Author: cheok hong chuan
Date: 05-01-12 22:22
Started a separate thread - the other one already too long!
Christian Souls and Chinese Spirits
A Hakka Community in Hong Kong
UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESS
Berkeley • Los Angeles • Oxford
© 1994 The Regents of the University of California
It has been well documented that Hakka often occupied the poorer, more isolated, and less fertile areas of Guangdong and Hong Kong during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, while the Punti, like the Lung Yeuk Tau Teng, occupied the more productive fertile areas (M. Cohen 1968; Leong 1985). As a result of economic hardships, men from some Hakka villages chose to emigrate southward and overseas to find work, while Hakka women were left behind with the children and the elderly. The women tended the fields
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and participated in "men's" work (see Pratt 1960). But even in nonemigrant villages, according to one Tsung Tsin mission pastor, Hakka women worked at farming—"hoeing and planting seeds while the men would lead the buffaloes and plow the earth"—and thus earned their widespread reputation for hard work.
As Mr. C. explained, Hakka women are taught that they must be able to adapt to different situations and must work hard. At an early age, women of his generation learned the popular phrase, "Jouhdak gunleuhng, cheutdak tengtong" (Be an official's wife, come out to the drawing room). He interpreted this to mean that "they must know how to be an important official's wife, as well as cook and clean." They should be able to "talk to important guests," and also "know when to leave the drawing room and do hard work." With their reputation for hard work, Hakka women are often held up as exemplars of Hakka character.
Another Hakka man said that Hakka women are better prepared for hard work than non-Hakka women. This view is widely expressed throughout Hong Kong, where Hakka women have a reputation for hard work whether in the fields, on construction sites or on the golf course. Indeed, some non-Hakka farmers are said to have preferred a Hakka wife because they are believed to be more accustomed to hard work. According to Pasternak, whose research was conducted in Taiwan, "Hakka women everywhere enjoy a reputation as exceptional workers. I was often assured by Hokkien friends as well as by Hakka that Hakka women make exceptional wives for that reason" (1983:25).
Less agreement exists on the topic of Hakka men. Two Hakka women, and two non-Hakka women married to Hakka men, told me that Hakka men are lazy compared to their female counterparts. In the words of one young Hakka woman in Shung Him Tong, "There is one thing which is not so good about Hakka culture and that is that the women work harder than the men … but this was in the past." Yee Ling was not convinced that it is a thing of the past. She complained that her father wanted to be treated "like a king" and was too lazy to put toothpaste on his own toothbrush, let alone polish his own shoes. I found among Hakka men in Hong Kong, as Pasternak found among Hakka men in Taiwan, disagreement with the idea that they "spend a lot of time sitting around talking while their wives do all the work," although they are the first to agree that "their women are among China's most industrious" (1983:25).
The high rate of male absenteeism in many Hakka villages might explain such characterizations of Hakka men and women as that written by a nineteenth-century European traveler in Guangdong: "It seems to be mainly the women who do the hard work. They do not bind their feet … [and] are strong and erect…. [T]he women do all the carrying and heavy work. The men do not even know how to carry water—and probably do not demand that
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the women give them lessons at it" (In Aijmer 1967:75–76). Eugene Anderson was also told that Hakka "women work while the men sit and sing" in the Castle Peak area of Hong Kong where he conducted research. His explanation is that the men "once had to spend much of their time on guard against attacks, and left gardening and other such work to the women. Now, of course, both sexes work" (1968:98).
Most of the Hakka men I asked in Shung Him Tong insist that they are as hardworking as women, with the exception of "Heung Yee," a Hakka Christian in his forties who said that the one "really terrible thing about Hakka culture" is the way they treat boys: "Hakka spoil boys and give them everything…. It is well known that Hakka women are strong and hardworking. They have to be because the spoiled boys won't do any work. The men are so spoilt that the women have to do everything." All the boys from the village where he grew up go to the United Kingdom to be cooks, and "when they come back to Hong Kong they are lazy." Now when he returns to that village the old people there say to him, "You know why you grew up to be a good son? Because you were poor." It is important to note in this case that most members of the village where he grew up, including the "lazy young men," were not Christian. Heung Yee disagrees in part with their explanation. He and his brothers are successful, he says, partly because their parents raised them as Christians and taught them to respect hard work and education. While many Hakka will claim that whether they are rich or poor, male or female, there is seldom a loafer among them, according to one Christian Hakka man; Christianity provides further assurance that Hakka people will stay on the right track.
Related to their ability to work hard is the reputation of Hakka women for never having practiced the custom of foot-binding. The practice of foot-binding was a symbol of female subordination reflecting a woman's virtue and the moral standing of her family. It was a sign of high status—evidence that women did not need to partake in physical labor and rarely left the house. Although foot-binding was at first limited to elite families, by the nineteenth century it was a widespread practice among nonelites as well, with the exception of Hakka women and women in some of the tea- and silk-producing regions of southern China (Anagnost 1989:330). Yee Ling, Mr. C., Mr. P., and other Hakka I spoke to claim—and missionary sources also document—that regardless of their economic or social class, Hakka women's feet were never bound, "even if they were daughters of officials." According to one Hakka man in his seventies, "The other Chinese bound women's feet because they wanted to keep them in the house" and also, he grinned, "because it made women walk in a way which is very charming." But even if a Hakka family rose to a position of wealth and power, Hakka claim, daughters were still not required to bind their feet.
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In the early twentieth century, condemned as morally reprehensible, foot-binding became a symbol of the oppression and exploitation of women and of all the ills of Confucian society. Although the Hakka practice of not binding women's feet has obvious practical implications, two people from Shung Him Tong claimed that the Hakka refrained from practicing foot-binding on moral grounds. Twentieth-century Hakka historians such as Luo have helped popularize the Hakka claim that they were the first to oppose foot-binding and to treat women as equals on ethical rather than practical grounds. The fact that Hakka women's feet were never bound has now become a part of the rhetoric used to support the idea that Hakka were ahead of their time and have "always treated women as equal." The official Chinese policy regarding foot-binding one man told me, was inspired by the Hakka. It is also commonly known that the Taipings condemned foot-binding and allowed women in positions of leadership.
In a folk narrative entitled "Why Can Hakka Girls Sing Mountain Songs?" told to Eberhard in Taiwan in the 1970s, a forty-seven-year-old Hakka woman recounted the story of a wealthy governor of Guangdong province who could afford to have whatever he wanted: "In spite of that he never married three wives or [had] four concubines, but lived very well with his old wife." The narrator explained that the man and his wife had "suffered the poverty together" and she had helped earn money for his studies. He never forgot what she had done. As the narrator explained,
This tells us about the origin of the equality of love of the Hakka women, but it also tells us how the equality of sexes … had its origin, and that it is not a hollow word, but that the women with both feet on the ground carry on the problems of the family together with the men. And because Hakka women can live without men, they are not afraid if the men cheat upon them—they just cannot cheat on them…. Hakka are people who had to flee from suppression, and their surroundings are all poor, and so they all have to endure together. If one has to suffer, the others will help him, and so the Hakka girls work just as their men do; in contrast to other women, the Hakka women have as the first ones gained their position, and so they also sing songs that the others do not sing (Eberhard 1974:104–5).
This legend reflects Hakka pride at being "the first ones" to "gain the [higher] position of women" and stresses the point that the position of women is directly linked to their hard work and economic contributions to the family. It also reiterates the point that although most Hakka start out poor, when they become wealthy they still remember what it was like to be poor and for that reason they are better people of higher morals.
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Although the people of Shung Him Tong take pride in the idea of Hakka gender equality, several young women pointed out to me that common practices in the church community do not substantiate this stereotype. As noted in Chapter 4, women appear on the surface to have equal roles in the church—there are always the same number of men and women who officiate, usher, and take collections at the Sunday service, and there are equal numbers of men and women on the church board. But those who are commemorated and best remembered are often men, and men are thought to be far more influential. In practice, like the "official's wife" described above who must cook and clean and be a good conversationalist with her husband's guests, women in Shung Him Tong perform many more of the "service" roles for the church, such as translating, teaching Sunday school, evangelizing, and working as secretaries.
Cantonese women have the reputation, I was told by a young woman in Shung Him Tong, of being among the most attractive and delicate of all Chinese women. Physical attractiveness—often symbolized by small delicate feet—is not a characteristic commonly associated with the popular image of Hakka women. When another young Hakka woman told me that the last two "Miss Hong Kong" beauty contest winners were Hakka, the statement expressed pride as well as her surprise and did not imply that all Hakka women are beautiful. Although people highlight the fact that Cantonese women are weak and frail in comparison to Hakka women, the physique of Hakka women is not portrayed as a positive aesthetic quality but rather as a practical asset.
Hakka are sometimes depicted as having darker skin than other Chinese—an observation used by non-Hakka to support the nineteenth-century claim that Hakka were descendants of hill tribes rather than pure Chinese. The Hakka, however, associate the possible darker skin of some individuals with the extrinsic factor of exposure to sunlight because they spend more time working outside. Conversely, people who work outside are often assumed to be Hakka. Hard work is also used to explain the "looser, more comfortable clothes of the Hakka" and certain culinary differences. "Hakka eat from larger bowls, and eat bigger portions," one Tsung Tsin mission pastor told me, "because they work hard and are very hungry."
Many of the physical stereotypes of Hakka women are in fact more accurate as class or occupational markers than as ethnic ones. Dark skin, comfortable shoes, muscular builds, and the "Hakka hat" are all indications that people do physical labor outdoors, not that they are necessarily Hakka. Common stereotypes found in daily conversation, on television, and in tourist brochures suggest that these images are of the Hakka, and thus reinforce the impression that all Hakka are poor and working class, and that all poor, outdoor workers must be Hakka.
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