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The Crippled Tree by Han Suyin
The Crippled Tree by Han Suyin
This is an excerpt from the book "The Crippled Tree" by Han Suyin
an Hakka doctor cum author who was born in China.
I think many Hakka friends have not read any of her books.
Long, voluminous and weighty are the books and records about the
Hakkas, written both by Chinese and non-Chinese. Their origin is Honan
province, in the Yellow River loess plains of North China. Five centuries
before Christ, in the time of the great philosophers, this was the
centre of Han culture. But the Han people of the northern plains were for
ever subject to pressures from invaders, galloping in from the Siberian
steppes on their horses, Tartars and Mongols of various names and tribes.
Great migrations of the Han people took place, until the almost empty
luxurian middle and south of China were also peopled by northern migrants.
The trek of the Guest People, the Hakkas, was one of many such peasant
migrantions which must have taken place again and again in the course of
the centuries, always greatly intensified in times of wars and during
famines due to drought or floods. The fact that the silt-loaded Yellow
River overflowed its rising bed and changed its course nine times during
the last two thousand years, each time ravaging areas as large as England,
must also have led to large peasant displacement.
Every change of dynasty was heralded by peasant risings, a shifting
into gigantic Long Marches of millions of the dispossessed and the hungry,
and these are now recorded in the Museum of History in Peking, for they
belong to history, they were the upheavals of a people looking for a way
out of the long feudalism which ended only yesterday.
The word Hakka does not denote a racial group, for the Hakkas are Han
People, Chinese people. It was a word applied to all displaced peasants,
and only after the tenth century came to designate a special group. Moving
en masse these refuges from misery were "people who sought a roof", hence
called "Guest People" which was more courteous than calling them displaced
persons or refugees. A code of regulations was formulated for dealing with
such immigrants into new districts, to provide for their welfare and their
resettling in lands where tillers were needed, and to avoid conflicts with
The Hakkas themselves claim that they moved five times within recorded
history. In their first migrantion, dating about A.D. 311, they crossed
the Yangtse River (Son of the Ocean) and settled in the provinces of
Kiangsi and Anhwei. Some of their historians claim that they already had
their own folklore, traditions, customs and fialect, but this is doubtful.
A second migrantion took place from A.D. 874, during the decades of
turbulence which saw the end of the Tang dynasty. A third migration
started after A.D. 1276, was due to the Mongols, when Genghis Khan's
hordes came riding from the steppes of Siberia. In this migration the
Hakkas were at a disadvantage, for by that time the provinces of Middle
and South China were in great part settled, the jungles curbed, the best
fields tilled. The Hakkas were driven farther south, or mountanious, poor
areas. They entered Fukien, Kuangtung, Formosa (Taiwan) and what is now
North Vietname, settled on the poorer lands, survived and multiplied.
Because of their mobility, hardihood and fierceness, the dynasties
began to regard the Hakkas as potential pioneers, good for settling in
The Hakkas spread in the middle and south provinces, building villages
which they often fortified. They multiplied exceedingly, which made them
more land-hungry; and since the barren districts were their portion, they
engaged in feuds with older settlers on more fertile land, raided their
villages and were in turn raided; they erected gates and watch towers and
locked themselves in their villages at night, as they still do in the
British colony of Hongkong where there are many Hakka villages.
Circumstances thus defined their group character: clannish, thrifty,
loyal to each other, bad neighbours and ready fighters, the name Hakka
stuck to them and they became proud of it.
The fourth migration of the Guest People took place after the Manchu
came to power. Between 1680 and 1720 the Manchu Emperor Kanghsi, in his
peregrinations through the land, sought to rally the hearts of the people
of the south, and to resettle the Hakkas in Szechuan and other regions.
The Imperial Office paid eight ounces of silver per man, four ounces per
woman or child, to the migrants. In this way many Hakkas came to Szechuan.
The fifth and last migration of Hakka occured at the end of the Taiping
rising, one of the many enormous peasant revolts which have characterized
the history of China, important because the peasant Revolution looks upon
Taiping as its precursor.
To the Hakkas the Taiping is their most glorious epic, for the leader
was a Hakka named Hung Hsiuchuan. Hung raised the standard of revolt
against the Manchus in 1850. Millions flocked to his standard, marched to
the Great River and captured Nanking, which Hung renamed the Heavenly
City, capital of the Heavenly Kingdom.
Hung proclaimed social justices for all; throughout his
hundred-millioned domain the feet of women were unbound, land
redistributed, taxes lightened, and the pigtail, emblem of Manchu
At first the Western Powers favoured the Taiping, but later this
attitude changed, and the Manchu dynasty received help from the West.
General Gorden was hired to lead the imperial armies against the Taiping.
Fresh from the loot of the Summer Palace in Peking, General Gorden now
served the dynasty which he had helped to pillage, and was rewarded with
high rank in the mandarinate and much gold. He refused the later,
misliking the slaughter, for when Nanking had fallen after two years of
gruelling siege not one of the forty thousand remaining inhabitants
surrendered, and all were killed. Hung, the Heavenly King, died by
After the Taiping failed, in 1864, the Manchus put all men, women and
children named Hung to their sword, to extirpate the breed; many fled, or
changed their names. A century later, in the small village of three
hundred families where Hung clan lived, two hundred and eighty-six were
Because of these massacres many Hakkas migrated to Southeast Asia, or
were inveigled by the boat-load to become indentured labourers on railways
and canals in the East Indies, Malaya, the United States, and as far as
Panama, Brazil and Africa. Today the settlers of Chinese descent in
Sarawak claim to be one hundred per cent Hakkas...............
The Crippled Tree by Han Suyin.
- No Subject
- From: CHUNG Yoon-Ngan <firstname.lastname@example.org>