> topics > History

Origin of Hakka sub-ethnic group dates back to Ming era

REN CHONGYUE | 2019-09-23
(Chinese Social Sciences Today)

The Tulou is a unique reflection of communal living and defensive needs, as well as a harmonious man-nature relationship. Photo: XINHUA


 

The Han people in the Central Plains moved south many times in history and settled in southern Jiangxi, western Fujian, southern Fujian and the Lingnan area, forming a special sub-ethnic group—the Hakka people. How did the Hakka come into being? How to define the Hakka? There are roughly six views on this issue, but no consensus.

 

Song Dynasty
Lo Hsiang-lin (1906–78), one of the most renowned researchers in Hakka language and culture, wrote in his book The Origin of Hakka that “the formation of Hakka dates to the Five Dynasties (907–960) and the early Song Dynasty (960–1297).” Taiwanese scholar Chen Yundong also wrote in his Hakka People: “It was only after the upheaval of the Five Dynasties and the unification of China by the emperor Taizu of the Song Dynasty that the Hakka people evolved from other ethnic groups into their own. It was at this time that the name ‘Hakka’ was established.”


In his essay on the formation of the Hakka people, Wu Fuwen wrote, “The Hakka ethnic group formed in the late Tang Dynasty (618–907) through the Northern Song Dynasty.” He argued that the scale of Hakka ancestors migrating from the late Tang Dynasty to the Northern Song Dynasty had the power to form an ethnic group. From this broad distribution, the Hakka people basically occupied the border areas of today’s Fujian, Guangdong and Jiangxi provinces.


Meanwhile, unique cultural traditions began to take shape. Psychologically, the Hakka people began to feel at home in the new settlements. However, Wu failed to include a discussion of dialects, making his paper somewhat incomplete.


In October 1997, at an academic seminar in Nianhua, Fujian Province, Lou Meizhen, a researcher from the Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said that it was during the Song Dynasty that the migrants from the west of the Central Plains came to the south and west of Jiangxi Province in large numbers.


Due to inconvenient transportation, their distance from wars and upheavals, and a superior ecological environment, the people from the north reclaimed the uncultivated land and settled down, and they even assimilated some local tribes. From then on, the Hakka and the Gan (Jiangxi) dialects began to separate, and a distinctive Hakka language finally formed.


However, if the formation of the Hakka people occurred from the end of the Five Dynasties to the beginning of the Song Dynasty, were the Han people who went south from the Central Plains after the fall of the Northern Song Dynasty and those who went south after the fall of the Jin Dynasty considered Hakka people? If not, what ethnicity should they belong to? Therefore, it is not appropriate to conclude that the formation of the Hakka people occurred in the early Northern Song Dynasty.


Chinese scholar Liu Shanqun argued that the formation period of the Hakka people was in the Southern Song Dynasty, because the first great migration of Hakka ancestors was very widespread, and many people in the Central Plains did not relocate until the second great migration. In the late Tang Dynasty, two batches of migrants from the Central Plains arrived in the border areas of Fujian and Jiangxi provinces, roughly today’s Ninghua. There were few local residents, and it was a mountainous area. Thanks to the isolated geographical, economic and cultural environment, Hakka ancestors settled down and interacted with each other, producing a new group with Hakka characteristics, and they thus declared the establishment of the Hakka people.


Liu concluded that in the Northern Song Dynasty, the various characteristics of the Hakka people were not very distinctive and complete, but in the Southern Song Dynasty, it is recognized that the Hakka group had come into being.


In my opinion, that is not quite right. This is because in the Southern Song Dynasty, though various characteristics of the Hakka people had surfaced, the large-scale migration from the Central Plains to the south had not yet ended and the name “Hakka” had not yet been coined.

 

Song-Yuan era
When the Northern Song was conquered by the Jurchen, many Han people made their way to the Lingnan area, mainly concentrated in Nanxiong, the border area of the Northern Guangdong and Jiangxi provinces. At the end of the Southern Song Dynasty, the imperial rule was corrupt and the state was weak. The border area of Fujian, Guangdong and Jiangxi became a battlefield, causing many locals to flee, forming a large no-man’s land, where the Hakka ancestors came to live successively. From then on, the Hakka people living in the border areas embarked on a unique development path.


The appearance of “keren,” meaning “guest,” was a prelude to the formation of “kejia,” meaning “guest families.” At this time, the Hakka sub-ethnic group was close to formation, but had not formally used the name “Hakka.” Some scholars believe that the emergence of the “Hakka” name lagged behind that of the Hakka people.


I think that the formation of the Hakka sub-ethnic group and its name should be synchronous. Take the Han ethnicity as an example. The Han ethnicity came into being in the Han Dynasty, and the name of the Han ethnicity also appeared in the Han Dynasty. At the turn of the Song and Yuan dynasties (1206–1368), only the name “keren” had appeared, not “kejia,” which shows that the formation of the Hakka people was still one step away.

 

Late Yuan, early Ming
Chinese scholar Feng Xiuzhen argued that the Hakka sub-ethnic group took shape during the late Yuan Dynasty and the early Ming Dynasty (1368–1644). First, the Hakka people shared a common living area during this period. Some people from the Central Plains entered the border area of Fujian, Guangdong and Jiangxi directly through the Yangtze River valley, whereas the Hakka ancestors living in the border area fled into eastern and northeastern Guangdong Province due to wars. At this point, the large-scale migration movement of the Hakka ancestors ended. A common living area is a precondition for the formation of the Hakka sub-ethnic group.


Second, Feng said the Hakka dialect was formed before the Ming Dynasty. The Hakka dialect is the feature that most distinguishes the Hakka people from other ethnic groups. Some local chronicles compiled during the reign of the Jiajing Emperor of the Ming Dynasty mention the Hakka dialect. However, the Hakka dialect recorded in the local chronicles described things happening in the middle of the Ming Dynasty, not in the early Ming. Therefore, I think this argument is still not quite convincing.

 

Ming Dynasty
Some scholars believe that the Hakka sub-ethnic group formed in the Ming Dynasty when the society was relatively stable. First, from the “Yongjia chaos” in the late Western Jin Dynasty to the early Qing Dynasty, the Han people from the Central Plains had moved south for more than 1,300 years. Before the Yuan Dynasty, the Hakka sub-ethnic group was in its infancy. The maturity of the Hakka occurred after the reign of the Jiajing Emperor. The second is that the Hakka living area had been settled in the border area of Fujian, Guangdong and Jiangxi. The third is Hakka lineage. Fourth, the standard symbol of Hakka culture, the Hakka dialect, had been formed and recognized. The fifth is the formation of distinctive folk customs. For example, the construction of Tulou, a Hakka walled village and the second burial grounds of the Hakka people, demonstrated the Hakka’s distinctive spiritual pursuit and morality.


Wang Dong from East China Normal University shares this view. He argued that “the Hakka dialect could not have come into being earlier than the 14th century, but they could not have come into being later than the 17th century. Therefore, the Hakka dialect probably came into being between the 15th and 16th centuries, equivalent to the middle period of the Ming Dynasty.” Since the Hakka dialect came into being in the middle of Ming Dynasty, and since it is an indispensable part of the formation of the Hakka people, the proposal that the formation of the Hakka sub-ethnic group was in the middle of the Ming Dynasty is relatively objective.

 

Late Ming, early Qing
Liu Zuoquan, who has been engaged in Hakka studies for a long time, believes that “the name ‘Hakka’ did not appear until the 17th century, and it was not mentioned in previous local chronicles.” Similar to this view is Chen Zhiping’s, who said: “Since the end of the Ming Dynasty and the beginning of the Qing Dynasty (1616–1911), the residents living in the border areas of Fujian, Guangdong and Jiangxi provinces were in constant conflict with other ethnic groups in the process of emigration; their sense of unity and cohesion was thus unprecedentedly high. From then on, the term ‘Hakka’ appeared in various documents, and the Hakka group began to form in this period.”


However, as mentioned above, the Hakka dialect has been recorded in local chronicles compiled in the mid-Ming Dynasty, proving that the formation of Hakka sub-ethnic group should occur before the early Qing Dynasty.

 

Guyue tribe
Few hold this final view. Chinese scholar Fang Xuejia argued that the Han people moving south were still small in number compared with locals, so the Hakka community was mainly composed of local Guyue tribes who had been living in the border area of Fujian, Guangzhou and Jiangxi provinces for a long time.


However, the Han people from the Central Plains moved south on a large scale many times, all of which are documented in historical records. It is these Central Plains migrants who moved south in batches who became the Hakka ancestors and eventually formed the Hakka people. It is wrong to ignore this historical fact.


Compared with the whole population in the south, the number of Han people moving here was a minority, but in some specific areas, the Han people were the majority and they were the main body of Hakka people, not the ancient Guyue tribes.


Among the above six views, I think the saying that the Hakka sub-ethnic group was formed in the middle of the Ming Dynasty is most convincing.

 

Ren Chongyue is from the Henan Academy of Social Sciences.

edited by YANG XUE