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Definition of Hakka
When we are talking about"Hakkas", we found that we are not referring to the
same definition and we are trying to develop it in our own way. Therefore,
misunderstanding could have arisen.
As I mentioned before, Hakka could have been a name given by the
Cantonese-speaking people when our ancestors in Jiayingzhou (JYZ) began to
migrate down to the Pearl River Delta (PRD) about 400 years ago. Therefore,
the name could not have meant anything other than "guest families".
Actually, the migration of Hakka from JYZ to PRD was encouraged by the
government in the Qing Dynastry, partly because of economical and partly of
political reasons. Many Cantonese-speaking people could have profited from
the immigration project because they needed cheap labours in their fields.
An analogue is given by the Turks in Germany: they were invited to work in
West Germany at the sixties and were called "Gastarbeiter" (Guest workers).
In other words, if people from PRD were encouraged to migrate into the JYZ,
then the term Hakka could have been coined to Cantonese-speaking people!
Therefore, the name was essentially neutral at the beginning, but later it
faced a dichotomous development.
The Cantonese people became frustrated as Hakka came in thousands to their
Homeland. These people are not assimilating, but began to buy their houses
and fields and convert the whole town to Hakka-speaking. The town Longgang
in Shenzhen is an example. This situation made some "right-extremists" of
Cantonese to hate Hakka and began to humiliate them, such as writing Hakka
with the radical "dog" on the left side. Some scholars also tried to "prove"
that Hakka are Barbarians, "Non-Cantonese and therefore non-Han". Some other
people even took action and use force to keep the Hakkas away from their
home. Because of the hatred, a big conflict occurred in west of Guangdong
about 150 years ago, well-known as the Hakka-Bunti War which lasted about
15 years killing about 600,000 people. Up to now, the Cantonese people are
thinking that Hakkas are not friendly poele because they want to take their
home, and there is a common saying "Kejia zhan dizhu" (Hakka occupy the
[properties of] Landlords) in the Cantonese speaking world.
However, some of ours scholars began to accept it around 1800, as
represented by Xu Xuzeng. He began to beautify the name: "Hak" means we are
from Zhongyuan (Central Plain), unlike the Barbarians around us. This win
the support of other "right extremists" of Hakka, partly also as a reaction
to the "right-extremists" of Cantonese who humiliated Hakka. Wen zhonghe and
Luo Xianglin are good representatives of these scholars. They "proved" that
the Hakka are true Hans from the North, and even of the "purest bloods",
pointing that the Cabtonese and other people are even "more barbarious" than
the Hakkas. Luo also tried to link Hakka with "Kehu" to suggest that our
ancestors were given the name "Hak" in the Wei-jin Period by the Emperors
because they were repected. Therefore, the name Hakka become more and more
glorious since Luo's publication of his book among the Hakka-speaking world.
Therefore, strictly speaking, ours brothers in Jiayingzhou do not deserve
the name Hakka because they did not become "guest" about 400 years ago.
However, since they are speaking the same tongue as ours, and feel
themselves glorified by taking the name Hakka, they were quickly converted
and even more dedicted than those in the PRD. The reason is obvious: most of
our brothers in the PRD are speaking fluent Cantonese and the term Hakka
here is a devaluation. For example, the native Hakkas in Hong Kong really do
not like the name very much, and feel better if a stranger talk to them in
Cantonese rather than Hakka. The centre of Hakkaism have shifted quickly to
Meizhou area where our ancestors started their migration.
If my observations are correct, then the definition of Hakka becomes a very
(1) If we define it as a result of the migration, then there are two
(a) Hakkas are Han people migrated from the Central Plain in the past 2000
years, then all Cantonese, Hakka, Minnan, Gan and southern-mandarin speaking
people can fit this definition. Almost all peole south of the Changjiang
River are "Hakkas" no matter what dialects they are speaking. Interesting,
some scholars REALLY take this definition and concluded almost every famous
figures as Hakkas. This has been criticized as "Pan-Hakkism" by some
(b) Hakka are people from Jiayingzhou moving to the Pearl River delta and
then to West of Guangdong. This may have fitted the original meaning but the
drawback is even the people in Meizhou are not "Hakkas".
(2) If we define it as a cultural and linguisitic group in South China, then
the definition is more suitable for our present situation. Luo also named
Hakka-speaking as one of the necessary character of a Hakka. The definition
is no longer geneological, and change between Hakka and non-Hakka identity
should be viewed as normal. When a family no longer speaks Hakka, the sense
of belonging of their children towards the group is graudually lost. This
can be seen in the example of Li Denghui, Deng Xiaoping, Li Guangyao, and
thousands of Hakka decendants in Hong Kong. It is almost meaningless to
regard someone who has a Hakka ancestor but he himself does not speak Hakka
as a Hakka, and that someone as a politician even suppresses Hakka. However,
this is well explained if one doesn't speak Hakka, he is no longer Hakka.
To date, the definition of Hakka has already deviated a lot from its
original meaning and one should view Hakka as a symbol for a group rather
than the literal meaning. I acceept that Hakka is cultural and linguistic,
and will last, expand or assimilate into others just like any other groups.
I do not want to create a beatiful totem for any of us, but only urge
everyone to remember, that Hakka as a group must try to adapt to the
changing world. Everyone of us are living in a modern world and maybe after
50 years all Hakkas cannot be distinguished from other in the housing,
furnitures, food, dress, etc. However, one thing that can distinguish is our
tongue. Any negative attitude to our tongue is endangering our existence.
The life of Hakka lies in the language: modernization of our life can take
place in any other fields, but if we are "modernized" at the cost of our
language, then Hakka will be no different to any "barbarious group", because
only barbarious groups would give up their barbarious languages in the
course of modernisation.
Therefore, we must be confident in our language, and we must let our
children speak Hakka as a respect to ourselves and to win respect from
others. Reject any assimilation into Cantonese or other groups because we
are just as wise as others. All languages are equal. We welcome any other
groups to learn our language and we should also learn the languages of other
group for better understandings (Just like I am writing in English), but the
bottom line should be our children must speak Hakka. Long Live the
Hakka-language! Long Live our Self Respect!