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The Crippled Tree by Han Suyin (3)
The Crippled Tree by Han Suyin (3)
This is an excerpt from the book "The Crippled Tree" by Han Suyin
a Hakka doctor cum author.
The reason for the Hakka women's freedom from such corsetry was their
function. The women worked in the fields, at building houses, at porterage,
while the men, cutlass or spear in hand, watched for enemies or went out
fighting. Since many of the Hakka villages were poor, the men shipped off
to the South Seas or went away as pedlars. And since the Guest People
moved frequently, hired themselces out to labour or to war, they could not
afford to have women unable to work and to walk. Tall, big-boned, not
renowned for good looks, in manner direct, in later life quarrelsome and
garrulous, the Hakka women went chest and foot-free, and consequently
tongue-free. What necessity had dictated was contiuned and cherished as a
proud tradition, and the unglamourous Hakka maid was praised for her
thrift, hard work, clean life, and lively retort. She raised sons on her
own milk, despised artifices to beauty, and when necessary fought like a
man. She was not in demand by connoisseurs in the cities, who relished the
fragility of two-inch golden lotus feet, and other devices to lease, and
of this also the Hakkas are proud.
It is not surprising, with this background, to find the Guest People
taking an active part in uprisings of the last centuries; the men proud of
their energy, strong with the knowledge of their prowess, and cunning at
outwitting enemies, the women proud of their working ability, both deeply
conscious of social injustice, both ready to fight for their beliefs and
for their rights. Hakkas claim that the regiments which fought against the
Mongols were recruited from among them; that the men who followed Coxinga
(Cheng Ch'eng-kung), the loyal Ming general, to Formosa (Taiwan) to resist
the Manchus, were Hakkas; Hung Hsiuchuan, as well as many other leaders of
the Taiping uprising, were Hakka; Hung's sister fought and won a pitched
battle against the Manchu soldiery, and unbound the feet of thousands of
women in the regions under Taiping rule.
Mao Tsetung in his military writings also referred to the Hakkas when
he wrote of the rift between the native inhabitants and the "settlers
whose forefathers came from the north several hundred years ago". He
observed that the settlers, numbering several million in a zone across
several provinces, lived in the hilly regions and had been oppressed by
the native inhabitants.
How many Hakkas are there in China proper and among the Overseas
Chinese? No one knows for certain. Some say twenty million, some say
fifty. In Hongkong alone there are one million (out of a total population
of three and a half million). (Note: in 1972). But today in China the
distinction between Hakka and non-Hakka has gone, as has village feuding,
and the feudal system which pitted one group against another in the great
hunger of China is also going as the Revolution comes of age.
Meihsien, in the province of Kwangtung, a purely Hakka district, was
until recently a poor, barren place, with unproductive land, many hills
devoid with trees, only pathways, and a badly arranged irrigation system.
On the patchy fields one only saw women working, and they outnumbered men
by six to one because the men left home. Now it is different, with water
reservoirs, canals, schools and afforestation; but this has only happened
in the last decades....................................................
The Crippled Tree by Han Suyin