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Who are the Hakkas?
The Hakkas are a unique ethnic group of "Han" Chinese originally active
around the Yellow River area. They are thought to be one of the earliest "Han"
settlers in China. One theory has it that many of the early Hakkas were affiliated with
the "royal bloods". The truth may be more complicated than
that. It is highly likely that while Hakka may be a stronghold of Han
culture, Hakka people also have married other ethnic groups and adopted
their cultures during the long migration history of 2000 years. Due to the infusion of other ethnic groups from the
northwest, north and northeast, these original settlers gradually migrated south and
settled in Jiangxi, Fujian, and Guangdong. They were called Hakka by the locals when they
first settled in. This term has been used since by non-Hakka and Hakka people, and in
international publications. The spelling "Hakka" is derived from the
pronunciation in Hakka dialect ( pronounced as "haagga" in Hakka and
"kejia" in Mandarin).
During the last hundred years or so, Hakka people migrated to South East Asia, East
Africa, Europe (Holland, United Kingdom, France, Germany..), South America (Brazil,
Trinidad...) Canada, US. About 7% of the 1.2 billion Chinese clearly state their Hakka
origin or heritage. However, the actual number may be more as many Hakka Han who settled
along the path of migration assimilate with the local people. The Hakka identity is
Hakka people are noted for their preservation of certain cultural characteristics that
could be traced to pre-Qin period (about 2200 years ago) as expressed in the custom, foods, spoken
Hakka people are also known to be very adamant in defending their cultural heritage, which
was the reason for their migration to flee from the "northern" influence at that
As a late comer to places initially occupied by locals, Hakkas usually had to struggle and
survive on the less desirable lands. Thus, Hakka people are well-known for their
perseverance even in the most adverse environment.
Among all the Chinese people, Hakkas are among the most conservative in keeping the
traditions. Yet, many are willing to take risks and seek new opportunities elsewhere to
establish themselves. The migratory tradition results in the distribution of Hakka in the
most remote part of the world. An anecdote has it that the north-most restaurant in the
world close to the Arctic is in fact a Chinese restaurant run by a Hakka. :)
The Hakka people, paradoxically conservative and endeavoring, hard-working and enduring,
is reflective of the spirit of Chinese culture.
The following is the definition given in Ci Hai (Compendium of Phrases): (in Chinese Big5
|辭海(1947,1985) 中華書店 - 閩贛粵湘交界及廣西之武宣，馬平，四川之隆昌，
Preface to the book "The Origin of the Hakka Chinese"
April 3, 2002
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
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.
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
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. A Caucasian American adopted by a
Hakka family during the war also participated the conference. He,
speaking in fluent Hakka, 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
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
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
Asiawind's Hakka page and forum
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
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
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 韓素英 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
What this book is about:
|To explore the origin and history of Hakka people and their
|To study Hakka culture as an element of Chinese culture. |
|To raise the awareness of the diversity and unity of the Chinese
Finally, I have the following thoughts for our Hakka fellows and
All people are migrants on this earth, in time
There is but one race - the human race.
Knowing our root is to better understand and respect other people's
Preserve our cultural heritage to promote diversity not hegemony.