OOI Giok Ling

The Hakka are an ethnolinguistic minority group. About 40 million live in China, mostly in the south, but it is thought that even larger Hakka populations exist outside China than within the country, in Malaysia, Australia, Canada, and the United States. They are known for their ethnic solidarity; the government considers them a part of the Han majority.

The Hakka are a Chinese ethnolinguistic minority group. The word Hakka means “guest people” or “newcomers” in Yue (Cantonese) and reflects their migration from central to southern China from about the ninth century into the early twentieth century. They tended to settle in distinct Hakka communities. About 40 million Hakka live in China. Most live in southern China, with Guangdong Province having the greatest concentration, particularly in northern Meizhou Prefecture. Sizeable populations also live in Fujian Province, Jiangxi Province, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Hainan Province, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. More Hakka may live outside of China than inside it, with large overseas communities in Malaysia, the United States, Canada, and Australia. The Hakka language is classified with Yue and Min as a southern Chinese language.

As an ethnolinguistic minority and late arrivals in southern China, the Hakka often had tense and sometimes violent relations with the Yue- and Min-speaking Han. The Han considered the Hakka to be inferior and a tribal people. Research indicates that their origins are Han Chinese, and the government classifies them as Han. Hakka men and women were known as skilled and hardworking farmers who grew sweet potatoes, rice, and vegetables on harsh land ignored by non-Hakka farmers. They also often served in the military and outside China worked in construction and on plantations. In cities Hakka have been notably successful in academia, politics, and the professions. Well-known Hakka include China’s late leader Deng Xiaoping; Lee Teng-hui, Taiwan’s former president; Lee Kwan Yew, Singapore’s president; and Ne Win, president of Myanmar (Burma).

Both inside and outside China the Hakka are known for their ethnic solidarity, which may be a product of centuries of discrimination by the Han. Hakka interests are advanced by the Tsung Tsin (Cong-zheng) Association and the United Hakka Association.

Further Reading

Constable, N. (Ed.). (1994). Guest people: Studies of Hakka Chinese identity. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Leong, S. T. (1997). Migration and ethnicity in Chinese history: Hakkas, Pengmin, and their neighbours. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Pan, L. (Ed.). (1998). The encyclopedia of the Chinese overseas. Singapore: Chinese Heritage Centre.

Source: Ooi, Giok Ling. (2009). Hakka. In Linsun Cheng, et al. (Eds.), Berkshire Encyclopedia of China, pp. 979–979. Great Barrington, MA: Berkshire Publishing.

Hakka (Kèjiārén 客家人)|Kèjiārén 客家人 (Hakka)

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