Monday, January 15, 2007

The Truth about the Hakka

Some interesting facts about the often overlooked Hakka:
-They are a migratory society
-They are the source of many influential revolutionary and political leaders.
-Traditionally, they did not practice foot binding, which suggests the women had to work

Hakka or 客家 (guest families) are a sub-group of Chinese. Originally resettled by the Chinese central government, it was believed they kept the name because of being outsiders to the areas where they finally settled.

They've been described as the Jews of Asia due to their persecution in history:

"Hakkas are considered in mainstream Chinese society as a taboo caste or "the Jews of China" due to their forced migratory patterns and systematic victimization by other Chinese ethnic groups."

"[Due to persecution,] the Hakka people placed a greater reliance on the internal strengths of their own customs and cultural identity"

Also: "Hakka dissenters featured in the anti-government rebellion and subsequently were persecuted following the failure of the Tai Ping revolution. One notable feature of the Hakka culture was their marked embrace of the Christian faith which at the time of anti-Western sentiment in the Qing dynasty added more cultural impetus for their persecution."

As relative outcasts in many ways, he Hakkas have emigrated to many regions worldwide, much in line with their migratory nature, being a larger proportion of overseas Chinese in some countries.

One last interesting thing to note is, for the size of their population, there are quite a few notable Hakka. To name a few: Hong Xiuquan (leader of the failed Taiping Rebellion), Mao Zedong, Lee Denghui and Lee Kwan Yew. Others, including singers and actors, are here:

Non-Hakka in Taiwan generally perpetuate the usual stereotypes (that might have been associated to Jews in other places): Hakka are stingy people and keep to themselves, intermarrying rather than going outside their culture, and they are not to be trusted. How much this is really true remains something that is best determined on a case by case basis. It could be the typical case that other cultures are jealous of the remarkable success of some Hakka and just propagate these kinds of things. The proud Hakka that I know are friendly, open and hard-working.

One student has suggested to me that Hakka language's pronunciation most resembles the court language of the Tang or Sung Dynasty and may have been the official language of that time. There may be some truth to this but also a whole load of disagreement too:

"Actually, there is only one 'north' imperial language but this language has evolved throughout time to become the mandarin of today.

During the tang dynasty, the imperial language probably sounded closest to cantonese, during the sung dynasty probably sounded closest to hakka. My assumption if you look at the link that I provided earlier are as follows.

Qin ---> Cantonese ---> Hakka/Gan ---> Mandarin

During the progression, you notice that several mutations occur [in pronunciation]"

These days "younger Hakka speakers [also] face alienation from their own mother tongue" due to pressure from larger language and cultural groups surrounding them. Due to the numbers game they are doomed to falling into the giant vat of soy paste that is Chinese society.

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