forum has catalyzed such meaningful projects.

 

Perhaps I should give some historical background about Asiawind and the forums. Almost as soon as the internet became available in 1993, a global network maillist was formed to share information on Hakka culture. I put together the first Hakka website in 1994. In 1996, this Hakka Homepage was upgraded and launched on the Asiawind website. It is the first and only Hakka website in the world for a while. In a way, Asiawind's Hakka homepage stimulated many other Hakka sites. There are now 24,000 English webpages and 27,000 Chinese Hakka webpages by a keyword search using Google. By the time this book is published, there might be more. Now, quite a few of the Hakka hometowns have established their homepages so the nostalgic Hakkas overseas can find out more about their hometowns

 

The first Asiawind Hakka Forum started on September 2, 1996, and was later replaced by a new forum format on Jan 12, 2001.  Hundreds of participants from all continents have written to the forums, and thousands have visited and read the forum.  The forum has facilitated the Toronto Hakka Conference 2000, which was the first international Hakka conference held in N. America with participation of more than 300 friends, including Canadian senator Vivienne Poy and Hakkaologists from China. It helped a scholar who finished her academic exchange with a Madam Han Suyin 韓素音 Scholarship to locate and thank her sponsor.  An 80-year old gentleman tries to use the forum to locate his long separated brother. Asiawind's forum links Hakkas from all over the world to reminisce their hometown lives in China and away from China. I am glad that such a small corner of the Internet has brought so much joy and meaning to all participated.

 

A few last words

Since the reader will learn a lot more from the following chapters in the book, I will just conclude with the following about this book and my thoughts on this subject.

 

What this book is NOT about:

  • It is not about Hakka trying to be the dominant culture of China.
  • It is not about Hakka wanting to move back to the original settlements in China.
  • It is not about chauvinism of one culture over another.
  • It is not about separating Hakka culture from the rest of Chinese culture.

 

What this book is about:

  • To explore the origin and history of Hakka people and their culture.
  • To study Hakka culture as an element of Chinese culture.
  • To raise the awareness of the diversity and unity of the Chinese people.

 

Finally, I have the following thoughts for our Hakka fellows and non-Hakka friends:

 

All people are migrants on this earth, in time and space.

There is but one race - the human race.

Knowing our root is to better understand and respect other people's roots.

Preserve our cultural heritage to promote diversity not hegemony.

 

Professor Dr. Siu-Leung Lee

Columbus, Ohio

March 18, 2002

 

 

(4) The fourth migration

started between 1680AD to 1720AD from Guangdong and Fujian provinces to Taiwan province (台灣省) and passing through the provinces of Hunan and Guizhou (貴州省) to Sichuan province (四川省) and Yunnan province (雲南省).

 

(5) The fifth migration

started after 1864AD) from the provinces of Fujian and Guangdong to Hainan province (海南省) and all over the world, particularly to Nanyang (南洋 Southeast Asia)

 

Much interest has been aroused by the term Hakka or Kejia (客家). Many people are interested in the origin and history of this people. The word Hakka does not denote a racial group and Hakkas are Han People. The name itself implies that they are 'guests' and not the original inhabitants of the regions where they are living. Hakkas are a distinct group of people found in parts of the provinces of China including Guangdong (廣東省), Jiangxi (江西省), Guangxi (廣西省), Fujian (福建省), Hunan (湖南省), Sichuan (四川省) and Taiwan (台灣省). About five million (excluding the one million in Hong Kong) live in thirty three countries outside of China. The main concentration of Hakkas is in the province of Guangdong.

 

In certain counties Hakkas are in the majority. In the former prefecture of Jia Ying (嘉應州) also known as Meizhou (梅州), consisting of the present district of Mei Xian (梅縣), Xing Ning (興寧), Wu Hua (五華), Ping Yuan (平遠) and Jiao Ling (蕉嶺), the population is almost all Hakkas. In other parts of Guangdong, Hakkas form a half of the population, living among the Puntis (本地, older inhabitants of Guangdong, who consider themselves the rightful owners of the soil, forming over half of the total population of Guangdong province) and Hoklos (福老, also known as Xue Lao 學老 a group of people who settled along the seacoast from the border of Fujian province down to Hong Kong said to be descendants of emigrants from Fujian province).

 

In Guangdong province, in some places which are partly populated by Hakkas they have settled on the higher lands, and they have been called "Chinese Highlanders" which is a misnomer because there are many Hakkas living in the plains as well as in the hilly districts.

 


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