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What is a Hakka?
Dear Hakka Friends,
The question, "what is a Hakka", attracted me, a Hakka who speak Hakka, to
study Hakka. But when I investigate into the matter, I found the question is
not as simple as it appears because:
1. Only some people speaking the Hakka dialect claim themselves "Hakka".
Some people do/did not know, or deny that they are "Hakka".
2. Some people who cannot speak Hakka, insist that they are Hakka because of
3. Some "Hakka" dialects are not intelligible to our "Hakka". They are even
harder to understand than Cantonese (say by my father, a sole Hakka speaker).
4. Some people fit the definition of Luo Xianglin's definition of Hakka, but
are speaking other dialects like Cantonese, Chaozhou or Minnan, do not
consider themselves Hakka, but are sometimes considered by Hakka
associations that they are Hakka.
If we just define someone whose ancestor came to the South after the Tang
dynasty to be Hakka, a notion used by many Hakka scholars, then practically
more than 90% of the population of Guandong, Jiangxi and most parts of
Fujian, Hunan, Szechuan and Guangxi etc cannot escape themselves from this
big net. It won't be surpising to find that almost all prominent figures of
the South can be traced back to a Hakka founder - be it Sun Zhongshan, Jiang
Jieshi, Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai, Deng Xiaoping, Li Denghui, Li Guangyao, Li
Jiacheng, and maybe also Jiang Zemin, Zhurongji, Dong Jianhua, Lian Zhan,
When the term Hakka has nothing to do with language and culture, but only a
sense of identity or a shared feeling of ancestry, I am sure that the
majority of Chinese population are "Hakka", no matter one likes it or not.
Tell your Cantonese, Chaozhou, Minnan, Hunan, Jiangxi, etc. friends, they
are as "Hakka" as I am unless they can provide evidence that their ancestors
are not of "Shaoshu-Minzu (National minority)" origin. Unfortunately, most
people whose ancestors were Shaoshu-Minzu have already tried to show that
they are as Chinese as their neighbors are by destroying the necessary
evidence, so that the "Chinese" snowball was gathering momentum everyday
since the Han dynasty.
This definition of Hakka, is of course unacceptable to most non-Hakka,
especially the Cantonese, who coined the term to the "barbarous intruders"
during the last three centuries into the Pearl River Delta and later to
Western Guangdong. But then some Hakka scholars were so clever that they
simply picked up the term to include only a group of "True Chinese migrants
from the Central Plain", to create a sense of superiority over the Cantonese
speakers. However, the main fake of this theory lies in the fact that it
emphasize too much on the history and little on the present life: Hakka
language and culture are eaten up day by day. Frankly speaking, most
Cantonese speakers fit this "historical" definition of Hakka, but to define
a Hakka decendant brought up in a Cantonese (or other dialects) environment
as Hakka simply encourage the dissimilation of Hakka. If I tell my children,
you are Hakka even if you speak English only, what do they think? They just
consider Hakka as a racial category, but in fact it is not. According to
recent biological studies, if you analyse the blood of a Cantonese and a
Hakka, you cannot distinguish them, because they share the same ancestry as
late as in the late Ming Dynastry, even if you minus the factor of
intermarriage. Everyone is "True Chinese", the children of Huang-Yan, which
is a belief shared by all Han-Chinese speakers.
Back to the question of "who is/are Hakka" and who not, it is then easy to
answer. If you are a Big-Hakkaist, use the definition of "True Chinese
migrants from the Central Plain since the Tang Dynasty". Then you have a
comfortable feeling of more than 60% of the Chinese population, who live
south of the Changjiang (Yangtse River), or 750 Million, are Hakka. More
than 90% or Guangdong, or 95% of Hong Kong people, be them Cantonese,
Chaozhou, Minnan or Shanghai speaking, are all HAKKA. Proof? No, just tell
them to disprove if they don't like this glorious term, when they can show
that their ancestors are Yao, She, Miao, Zhuang, Yi; or Japanese, German,
Portugese, Englander. In short, there is no need to "prove" that someome is
Hakka or not, once he lives South of Changjiang since centuries, he is by
definition Hakka, unless he can"disprove" it. Even if he doesn't like it, he
is always a Hakka in the eye of a Big-Hakkaist. Just tell Dr. Sun's
granddaughter, Sun Ruifang, to give evidence to show that the Sun's Family
is not a member of the Han-race, if she does not like to be Hakka.
Unfortunately, our Hakka definition is only for our fun. In the eyes of
Cantonese or other people, "Hakka" is 100% derogatory. Therefore, if we
define the Sun Family and the five clans of New Territories (Hong Kong) to
be Hakka, we are provoking, especially when the people consider themselves
Bendi (Punti). If your children/grandchildren/etc. do not have the feeling
of being Hakka, then we cannot create it for them. Feeling and sentiment
origin from contact and everyday practise. Take for example, if someone
suddenly "prove" that you were Japanese by ancestry, say 500 years ago, will
you accept your "new" identity?? Identity is a wonderful feeling. You accept
your present identity because you have a feeling for it, because it has
something to do with you everyday life: You speak Hakka or English, you eat
rice or potato, you use chopstick or fork, etc. You accept yourself because
you are there. You cannot force someone, or someone cannot force you, to
accept a new identity. Therefore, if we define a "Bendi" (or Chaozhou,
Minnan, etc) to be Hakka, using a definition to our advantage, be his
ancestor speak Hakka or not, is unfair.
Should we define Hakka just for our satisfaction, or also take care of what
other people think and feel, this is the problem. What we need is an
objective view. That is the point why I always stree on the practise
language and culture, rahter than the historical ancestry. Even if someone
confirms to me tomorrow that my ancestors were Russians 1000 years ago, I
still fell that I am Hakka, not a Russian.
Best regards from