Hokkien Taiwanese

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Hokkien Taiwanese

ETHNONYMS: Formosan, Changchoujen, Ch'uanchoujen, Quanzhouren, Zhangzhouren, Hoklo, Holo, Daiwanlang


Identification and Location. Hokkien Taiwanese are the Han Chinese descendents of immigrants from Fujian (Fukien, or "Hokkien" in Fukienese) Province, who came to the island beginning in the seventeenth century from the prefecturai cities Zhangzhou and Quanzhou and their surrounding regions. Slightly larger than the combined states of Maryland and Delaware at 12,460 square miles (32,260 square kilometers), Taiwan straddles the Tropic of Cancer (23° N latitude), the same latitude as Burma and the Bahamas. The island is an outlying extension of the rugged Fujian countryside, separated from the mainland by the shallow and treacherous Strait of Taiwan. Taiwan's massive Central Mountain Range covers two-thirds of the island and contains forty peaks over 9,800 feet (3,000 meters), including East Asia's tallest, Yushan at 13,110 feet (3,997 meters). The island's semitropical climate is affected by two major weather patterns that produce dry and wet seasons in the north and south at opposite times of the year. Southwestern monsoonal winds bring thundershowers and storms to southern Taiwan in the summer and a Siberian outflow brings a cool steady drizzle to northern Taiwan in the winter. The monthly average temperature for Taipei in 2001 ranged from 62° Fahrenheit (16.4° Celsius) in January to 85° Fahrenheit (29.3° Celsius) in August. Typhoons and earthquakes are frequent occurrences.

Demography. Hokkien Taiwanese constitute 70 percent of Taiwan's 22,277,000 (2000 estimate) people. Most of the population is confined to the one-quarter of the island that is arable, along the west coast; in the Taizhong, Pulì, and Taibei basins; and in the Taidong rift valley. Other ethnic groups include the Austronesian original inhabitants (yuan zhumin ), Hakka Taiwanese (keren ), and mainlanders (waishengren ), who constitute 2, 13, and 15 percent of the population, respectively. About 60 percent of the population lives in the four metropolitan areas of T'aipei (Taipei, or Taibei), Kaoshiung (Gaoxiong), T'aichung (Taizhong), and T'ainan (Tainan). The 2000 estimated birthrate is 14.42 births per 1,000 population.

Linguistic Identification. Hokkien Taiwanese speak a Southern Min language (Nanminhua ), which they share with people living south of the Min River in Fujian Province. (Nanminhua-speaking people can also be found in Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Philippines, Indonesia and Myanmar, and total 49,000,000 [1991] worldwide.) Nanminhua is part of the Sino-Tibetan language family. It is a tonal language of eight tones distinct from Mandarin (four tones) and Cantonese (seven tones) with which it shares 50 percent cognates. There are some dialectical differences in vocabulary and pronunciation between people from Quanzhou and Zhangzhou prefectures. During the Japanese occupation (1895-1945) education was in Japanese and older Hokkien Taiwanese speak Japanese. After 1945 the language of education, government, and culture became Mandarin.

History and Cultural Relations

Although the Pescadores (Penghu Islands) in the Taiwan Strait were settled as early as the twelfth century, the island of Taiwan was home to only a few hundred Hokkien fishermen, traders, and pirates until the Dutch established a trading factory near present day Tainan in 1624. The Dutch built two forts and encouraged Hokkien immigrants to settle the surrounding countryside. During the 38-year Dutch occupation the number of settlers increased to 35,000. The estimated west coast aborigine population at the time was almost 70,000. In 1662 the Dutch lost their lucrative trading post when fleeing Ming loyalists under Zheng Chengkong (Cheng Ch'eng-kung, or Koxinga) took over the island. Taiwan became a Zheng kingdom and outpost of Ming resistance to the Qing dynasty. The Zheng continued to expand Hokkien settlement, establishing garrisons to the north and east of Tainan. The population increased to 120,000 by 1683 when Qing forces drove the Zhengs off the island, incorporating Taiwan into the empire as a prefecture of Fujian Province. Qing migration policy vacillated between ones of opened and closed doors. Concerned with the possibility of Taiwan becoming another rebel outpost, the court favored an unpopulated, undeveloped, and passive Taiwan. However, the Fujian gentry-merchant class saw the island as a source of much needed grain, as well as profit for developers and traders. Even when the ban on migration was in effect, a steady flow of immigrants continued to come to the island. Many were refugees from the clan wars being waged in their home districts. New immigrants settled further out on the coastal plain leasing "deer fields" from the original inhabitants, which they reclaimed and turned into paddy.

The aborigines' loss of territory undermined their productive capacity based on hunting and swidden cultivation. Impoverished, they became attached to Hokkien families or left for a new life in the mountains. Some fought and rebelled. Fighting became endemic to the region as settlers also battled amongst themselves over rights to land, water, and markets, dividing along subethnic lines: Hakka, Quanzhou, and Zhangzhou. Several families rose to prominence out of this conflict and tied themselves to the fortunes of the camphor and tea trade. The Sino-French War of 1884-1885, which saw fighting on the Pescadores and northern Taiwan, prompted the Imperial Court to reorganize Taiwan's administration and upgrade it to provincial status. However, this new status was short-lived when Taiwan became annexed by Japan following China's defeat in the Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895). Over the next ten years, the Japanese pacified the island. They built irrigation systems, hospitals, post offices, railroads, harbors, and sugar mills, but frustrated the rise of an indigenous bourgeoisie.

Taiwan returned to China after Japan's defeat in World War II. In 1947, a year before the Chinese Nationalist (Guomindangy, or KMT) army retreated en masse to Taiwan, the local garrison waged a murderous campaign wiping out local leadership. This violent rampage infamously known as 2-28 was in response to a general uprising by Taiwanese set off by an incident on 28 February 1947 in which KMT policemen killed a woman vendor for selling contraband cigarettes. The Korean War renewed the United States interest in Chiang Kai-shek and Taiwan, and hundreds of millions of U.S. aid dollars poured in to build up the economy and military. When the aid was phased out in 1963, Taiwan switched to export manufacturing as a source of foreign revenue and in a short time became a highly successful supplier of inexpensive light consumer goods to an affluent U.S. market. Taiwan's per capita Gross National Product increased from $400 (U.S.) in 1962 to over $13,000 (U.S.) in 1996. Economic success and political oppression fueled a growing Taiwanese consciousness and independence movement, which culminated in the election of Taiwan's first Taiwanese (Hakka) president Lee Teng-hui in 1990 and the first Hokkien Taiwanese president and opposition party leader, Chen Shuibian in 2000.


Hokkien Taiwanese are found throughout the island, with concentrations on the west coast and in the Taipei and Taizhong basins. Of the Hokkien immigrants, the Quanzhou people came earlier and settled along the coast. The later arriving Zhangzhou people settled in the interior closer to the mountains. Built around a common wellhead, villages were nucleated, which also afforded protection against aborigine attacks. In the north, where settlement occurred later, there was less danger from native attacks and more abundant water, which resulted in more dispersed settlements. Wide fast running rivers on the west coast form natural borders between counties, each with a hierarchical settlement pattern of capital city, market towns, and villages. Housing varies from the older U-shaped single level compounds built around a courtyard, to multistory town houses (yanglou ), and large urban apartment buildings.


Subsistence. Until 1950s, Hokkien Taiwanese were farmers, growing rice and vegetables for their own consumption and for sale in markets. Fish in rivers, lakes, and the ocean were another source of food. Once a major exporter of rice, Taiwan now imports grain as rural households have reallocated their labor to more profitable industrial work.

Commercial Activities. Growing and milling sugar cane was introduced by the Dutch and expanded under the Japanese, who built plantations, but left most of the cane cultivation to individual households. In the colonial period, Taiwan was the world's largest producer and exporter of sugar after Cuba and Java. Other major industries in the nineteenth century were tea and camphor. Fish farming occurs on the west coast tidal flats where the government has built a vast checkerboard of levies. A significant ocean fishing industry is based on the northern and eastern coasts. The interior mountains have become an area of fruit growing, including such varieties as apples, pears, guava, pomegranates, star fruit, mangoes, and pineapples. Today Taiwan is a modern market economy with national brands, chain stores, and a stock market.

Industrial Arts. Temples display a variety of Hokkien craft skills from the intricately carved wooden ceilings, walls, doors, altars, palanquins, and josses; and colorful murals and glass (later plastic) roof statuary. Household-based straw hat making was a major industry between the wars and afterwards turned into shoe making. Hokkien have responded to government incentives and opportunities afforded by export markets to produce a variety of light consumer goods, from umbrellas to computers. In homes, workshops, and small factories men operate machines that mold, extrude, or stamp the plastic and metal components, and women assemble them to produce an array of electronic and other consumer goods for export.

Trade. Hokkien Taiwanese have produced goods for export since the Dutch era. Rice, sugar, tea, and camphor were major export items in the nineteenth century. The Japanese increased the production of these commodities and those of processed foods. In the second half of the twentieth century the United States opened up its large market, which absorbed anything and everything the Taiwanese could manufacture. Such opportunity was a spur to industry, which expanded to every corner of the island as manufacturers utilized the labor of farmers and housewives. Taiwan's tight-knit society allowed for friends, family, neighbors, schoolmates and in-laws to be tapped as workers, investors, or important links to foreign buyers. By the end of the century Taiwan's accumulated foreign reserves from trade was over $100 billion (U.S.), the largest in the world after Japan. Taiwan's current affluence has priced it out of the world's cheap labor market. Entrepreneurs have gone abroad connecting with Hokkien communities across southeast Asia and establishing factories in Fujian Province, Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, and the Philippines.

Division of Labor. The Japanese discouraged development of a local entrepreneurial class with laws forbidding independently owned Taiwanese businesses. Hokkien Taiwanese became farmers and workers. The policy was reversed by the Chinese KMT, who supported a strong indigenous entrepreneurial class and forbid direct investment by foreign companies. The KMT also implemented land reform, returning land to the tiller and giving former landlords stock in national companies that the KMT took over from the Japanese. The savings farmers accumulated became seed money for rural industry a generation later. Although excluded from government, Hokkien Taiwanese became active participants in Taiwan's industrial development. The labor-intensive production of light consumer goods for export required minimal capital outlay. More important was the labor recruited through preexisting kin ties and other social and religious networks that ultimately connected them to foreign buyers. Whereas most manufacturers were Hokkien, traders were mostly mainlanders who had the English skills and familiarity with foreigners. However Hokkien Taiwanese quickly acquired the necessary skills and knowledge to become traders as well. They also had the added advantage of coming from the same community as manufacturers. Because export manufacturers had no control of market share to protect their capital investment they spread the risk by dispersing ownership across tens of thousands of small and medium-sized enterprises, which helped to spread prosperity across the island. A new middle class of Hokkien entrepreneurs rose in the cities and countryside and has made Taichung in central Taiwan one of the wealthiest cities on the island.

Land Tenure. Real property is a male birthright in Hokkien Taiwan's patrilineal society, with the oldest son as designated caretaker of aging parents usually getting a larger share. Property that is acquired by a family in its lifetime might be distributed differently based on individual contribution to the household and may include women. In the pioneer period, patent holders held the subsurface rights, or "bones of the field" (tiangu ) and settlers the surface rights, or skin of the field (tianpi ). Settlers also leased land to tenants creating a three-tier system of land tenure. Japanese land reform got rid of the patent holder and later the KMT land reform did the same with the landlord. One land reform case had to untangle seventeen different claims to the same piece of land, which was not uncommon. The new Constitution protects private property rights.


Kinship and Descent. For Hokkien Taiwanese kinship is conceived in relational terms between part and whole. The word fangzu refers to the relationship between family and lineage, the former embedded in the latter. The same term is used to refer to the relationship between son and father, the son's nuclear family and the extended family of the father, the extended family in relation to the localized lineage, and the localized lineage to the larger dispersed lineage. Fang also refers to the son's room within his father's house, his share of his father's estate, and the father's estate that has been separated out from other lineage holdings. In these latter instances it refers to the material basis of the respective kin group. Kinship is more than family relationships; it is the system by which local society reproduces itself, including the inherent rights and means for the group to survive and prosper, whether those means are land or machines.

Kinship Terminology. Patrilineal system employs a Sudanese kin term classification system in which kin terms distinguish between mother's and father's side of the family and between older and younger siblings on the father's side.

Marriage and Family

Marriage. Historically, three patterns of marriage were practiced. Major marriage was the most common and involved a matchmaker, engagement, both a dowry and bride-price, and wedding ceremony. Minor marriage (simpua ) involved parents adopting an infant girl and raising her to adulthood and then marrying her off to their son. Uxorilocal marriage involved a man marrying into his bride's family, which contravened patrilineal values. Minor marriage was a means to avoid the high costs of a major marriage and perhaps more importantly it allowed a mother-in-law to raise an obedient daughter-in-law. Uxorilocal marriage was an option for poor men with no property or family and, on the bride's side, for a family without an heir or in need of extra male labor. Universal education and industrialization has affected marriage patterns by increasing women's value in the house-hold beyond that of the bearers of children for the patrilineage. Working in factories or offices, women became an additional source of income for the household. Ostensibly working to pay off their families for raising them and to put together a dowry, young women since the 1960s are marrying later. A falling fertility rate and rising divorce rates are other trends that indicate increasing female autonomy.

Domestic Unit. The ideal family (called "joint" or "grand" family) consists of parents and married sons and their families all living together under one roof. As families grew in size new wings were built onto the existing house creating a distinctive U-shaped plan of rectangular buildings surrounding and interior courtyard. In towns and cities, families adopted the Japanese townhouse and added floors as the family expanded. Grand families were rare in the past and rarer still in the modern industrial period when the family is no longer the basic unit of production. Although the government has encouraged the spread of "household factories," these workshops draw their labor from the larger community, including affines, and are not strictly a "family" unit. Today, the most common form of family is the stem family in which parents live with one married son, usually the oldest. Married siblings continue to keep close ties although they may live in separate households, and as is often the case, in separate towns or cities.

Socialization. Children are treated leniently until six years of age, when they are thought capable of understanding reason. Fathers are affectionate with both sons and daughters until that age, after which they begin to distance themselves from their sons, but continue to be affectionate with daughters. The situation is reversed for mothers who begin to burden their daughters with domestic chores in order to instill a good work ethic expected of a good wife and cultivate a close attachment with sons who are their protectors in old age. All schooling is in Mandarin and focuses on Chinese culture and history. Classes are coed and girls quickly learn that they are by no means inferior to boys. At home children learn that they are bearers of family reputation and honor and must behave themselves accordingly in public. Children are shamed into correcting bad behavior.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Unrelated or distantly-related immigrants coalesced around gods whose idols they brought with them from the mainland. Many of the gods were originally historical figures and builders of community in the Song dynasty (960-1279) when Fujian was a frontier. On Taiwan, immigrants passed the idol from household to household until the community was wealthy enough to build a temple. Hamlets, villages, towns, and cities each had a shrine or temple at which residents worshipped and donated alms. Surname groups encompassing several villages or towns formed for defensive purposes. Surname groups were nominally kin associations based on shared surnames and common origin on the mainland. Still larger associations and socio-religious networks formed around the more famous gods, creating a basis for regional intercourse. The institutionalization of lineages and building of lineage halls occurred only after land was reclaimed, irrigation systems built, markets established, and wealth accumulatedin some areas, as late as one hundred years after the first village temples were built. Japanese administration replaced the governing role of surname groups.

Political Organization. Between 1947 and 1987, the Hokkien Taiwanese suffered under martial law. Obsessed with retaking the Chinese mainland, the KMT would not counter any opposition or dissent. Many indigenous leaders were hounded, threatened, forced into exile, and murdered. Opposition parties were forbidden, although people could run for office as "non-party" candidates. Hokkien Taiwanese were excluded from national politics. Political factions based on personal networks and loyalties characterized local politics. Leaders were dependent on the patronage of the KMT to gain and hold office. The KMT continually switched allegiances to undermine the growth of local power bases. In 1987 the government legalized opposition parties and Hokkien and Hakka Taiwanese jointly formed their own party, the Democratic Progressive Party, or DPP. Emergency Rule was lifted in 1991 followed by constitutional amendments in 1992, 1994, 1997, and 1999, which opened up the government to all Taiwanese and strengthened civil rights. In 2000, Chen Shui-bian, leader of the DPP and a Hokkien Taiwanese was elected president of the Republic of China.

Social Conflict. As the west coast plain filled with immigrants, competition for land, water, and markets became intense. The immigrant population nearly tripled between 1756 and 1824, increasing from 600,147 to 1,786,883. Between 1684 and 1895, 159 armed clashes and uprisings occurred on the island, most concentrated in the mid-Qing period between 1768 and 1860. In this period established landlords, through their control of religious associations and secret societies, mobilized fighting bands to protect their property and maintain control of water rights. Local officials had little recourse but to play one band against another. By the end of the mid-Qing period wealth was concentrated in the hands of a few families too powerful to challenge. After 1895, the Japanese carried out an island-wide pacification program ridding the island of all "bandits." The KMT intensified surveillance and waged a secret campaign of terror against political dissidents. A mass demonstration in 1977 in the town of Chungli forced the KMT to rethink their repressive policies and begin to share power with the Hokkien Taiwanese and other ethnic groups.

Religion and Arts

Religious Beliefs. Hokkien Taiwanese practice so-called folk or popular religion, which includes beliefs from China's three major religions (the Three Teachings, or Sanjiao): Buddhism, Daoism, and Confucianism, with animist beliefs in ghosts, ancestors, and nature spirits. Hamlets, villages, and towns are all organized around the public worship of particular gods. Also, individual supplicants can approach gods privately to make personal requests and vows. God cults have their origin in the propitiation of hungry ghosts, which eventually become gods if and when their following increases in size. More than one god can adorn an altar, which attests to the historical connections among communities. The most popular god is Mazu, the god of seafarers. Guangong is the god of war and trade and is usually the primary god in the market town temple. As a community's fortune waxes and wanes, so does the fame of its god. More famous gods attract followers from a wide area, which served to broaden social intercourse and commerce, and in the post-World War II period, the spread of rural industry. In this latter period, new religions emerged to accommodate rapid social and economic changes. One new religion, Yiguandao, has roots in millenarian sectarian movements of the past. It blesses all initiates with the Dao and promises release from the cycles of death and rebirth.

Religious Practitioners. Sanjiao has its Buddhist monks and nuns and Taoist and Confucian priests. Community temples have shamans, or tonqi, who practice trance, spirit writing, and other forms of communication with gods and spirits. The charismatic masters of Yiguandao draw around them disciples creating an order of religious lineages.

Ceremonies. Family members living in different parts of the island gather for New Year's, beginning on the eve of the lunar new year and ending two weeks later with the Lantern Festival. Families also gather for the spring cleaning of ancestral graves (qingming ). God's birthdays are also celebrated at temples and with street processions and banquets. The more devoted travel on a pilgrimage to the god's original temple, usually located in southern Taiwan.

Arts. Pictorial art is influenced by nineteenth-century European, classical Chinese, folk, and modern painting. Fukienese opera is performed live and with puppets. Dance companies incorporate folk, modern, and aboriginal dance themes and styles in their work. Folk, popular, and classical Western and Chinese music are also widely performed. Popular television series have classical themes but also depict contemporary scenes such as the life of a family troop of traveling puppeteers or the dorm life of women factory workers.

Medicine. Healthcare mixes Western and Chinese medical practices. Western missionaries and doctors founded the first hospitals along the west coast and the Japanese established island-wide clinics, hospitals, and the healthcare system. Traditional Chinese medicine makes use of herbal remedies, acupuncture, moxibustion, and millennia-old yin-yang (five elements philosophy). Temple shamans also dispense charms to cure illness and gods can be asked to cure as well.

Death and Afterlife. Buddhist belief in reincarnation and karma, Confucian burial and mourning practices, Taoist propitiation of ghosts, and ancestor worship are all part of Hokkien Taiwanese death and afterlife. Graves are situated in places with good geomantic properties. Ancestral tablets are kept on the family altar. Those who die without a family to worship them and incorporate them into the domestic realmas was the case for many early pioneersbecome wandering ghosts, which are propitiated in a three-day ceremony in the middle of the seventh lunar month. Cults form to appease particularly ornery ghosts, ultimately bringing good fortune to its members. Around every ten years the gods are carried out of the temple and marched down the streets to shoo away the town's over accumulation of hungry ghosts.

For other cultures in Taiwan, see List of Cultures in Volume 10 and under specific culture names in Volume 5, East and Southeast Asia.


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