March 16 Hakka Culture, Taipei

A short walk from Harmony’s apartment in Taipei is a Hakka Cultural Park. This is a cute park where you can hang out, or take the big, beautiful bridge over the highway to get to the riverside park. The riverside park has a great walking and biking trail that runs along the river all the way through the center of Taipei. I have gone biking or walking along this path every time I have visited Harmony here in Taipei. And Harmony goes jogging along the river nearly every day. So we pass through this Hakka Cultural Park often.

In the past,I have always just walked through this park on my way to the bridge to get to the riverside park. But this time, Jeff, Harmony, and I decided to stop and explore the Hakka Cultural Park.  We learned a lot about the Hakka culture, and also about Jeff’s ancestors!

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Ann and Harmony standing on the bridge between the Hakka Cultural Park and the riverside park.

The Hakka  are Han Chinese who speak the Hakka language and have links to the provincial areas of Jiangxi, Guangxi, Sichuan,, Hunan, and Fujian in China.

The Chinese characters for Hakka (客家) literally means “guest families”. The Hakka’s ancestors were often said to have arrived from what is today’s central and northern China centuries ago. In a series of migrations, the Hakkas moved, settled in their present locations in southern China, and then often migrated overseas to various countries throughout the world, including Taiwan. The worldwide population of Hakkas is about 80 million, though the number of Hakka-language speakers is far fewer nowadays. Hakka people have had a significant influence on the course of Chinese and world history. In particular, they have been a source of many revolutionary, government, and military leaders.

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A Hakka style flower motif done in tiles on the sidewalk at the entrance to the Hakka Cultural Park.

Since the Qin Dynasty (221-207 BC), the ancestors of the Hakka have migrated southwards several times because of social unrest, upheaval and invasions. Subsequent migrations also occurred at the end of the Tang Dynasty in the 10th century and during the end of the Northern Song Dynasty in 1125. A further southward migration may have continued when the Mongols established the Yuan Dynasty in 1271. Hakka have suffered persecution and discrimination ever since they started migrating to southern parts of China.

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A reproduction of a grain drying building in Hakka Cultural Park.

During the reign of the Kangxi Emperor (1654–1722) in the Qing Dynasty, the coastal areas of China were evacuated for almost a decade, due to the dangers posed by the remnants of the Ming court who had fled to the island of Taiwan. When the threat was eliminated, the Kangxi Emperor issued an edict to re-populate the coastal regions. To aid the move, each family was given monetary incentives to begin their new lives; newcomers were registered as “Guest Families” (客戶, kèhù).

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An example of Hakka style terraced gardening in Hakka Cultural Park. And yes, vegetables are planted and cultivated in those terraced garden beds!

The Hakka who settled in the mountainous region of south-western Fujian province developed a unique form of architecture known as tu lou (土樓), literally meaning earthen structures. The tu lou are round or square and were designed as a combined large fortress and multi-apartment building complex. The structures typically had only one entrance-way, with no windows at ground level. Each floor served a different function: the first floor contained a well and livestock, the second food storage, and the third and higher floors living spaces. Tu-lou were built to withstand attack from bandits and marauders.

Hakka people built several types of Tu-lou and fortified villages in the southwestern Fujian and adjacent areas of Jiangxi and Guangdong. A representative sample of Tu-lou (consisting of 10 buildings or building groups) in Fujian were inscribed in 2008 as an UNESCO World Heritage Site. Jeff and I are hoping to get there to see it sometime soon. If I do, I will post the photos on my blog, as there are no replicas of Tu-lou in the Hakka Cultural Park!

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Statue of children playing in Hakka Cultural Park.

When Hakka expanded into areas with already existing populations, there was often little agricultural land left for them to farm. As a result, many Hakka men turned towards careers in the military or in public service. Consequently, the Hakka culturally emphasized education.

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Statue of a boy with water buffalo in Hakka Cultural Park.

Due to their agrarian lifestyle, Hakka have a unique architecture based on defense and communal living, and a cuisine based on an equal balance between meat and fresh vegetables. Hakka cuisine concentrates on the textures of food. Preserved meats feature in many Hakka delicacies. Hakka cuisine may be described as outwardly simple but tasty. The skill in Hakka cuisine lies in the ability to cook meat to bring out its full flavor without heavy spices.

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Harmony and Jeff relax inside the traditional money symbol in the park. They are hoping that their relaxed attitude will lead to more money flowing their way!

In the second half of the 20th century, a stronger emphasis has been placed on Hakka cultural preservation through folk art and customs. A Hakka language dictionary was even completed in 1997 by Dr. C.F. Lau. This Hakka Cultural Park was built around that time. We went inside the Hakka Cultural Center in the park.

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Jeff and Harmony stand in front of a dragon made of straw in front of the Hakka Cultural center in the park.

Jeff and Harmony spent some time speaking to the women inside the Hakka Cultural Center because Jeff was curious about something he read on a sign next to his second ancestral home in Fengyuan, Taiwan, It said that the home was a classic example of Hakka architecture in Taiwan.. He had never heard anything about being Hakka from his family. In fact, being Hakka was something that was seen as not desirable, according to his uncle. Were they really Hakka?

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Fabric with examples of Hakka floral art, hanging in the Hakka Cultural Center.

In Taiwan, Hakka people comprise about 15% of the population and are descended largely from Guangdong and Fujian immigrants. They form the second-largest ethnic group on the island. One of the places that these early Hakka immigrants settled was in Fengyuan. In recent decades, many Hakka have moved to the largest metropolitan areas, like many other Taiwanese.

Many people in Taiwan are of mixed Hoklo, Hakka, and Taiwanese aboriginal  heritage. Approximately half of the population of Hakka in Taiwan also speak Taiwanese, and so many Taiwanese speaking households who have descend from Hakka families in Taiwan have lost their Hakka language speaking ability a few generations ago.

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Close up of one of the beautiful flowers in the hanging fabric.

The religious practices of Hakka people are almost identical to those of other Han Chinese. Honoring ancestors is the primary form of religious expression. The one difference is that the Hakka do their annual grave-sweeping ceremony earlier than the traditional weekend when this is done by other Han Chinese. (I will write more about the grave sweeping in my next blog entry.)

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This is a typical example of an area set up to honor the ancestors inside of a Hakka home.

So, was the Lu Family in Taiwan Hakka?

They migrated to Taiwan from Fujian, China, in the 18th century, as did many Hakka living  in Taiwan. Check.

They settled in Fengyuan, where many Hakka settled when they came to Taiwan. Check.

They highly valued education. Their third ancestral home had the largest library in Taiwan. Check.

They do their grave-sweeping earlier than the traditional date in the Han Chinese calendar, as the Hakka do. Check.

Did they speak the Hakka language? Jeff did not know. But he asked his cousin when we went to the grave sweeping ceremony on Sunday. And his cousin told him that , yes, his wife’s grandmother understood  Hakka, because her parents, his wife’s great-grandparents, spoke Hakka. Check.

So, yes, the Lu family is a part of the Hakka minority in Taiwan!

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A dragon hanging from the ceiling in the Hakka Cutural Center.

And Jeff’s uncle has no reason to be embarrassed or ashamed of being Hakka. I looked on Wilipedia and found that famous Hakka include some of the amazing people listed below. If you want to see the more extensive list, look it up on Wikipedia. I would be very proud to belong to a group with members like these people!

Famous Hakka include:

Dr. Sun Yatsen 孫中山/孙中山(1886-1925; Zhongshan, Guangdong; Hakka pronunciation: Soon Tsung San), Founding father of modern China.

Charlie Soong 宋嘉樹/宋嘉树 (1863-1918; Wenchang, Hainan; Hakka pronunciation: Soong Ka Su), Financier and staunch supporter in the early days of Kuomintang Father of the Soong Sisters, who along with their husbands, were the most influential figures of China in the early 20th century.

Soong Ai-ling 宋藹齡/宋蔼龄 (1890-1973; Wenchang, Hainan; born in Shanghai; Hakka pronunciation: Soong Oi Lin), Eldest of the Soong Sisters; Wife of H H Kung.

Soong Ching-ling 宋慶齡/宋庆龄 (1893-1981; Wenchang, Hainan; born in Kunshan, Jiangsu; Hakka pronunciation: Soong Khin Lin), Second of the Soong Sisters; Wife of Dr. Sun Yatsen.

Soong Mai-ling 宋美齡/宋美龄 (1898-2003; Wenchang, Hainan; Hakka pronunciation: Soong Mui Lin), Youngest of the Soong Sisters; Wife of Chiang Kai-shek.

Xue Yue 薛岳 (1896-1998; Lechang, Guangdong), Nationalist China most outstanding general during second Sino-Japanese War; Nicknamed “Patton of Asia”.

Lee Teng-hui  李登辉[ (1923-; ancestral Yongding, Fujian; born in Sanzhi, New Taipei, Taiwan), President of the Republic of China, 1988–2000; First ethnically Taiwanese president of the Republic of China; First freely elected president of an ethnically Han Chinese society.

Annette Lu 呂秀蓮/吕秀莲[(1944-; ancestral Nanjing, Fujian; born in Taoyuan, Taiwan), Vice-President, Republic of China 2000–2008.

Deng Xiaoping 鄧小平/邓小平[4] (1904-1997; Guang An, Sichuan; Hakka pronunciation: Thien Siau Phin), a prominent Chinese revolutionary, politician, pragmatist and reformer, as well as the late leader of the Communist Party of China (CPC). Paramount Leader of the People’s Republic of China from 1978 to the early 1990s.

Michael Chang (1972—; New Delhi/Taiwan-Hakka (Mother) & Chaozhou/Taiwan-Teochew (Father), born in Hoboken, NJ, United States), former professional tennis player, youngest Grand Slam Champion ever.

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