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ETHNONYMS: Haknyin, K'e-chia, Kejia, Keren, Lairen, Ngai, Xinren


Identification. "Hakka" is the Yue (Cantonese) pronunciation of the term that translates literally as "guests" or "stranger families" or, less literally, as "settlers" or "newcomers." The name "Hakka" (in Mandarin, "Kejia") is likely to have originated from the descriptive term used before the seventeenth century in population registers to distinguish recent immigrants from earlier Yue inhabitants. During the nineteenth century, in certain contexts, the term "Hakka" carried negative implications, but by the early twentieth century, following a period of ethnic mobilization, "Hakka" became more widely accepted as an ethnic label.

Location. Hakka are widely scattered throughout the southeastern provinces of the People's Republic of China (PRC), but most are concentrated in northeastern Guangdong, east of the North River, in the mountainous, less fertile region of Meizhou Prefecture. Meizhou, which includes the seven predominantly Hakka counties that surround Meixian (located at approximately 24° N and 116° E), is considered the Hakka "heartland" and is claimed by many Hakka as their native place. Sizable Hakka populations are also found in southwestern Fujian, southern Jiangxi, eastern Guangxi, Hainan Island, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and, in lesser numbers, in regions of Sichuan and Hunan. By the twentieth century Hakka could be found on virtually every continent, from South and Southeast Asia and the Pacific to Europe, North and South America, Africa, and the Caribbean.

Demography. Estimated at over 38 million in the People's Republic of China in 1990, the Hakka population accounts for approximately 3.7 percent of the total Chinese population. In 1992, the International Hakka Association placed the total Hakka population worldwide at approximately 75 million.

Linguistic Affiliation. Today many Hakka throughout the world no longer speak Hakka, but traditionally the Hakka language was the single most important cultural feature that served to distinguish Hakka from other Chinese. The version of Hakka dialect spoken in Meixian is considered the standard form and can be transcribed into standard Chinese characters as well as other Chinese vernaculars. While many Hakka claim that the Hakka language is more like Mandarin than Cantonese is, linguists classify Hakka as Southern Chinese along with Yue and Min (Hokkien) languages, signifying that these dialects developed from a variety of Chinese spoken in southern China between the first and third centuries a.d. Hakka, once classified by linguists as part of the Gan-Kejia Subgroup, is now considered a separate category.

History and Cultural Relations

The Hakka have had a long history of conflict and competition with other Chinese groups over scarce land and resources. In Fujian and Taiwan they suffered from hostile relations with Min, and in Guangdong they fought with Yue speakers. Hakka-Yue conflicts were particularly violent throughout the middle of the nineteenth century, in the aftermath of the Taiping Rebellion, and during the Hakka-Bendi Wars (1854-1867). At that time, negative stereotypes and descriptions of the Hakka began to appear in both Chinese and foreign texts. The worst insult, which was recounted by Yue to foreign missionaries, was the implication that the Hakka, with their strange language and unfamiliar dress and customs, were not in fact Chinese but were more closely related to other "barbarian" or "tribal" people. Such accusations infuriated the Hakka, who proudly sought to defend their identity and set the record straight. Since then, studies of Hakka history, based largely on genealogical evidence and other historical records, as well as linguistic evidence, support and substantiate Hakka claims to northern Chinese origins. In the People's Republic of China the Hakka are officially included in the category of Han Chinese.

Today most Hakka and non-Hakka scholars agree that the ancestors of those who later became known as "Hakka" were Chinese who came from southern Shanxi, Henan, and Anhui in north-central China. From the "cradle of Chinese civilization," these proto-Hakka gradually moved southward in five successive waves of migration. Historians do not agree, however, on the exact time and sequence of the earliest migrations. Most historians place the first migration during the fourth century at the fall of the Western Jin dynasty, when Hakka ancestors reached as far south as Hubei, south Henan, and central Jiangxi. The next period is less debated. By the late ninth and early tenth centuries, with the disorder created during the late Tang dynasty, the ancestors of the present-day Hakka moved farther south into Jiangxi, Fujian, and Guangdong. The third wave, which stretched from the beginning of the twelfth century to the middle of the seventeenth, was caused by the exodus of the Southern Song dynasty and their supporters in a southward flight from the Mongol invasion. This dislodged people from Jiangxi and southwestern Fujian and forced them further into the northern and eastern quarters of Guangdong. By the end of the Yuan dynasty (a.d. 1368), northern and eastern Guangdong were exclusively Hakka. The fourth wave, which lasted from the mid-seventeenth century to the mid-nineteenth century, began with the Manchu conquest, and during the Qing dynasty, migration expanded into the central and coastal areas of Guangdong, Sichuan, Guangxi, Hunan, Taiwan, and southern Guizhou. By the time of the fifth wave, beginning at the middle of the nineteenth century, conflicts between the Hakka and the Yue increased. Triggered by population pressure, the Hakka-Bendi (Yue) Wars, and the large Hakka involvement in the Taiping Rebellion, the fifth wave of migration sent Hakka emigrants to seek better lives farther afieldto the southern part of Guangdong, to Hainan Island, and overseas to Southeast Asia (especially Malaya and Borneo). The establishment of the People's Republic of China and China's announcement of the intent to reclaim Hong Kong in 1997 have created what might be called the sixth wave of migration, which has continued the flow of Hakka overseas, especially to the United States, Australia, and Canada.


As later arrivals in most of the Chinese areas where they settled, the Hakka were generally forced into the higher elevations to the hilly, less productive, and less desirable land. Such was the case in Guangdong, Guangxi, and the New Territories of Hong Kong, where the Yue had already settled the more fertile river valleys, and also in Taiwan where the Min speakers owned the better land. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, in regions of Guangdong, Hakka residence patterns differed from those of the Yue. As opposed to the Yue, who were more likely to live in more densely populated towns or in large, single-surname villages surrounded by fields, smaller numbers of Hakka were sparsely dispersed among the hills on land that they often rented from Yue landlords. In other regions Hakka and Yue occupied separate villages in the same areas; Hakka villages were more likely to be multisurnamed. As a result of their often hostile relations with other groups, Hakka architectural style often differed from that of their Chinese and non-Chinese neighbors. In southwestern Fujian and in northern Guangdong, Hakka built circular or rectangular, multistoried, fortresslike dwellings, designed for defensive purposes. These Hakka "roundhouses" were built three or four stories high, with walls nearly a meter thick, made of adobe or tamped earth fortified with lime. The structures vary in size; the largest, resembling a walled village, measures over 50 meters in diameter. Although the Hakka maintain the reputation of living in poor, marginal, rural areas, Hakka today also reside in urban, cosmopolitan regions.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The Hakka have long enjoyed a reputation as extremely skilled and hardworking agriculturalists who can render the least desirable land productive. In the course of their history, the Hakka often farmed wasteland rejected by others or worked as tenants. Where the land permitted, they grew rice and vegetables. In poorer areas sweet potatoes were their staple. Much of the agricultural labor was performed by women, who, unlike other Chinese, did not have their feet bound. Female agricultural labor, marketing, and cutting of wood from the hillsides for fuel were especially necessary tasks in villages where Hakka men sought work overseas. As early as the Southern Song dynasty, Hakka men sought their fortunes by joining the military. The Taiping army, the Nationalist forces of Sun Yatsen, and the Communist army during the Long March were all comprised of large numbers of Hakka soldiers. Overseas, Hakka worked as railway builders, plantation hands, and miners. Today, Hakka are still known for their reputation for hard physical labor, and the women who are commonly seen working at construction sites in Hong Kong are often Hakka.

Industrial Arts. During the nineteenth century, Hakka peasants often had to supplement their agricultural work with other occupations. They were also silver miners, charcoal makers, itinerant weavers, dockworkers, barbers, blacksmiths, and stonecutters.

Trade. The Hakka are best known for their agricultural, martial, and scholarly skills and for their achievement in political, academic, and professional occupations, but they are not known for their involvement in commercial enterprises. However, a number of successful entrepreneurs are Hakka or are of Hakka ancestry. For example, T. V. Soong, founder of the Bank of China, and Aw Boon Aw, who made his fortune selling Tiger Balm, were both Hakka. In Calcutta today, the Hakka minority are successful entrepreneurs in the leather and tanning industry.

Division of Labor. The Hakka do not follow the traditional Chinese strict sexual division of labor. Women have long had a reputation for participating in hard physical laborin fact, they perform many traditionally male occupations such as farming and construction. Because of the Hakka women's reputation for diligence and industriousness, during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries poor non-Hakka valued Hakka women as wives.

Land Tenure. As latecomers in many of the regions where they settled, the Hakka were often tenants of the Yue or Min or owned only top-soil rights to land while the Yue or Min owned bottom-soil rights. Before the Communist Revolution, Hakka were more likely to be tenants than landlords and therefore many poor and landless Hakka peasants benefited from land reform in the early 1950s.


Kin Groups and Descent. The Hakka trace descent patrilineally, and extended patrilineal kin groups combine to create lineages. The lineage commonly consists of a group of males who trace descent from one common ancestor, who live together in one settlement, and who own some common property. At least nominally, the lineage, including the wives and daughters, is under the authority of the eldest male in age and generation. Whenever possible, Hakka lineages traditionally set up ancestral halls. These buildings are usually not as ornate as those of the Cantonese, and their ancestral tablets only make reference to the name of the founding ancestor. Hakka rules for inclusion of forebears in ancestor worship are broader and more egalitarian than those of the Cantonese, and they often include men and women, rich and poor.

Kinship Terminology. Hakka kinship terms follow the general Han Chinese pattern, which may be referred to as "bifurcate collateral" or as "both classificatory and descriptive" (Feng 1948, 129). They typically have a very large number of kinship terms for the paternal side and less differentiation on the maternal side. Many kinship terms distinguish affinal and consanguineal kin and indicate age in relation to Ego or Ego's parents. They also commonly use such kinship terms as "father's younger brother" or "elder sister" to refer to fictive kin. Hakka kinship terms reflect the assimilation of a woman into her husband's family. Unlike Yue women in parts of Guangdong, who have separate terms of address for their husbands' parents, Hakka women use the same terms as their husbands to address his parents and other relatives.

Marriage and Family

Marriage. Like other Chinese, Hakka practice surname exogamy. Marriage traditionally was arranged, often village exogamous, and also patrilocal. Hakka marriage ceremonies suggest the transfer of women from one family to another and the incorporation of women into their husband's household and lineage rather than the establishment of bonds between two families. Wives are included in ancestral worship of their husband's lineage. Many Hakka claim that polygynous marriages were rare among the Hakka, yet until recently polygynous marriages were found among poor Hakka villagers in the New Territories of Hong Kong.

Domestic Unit. The domestic unit was ideally an extended patrilineal kin group comprised of several generations. Traditionally this group would have included a husband and wife, their unmarried daughters, and their married sons with their wives and children.

Inheritance. A man's estate was traditionally divided equally among his sons. Daughters might inherit some movable property at marriage, but did not share significantly in the parents' estate.

Socialization. As reflected in Hakka songs and sayings, Hakka girls are taught that they should learn "the appropriate skills expected of the wife of an important official, as well as know how to cook, clean, and work hard." The Hakka also instruct their children in the value of education and bodily cleanliness. There is little evidence that Hakka patterns of child rearing and socialization are significantly different from those of other Chinese. Respect for parents, elders, and obligations to the family is a commonly held value.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Like other Chinese, the Hakka have organized communities along kinship lines and ties to a common native place. Alliances based on shared dialect or ethnic identity are also important. Other groups sometimes view the Hakka as being exclusive or "clannish," but they view themselves as being unified and cooperative. Two international Hakka organizations, the Tsung Tsin (Congzheng) Association and the United Hakka Association (Kexi Datonghui), were organized by Hakka intellectuals and elite in the early 1920s in order to promote Hakka ethnic solidarity and foster a public understanding of Hakka culture. In 1921, over 1,000 delegates representing Hakka associations worldwide attended a conference in Canton to protest the Shanghai publication of The Geography of the World, which described the Hakka as non-Chinese. Today these international Hakka voluntary organizations have branches reaching from Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Singapore to the United States, Canada, and beyond.

Political Organization. Although Hakka political organization is not easily distinguished from that of the larger society in which they are situated, the Hakka have long played an important role in Chinese politics, despite their economic disadvantages. During the Qing dynasty, the Hakka fared well in the imperial examinations and ascended into the imperial bureaucracy. Today they are disproportionately well represented in the government of the People's Republic of China (PRC). While they comprise close to 4 percent of the population of the PRC, they represent a far greater proportion of government leaders. Among the most well-known Hakka political figures are Deng Xiaoping; Zhu De, the military commander during the Long March; Marshal Ye Jiangying, leader of the Peoples Liberation Army; and former Communist Party Secretary Hu Yaobang. Outside of the PRC, Hakka leaders include Taiwan's President Lee Teng-hui; Singapore's President Lee Kwan Yew; Burma's Prime Minister Ne Win; and the governor-general of Trinidad and Tobago, Sir Solomon Hochoy. Some sources also assert that Dr. Sun Yatsen was Hakka.

Social Control. Like other Chinese, Hakka have been subject to the larger forces of the Chinese government bureaucracy and state control; on the local level, senior males had the most formal authority before 1949. Social pressure, strict traditional rules of obedience, and filial piety also help to minimize conflict.

Conflict. Today, as in the past, village leaders in rural communities often resolve conflicts on the local level. During the nineteenth century, conflicts often grew into longterm violent feuds. Longer-lasting feuds between Hakka villages, between Hakka lineages, or between the Hakka and the Yue were often over land or property, theft, marriage agreements, or other personal conflicts. The theft of a water buffalo and a broken marriage agreement between a Yue man and a Hakka woman were contributing events that helped escalate Hakka-Yue conflicts into large-scale armed conflicts during the 1850s. Conflicts between Hakka Christian converts and non-Christian Chinese were also common during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. The Hakka do not have their own distinct religion, but like most other Chinese, traditionally practiced a blend of Daoism, Buddhism, Confucianism, and "folk" religion, subject to regional variation. The Hakka traditionally believed that ancestral spirits could influence the lives of the living and thus required special care, offerings, and worship. They erected homes, located graves, and built ancestral halls according to the principles of feng shui (geomancy). In many communities, Hakka beliefs and practices closely resemble those of the Yue; however, in other cases, anthropologists have also observed important differences. For example, during the nineteenth century the Hakka did not worship as many of the higher-level state-sanctioned gods or Buddhist deities, placed more weight on Daoist beliefs and ancestor worship, and were more likely to practice spirit possession than other Chinese in Guangdong. Some missionaries characterize the Hakka as having more "monotheistic tendencies" than other Chinese; these tendencies may have contributed to the fact that relatively larger numbers of the Hakka converted to Christianity during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries than did other Han Chinese. In some parts of Hong Kong, the Hakka have fewer shrines and ancestral altars in their homes than the Cantonese.

Religious Practitioners. The same religious practitionersBuddhist and Daoist priests, spirit mediums, feng shui experts, and various types of fortune-tellerswere observed among the Hakka during the nineteenth century as among the Yue. During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries Hakka Christian missionaries became particularly active in parts of Guangdong and Hong Kong.

Ceremonies. The Hakka have traditionally observed the most common Chinese life-cycle rituals and calendrical festivals, including the Lunar New Year, the Lantern Festival, Qing Ming, the Mid-Autumn Festival, the Dragon Boat Festival, Chong Yang, and Winter Solstice. The Hakka generally do not celebrate Yu Lan, the festival to appease "hungry ghosts," which is popular among other Chinese.

Arts. The Hakka are known for their folk songs, especially the genre of mountain songs that were once commonly sung by women, sometimes in a flirtatious dialogue with men, as they worked in the fields or collected fuel along the hillsides. These songs are often love songs, but they also touch on topics such as hard work, poverty, and personal hardships. Although their clothes were traditionally plain, most Hakka women used to weave intricately patterned bands or ribbons, which they commonly wore to secure black rectangular headcloths or the flat, circular, fringed Hakka hats. These are still worn by some older Hakka women in Hong Kong and some regions of Guangdong.

Medicine. The Hakka traditionally depended on spirit healers, Chinese doctors, and traditional herbal remedies.

Death and Afterlife. Christian- or Buddhist-derived ideas of hell exist among the Hakka, as do ideas concerning the influence of the spirits of the dead and their occasional return to earth. One nineteenth-century Protestant missionary observed that the Hakka were not very familiar with the Buddhist karmic concept of one's life influencing rebirth or the Buddhist idea of hell with its tortures and purgatory. Instead, he asserted that the Hakka ascribed to the Daoist idea that "the righteous ascend to the stars and the wicked are destroyed" (Eitel 1867, 162-163).


Char Tin Yuk (1929). The Hakka ChineseTheir Origin and Folk Songs, Reprint. 1969. San Francisco: Jade Mountain Press.

Cohen, Myron L. (1968). "The Hakka or 'Guest People': Dialect as a Sociocultural Variable in Southeastern China." Ethnohistory 15(3):237-252. [Also in Constable, forthcoming.]

Constable, Nicole, ed. (forthcoming, 1994). Guest People: Studies of Hakka Chinese Identity. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Eitel, E. J. (1867). "Ethnographical Sketches of the Hakka." Notes and Queries on China and Japan 1(12) : 161-163.

Feng, H. C. (1948). The Chinese Kinship System. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Leong, S. T. (1985). "The Hakka Chinese of Lingnan: Ethnicity and Social Change in Modern Times." In Ideal and Reality: Social and Political Change in Modern China, 1860-1949, edited by David Pong and Edmund S. K. Fung, 287-327. New York: University Press of America.

Moser, Leo J. (1985). "The Controversial Hakka: 'Guests' from the North." In The Chinese Mosaic: The Peoples and Provinces of China, by Leo J. Moser, 235-255. Boulder, Colo., and London: Westview Press.



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LOCATION: China; Taiwan; Malaysia; Singapore; Thailand; Indonesia.
POPULATION: 40 million
LANGUAGE: Hakka (southern China dialect)
RELIGION: Combination of Buddhist and Daoist beliefs; ancestor worship; Christianity.


The Hakka are ethnic Chinese (Han) who have a distinct history, language and identity. The name Hakka means "guest people," or sojourner, as if the Hakka were guests in their own land. Hakka is the Cantonese (Yue) pronunciation; the word is pronounced "Kejia" in Mandarin Chinese.

The ancient Hakka homeland was the cradle of Chinese civilization in north-central China (Shanxi and Henan provinces). The people who became known as the Hakka originated in this area and have a very long history of migration toward southern China. The first migration was to south-central China (Hubei and Jiangxi provinces) and occurred in the 4th century AD. A second migration occurred between the 9th and 10th centuries, when the Hakka reached south China (Fujian and Guangdong). Hakka dominated northern Guangdong by the end of the 13th century. The last major migration in China occurred between the 17th and 19th centuries, pushing deeper into southeast China into Fujian, Guangdong, Sichuan, and Guangxi provinces. The name Hakka was first applied by the local people (bendi) in this last migration.

The last period of migration included waves of Hakka who migrated from mainland China primarily to Taiwan and South East Asia. The Hakka first arrived on Taiwan in the 17th century during the Dutch occupation of the island. Migration to Taiwan continued until Japan took over the island in 1895. The colonization of South East Asia by European powers opened the region to Chinese immigrants, most of whom originated from southeastern coastal China, including Hakka regions in Fujian and Guangdong provinces. The modern states of Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Brunei, and Singapore saw a large influx of Hakka migrants, numbering in the hundreds of thousands, who worked as miners, laborers, and shop keepers. Hakka make up a sizable minority in those countries and individual wealthy Hakka have amassed substantial financial holdings, which has led to resentment against Hakka by the non-Chinese majority. The Hakka also migrated in large numbers in the 19th and early 20th centuries to the British colony of Jamaica and French-controlled Mauritius, as well as the United States, Canada, and parts of Latin America.

Although the Hakka are a distinct ethnic group, they are considered to be Han Chinese by the mainland Chinese and, therefore, have no special minority status in the People's Republic of China. Hakka are full citizens and receive the same treatment accorded all citizens. In Taiwan and South East Asia, Hakka have developed a greater communal identity, separate from other Chinese migrant populations, and efforts to define the Hakka as distinct from Han Chinese have been made by overseas Hakka scholars.

Despite their small numbers, many Hakka have become prominent national leaders on the mainland and abroad. In the 19th century many Hakka played prominent roles in the anti-Qing Dynasty Taiping Rebellion (1850–1864), including the movements leader, Hong Xiuquan. Hakka regions in Guangdong and Fujian province were hotbeds for Communist insurgents from the 1920s to 1940s. In Taiwan in the 1940s and 1950s, the Hakka were prominent in the anti-Kuomintang resistance, and many Hakka were killed in the anti-Communist crackdown on that island. Modern important Hakka leaders include Deng Xiaoping, the former leader of the People's Republic of China; Lee Teng-hui, the former president of Taiwan; Lee Kwan Yew, the former president of Singapore; and former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. The global Hakka diaspora has sparked a keen interest in Hakka history and culture and, in 1971, the first World Hakka Conference was inaugurated. Three decades later more than 20 World Hakka Conferences have been held and "Hakkaology," or the study of Hakka history and culture, is studied across the world.


Of a population of 1.3 billion in the People's Republic of China, the 30 million Hakka are little more than 3% of the total population. Taiwan, with a population of about 22 million, is the home of approximately 2 million Hakka. Large populations of Hakka also live in Southeast Asian countries, including Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, and Thailand. Significant numbers of Hakka have also migrated to India, Europe, and the Americas.

Hakka traditionally migrated to rugged, mountainous districts of south China and Taiwan on land that other Chinese found too poor for agriculture. This settlement pattern developed because the best land was occupied by the time the Hakka migrants arrived in south China. The climate is hot in the summer and mild in the winter; rice, tea, citrus fruits, and vegetables all grow well. Although winter frost is uncommon, Hakka areas are subject to the devastating winds, flooding, and typhoons.


Hakka speak a language that linguists classify as a south China dialect. Many Hakka, however, believe that their language is closely related to Mandarin, a major northern Chinese dialect, and that they speak a purer form of Chinese than other dialects because their origin lay in the cradle of Chinese civilization. Language is the most important way that Hakka distinguish themselves from other Chinese. Unlike standard Mandarin Chinese, which has four spoken tones, Hakka has six tones.

Hakka family names (surnames) are transmitted through the father's line (patrilineally). Individuals have a personal name consisting of two syllables. When addressing someone, the surname is spoken first and the personal name follows. In families keeping a genealogy by generation, boys are often given a "generation" name as part of their personal names. The personal name can thus be used to identify the generation to which he belongs.


Many traditional Hakka believe in geomancy (fengshui), the belief that natural forces in the land and water can affect one's fortune and well being. People can take advantage of these forces by orienting houses, tombs, doorways, and other structures in the proper direction. Hakka also employ the ideas of yin and yang to describe the essential qualities of things. "Yin" things are thought to be chilly and wet, while objects with the "yang" quality are warm and dry. Bringing these qualities into internal balance is thought to benefit personal health. Spirit mediums (shamans) are employed to communicate with ancestors and ghosts; not all Hakka believe this practice is valid.


Hakka religion combines Buddhist and Daoist beliefs; no unifying beliefs define a distinct Hakka religion. Hakka practice a form of domestic religion called ancestor worship. They believe that the spirits of their ancestors (zuxian) persist and that they require care from the living. Hakka appease the ancestors by lighting incense and offering sacrifices on ritual occasions.

A local god worshipped in many Hakka village temples is the "King of the Three Mountains" (Sanshan Guowang). The legend associated with this god is that spirits inhabiting three mountains in the Hakka region of Guangdong became protectors and saved the people from disasters. People began worshipping these spirits and built temples in their honor. Outside of mainland China many Hakka are Christian, particularly in Taiwan. In Malaysian and Indonesia a sizable percentage are Muslim.


The most important holiday in Hakka society is the lunar New Year. People return to their natal homes, and work stops for three or more days. Houses receive a thorough cleaning, and rhyming couplets with lucky phrases may be pasted on doorways. Families eat an elaborate meal featuring traditional dishes on New Year's Eve. New Year's Day is devoted to visiting other relatives, especially those in senior generations. In traditional society children received new clothes for the coming year.

Tomb-sweeping day (qingming jie) in April is an important holiday that is dedicated to the ancestors in the father's line (patrilineal ancestors). People prepare sacrificial foods (rice, meats, sweet rolls, and wine) and visit the family tombs as a group. The spirits of the ancestors are invited to feast on the food, strings of firecrackers are lit, and the graves are thoroughly cleaned. This ceremony emphasizes the strong bond between the living and their ancestors.


Mothers who have just given birth are confined to their beds for 30 days and are not allowed to wash their hair. Hakka believe that a woman's joints are prone to damage after childbirth. Newborns are tightly swaddled and are placed on their backs to sleep. The birth of a male infant may be announced to the ancestors as evidence that the family line will continue. Hakka do not mark the teenage years with any special coming-of-age ceremonies.

Hakka practice double burial. When a relative dies, a funeral is performed, and the deceased is buried in a temporary grave. After five to seven years, the skeleton is exhumed, purified, and carefully arranged in a large ceramic vessel. The vessel is then interred in a permanent site. It is not unusual in Taiwan to find large family mausoleums containing the remains of many family members. These tombs are elaborately decorated and are a central focus of family pride.


Hakka value family and friends very highly. The Hakka have a reputation for being reserved and stoic in their interactions with strangers or acquaintances. The standard greeting—"Have you eaten yet?"—is a polite way of inquiring after one's comfort; it is equivalent to "hello." People whose relationship is not close or whose social status is different politely greet each other by using the person's title (Mr., Miss, Teacher, or Dr.) and surname. Because of their reputation for reserve, Hakka body language is not demonstrative.

Etiquette is important. For a formal visit—as on the occasion of a senior relative's birthday, after a long absence, or to discuss personal business—a guest prepares a small gift of fruit, candy, or a local delicacy for the host. The host in turn offers tea and fruit or other light refreshment. Guests are also offered cigarettes.

Western-style dating was unknown in traditional Hakka society. Parents arranged meetings between boys and girls with the intent of finding suitable mates. Courtship was managed by parents to such an extent that the children seldom met more than a handful of times before marrying. The meetings were arranged as formal visits rather than as dates. As Chinese society changed during the last half of the 20th century, this practice has declined greatly. Young people may now date as members of a school group. This practice allows them to mix freely and gives them opportunities to identify special people. In the cities, seeing a movie, strolling in a park, or buying a small treat are popular places to go on a date.


Living conditions vary greatly depending on location. Most Hakka in China are rural dwellers. Until recently running water and public sewers did not exist in many locations, so people depended on wells and streams for water and on outhouses for toilets. Bottled water is now widely available, and modern bathrooms are common even in rural areas. Electricity is ubiquitous, but people still cook with wood and charcoal. Taiwan's economy is more developed; most rural Hakka have running water, public sewage, electricity and, increasingly, natural gas for cooking and hot water.

Hakka go to both traditional Chinese physicians and Western-style doctors. Herbalists operating Chinese-style pharmacies exist alongside Western drug stores. Other types of medical treatments include acupuncture, massage, folk remedies, and dietary changes.

Hakka live in modern, consumer societies and increasingly purchase the many goods that economic development and larger incomes have made possible. In the People's Republic of China, bicycles, televisions, air conditioners, washing machines, electric fans, and motorcycles are common household items. While most Hakka in rural areas cannot afford to own a car, the streets are crowded with vehicles, and many people have access to cars through their employment. In rural Taiwan, cars and air conditioners are common possessions. Living standards are rising for many, especially those who live in the cities, but daily life is not as comfortable as it is for many in the West. Houses are often not heated, so people must wear heavy clothing indoors in the winter. Increased income in China and Taiwan means a greater choice of diet in both rural and urban areas, as well as access to before unheard of luxuries, such as travel to distant domestic destinations and abroad.

A traditional Hakka farmhouse had three connected wings forming a U shape. A courtyard in the middle was used for processing harvests and other tasks. The central wing had a large room in the middle, used for eating, visiting, and household chores. The wings on the sides contained bedrooms, kitchens, storage areas, toilets, granaries, and animal pens. In areas of Guangdong and Fujian where Hakka clashed with other Chinese, an unusual type of house developed called a tulou, or earthen building. Tulou can either be rectangular or square shaped and are three to five stories high. Traditionally, the homes were built of compacted earth with very thick walls, while today the tulou are made of granite or fired bricks. Dozens of rooms built inside the walls of the structure can house as many as 80 families, and the central area functions as a courtyard. On the ground level, animals live side by side with the occupants, and families conduct daily tasks of cooking food and cleaning clothes in a common area. In Fujian province, more than 20,000 tulous have been constructed, often in clusters. Multiple generations and branches of a family often occupy a single tulou. It is thought that the unique architecture of the tulou, which includes a single entrance and gun holes, developed as a defense against banditry.

Transportation is efficient in Taiwan. Paved roads run throughout the countryside and all areas are served by public bus lines. Many rural Hakka commute to work by bus and motorcycle. Elementary, middle, and high school students also ride these buses to school.


Family life emphasizes cooperation within a hierarchy based on age and sex. Although fathers make major decisions outside the home, the relationship between the parents is more democratic in the family. Before marriage all major decisions affecting children are made by the parents. Sons are obliged to care for their parents in old age; parents usually live in the home of a married son.

Unlike other Chinese, Hakka never practiced the traditional custom of binding women's feet. Foot binding was a procedure using strips of cloth that forced the feet into small shapes. Women with bound feet were effectively crippled. Hakka women have a reputation for industry and stamina and contribute great amounts of labor on family farms.

Ideal family size among Hakka depends greatly on the social context. The population policy of the People's Republic of China allows parents to have only one or two children per family, depending on their location and economic status; abortions are common, and people generally practice birth control. Hakka outside China may have larger families, especially in agricultural communities. However, as economies industrialize and the demand for farm labor decreases, family sizes are also decreasing. A preference for male children exists; boys inherit the family name and have special obligations to the family's ancestors. Girls, it is thought, are lost to the family when they marry.

Hakka marry in their twenties. The bride and groom should have different last names (surname exogamy). Grooms are typically 2 to 10 years older than brides. Ceremonies are elaborate and focus on a sumptuous feast to which relatives and friends are invited. Large wedding feasts may have 300–500 guests. In southern China, young Hakka are allowed to date before marriage and the mass migration of millions of youth for work and school means that many Hakka marry outside of their community.

Urban families consist of parents and children (nuclear family), but parents usually live with one son (extended family). Rural family structure can be very complex, with parents sharing a compound with their married sons' families and unmarried children. Hakka also organize larger kinship groups based on the principle of descent from a common ancestor in the male line (patrilineal lineages). These kinship groups are not co-residential units but do assemble for ceremonial occasions.


Modern Hakka do not wear distinctive clothing. Western-style pants, dresses, shirts and outerwear have replaced older Chinese styles that did not use zippers and buttons. However, women traditionally embroidered intricate, colorful patterns on strips of cloth used to fasten round hats. This style of dress is not seen in Taiwan but occurs occasionally in the People's Republic of China.


White rice is the Hakka staple. Sweet potatoes are important where the land is not suited to wet rice. The Hakka also consume noodles made from rice, wheat, and green mung beans. Rice is steamed for lunch and supper to accompany stir-fried, steamed, and braised dishes using vegetables, meats, and fish. Rice is consumed in the morning as a thin gruel; it accompanies both pickled and fresh foods. In comparison to other regional Chinese cuisines, Hakka food is plain and not spicy. Soy sauce, salt, rice vinegar, ginger, sugar, and flavors from various preserved and pickled foods are used extensively in cooking. If there is a drink at the meal it is usually a hot soup, either a broth or a meat and vegetable combination. Like other Chinese, the Hakka do not drink tea with their meals.

Hakka have no food taboos, although some women are pious Buddhists who eat a vegetarian diet. In general, Hakka prefer a diet with high proportions of vegetables and moderate to small amounts of meat. Some Hakka will not eat beef because they believe it is morally wrong to consume animals that work in the fields to provide people with food.


The Hakka traditionally emphasized educating boys. Before the 20th century, boys studied the Confucian teachings and other classics to cultivate the virtues associated with literacy. Exceptional students took examinations that could lead to high prestige civil service careers. Before the 20th century, Hakka girls seldom attended school; a bias against girls existed in traditional Chinese society. Modern Hakka live in societies where education is highly prized for both girls and boys; children work very hard to do well in school. In mainland China, Hakka have access to education in some of the top universities in the nation, located in Fujian and Guangdong provinces. Parents often invest heavily in their children's' education, and both boys and girls in rural areas receive education through high school. Often parents send their children to distant schools, thus many Hakka youth may spend their teen years separated from their family. Children in Taiwan finish 12 years of education, and many go to college. Both students and parents know that economic opportunities increase with advanced education. Literacy rates are very high among people born within the last 40 to 50 years. Many Hakka migrate to Western countries to pursue educations in technical and scientific fields.


Hakka are famous for folk songs called "mountain songs" (shan ge). Romantic mountain songs were sung to each other by women and men working in the fields. Local productions of famous historical stories presented by itinerant opera troupes also entertained people. Opera performances were often scheduled to coincide with the summer harvest and drew large crowds.


Hakka have the reputation of being hard workers who can persevere in the face of adversity. Most Hakka in mainland China are rural farmers living in small villages and towns. In the 19th century, female agricultural labor was especially important in locations from which men migrated to find work. Several examples of occupational specialization exist. In 19th-century Hong Kong many Hakka specialized in stone cutting. People who migrated to Calcutta, India, in the first years of the 20th century became leather tanners. In the present, most Hakka who live in Taiwan work in manufacturing, business, and government. On the mainland, most Hakka are raised in agricultural communities, but a large number of Hakka youth have migrated to urban areas, particularly in Guangdong and Fujian province, to work in manufacturing plants and in low-wage service jobs.


In school and during their free time, Hakka youth often play table tennis, badminton, and basketball. Soccer is a popular spectator sport, but not often played. Shadow boxing (taiqi) is very popular among older people as a form of relaxation and exercise.


On the mainland, Chinese movies and television programs are popular among Hakka of all ages, but few are presented in the Hakka dialect. Notable Hakka musicians and performers outside of the mainland perform almost exclusively in the language or dialect of their home country or region, usually Mandarin or Cantonese. Well known Hakka artists include Hong Kong actor and musician Jordan Chan, Hong Kong actors Chow Yun-Fat and Leslie Cheung, Hong Kong actress Cherie Chung, Taiwanese film director Hou Hsiao-Hsien, Hong Kong singers Deanie Ip and Leon Lai, Malaysian pop stars Penny Tai and Eric Moo, Hong Kong actor and director Eric Tsang, Taiwanese singer Cyndi Wang, and Singaporean actress and singer Fann Wong


Friends often gather in the evenings and on weekends to play mahjong (majiang); children are introduced to this game in their teens. Many people take an interest in growing rare orchids and in practicing Chinese calligraphy as an art form.


Hakka are recognized in China and Taiwan as Han Chinese. The social problems that Hakka face are the same as the ones faced by other citizens. An active ethnic movement in Taiwan promotes using the Hakka language in radio and television broadcasts and supports including Hakka in public affairs. Human rights issues do not often arise in the People's Republic of China. Because of their status as an ethnic minority in non-Chinese Southeast Asian nations, Hakka may be the target of economic and political discrimination. Periodic anti-Chinese riots in South East Asia have targeted Hakka communities, including deadly riots in Jakarta in 1998.

Drugs (opium and its derivatives) are not widely abused in Hakka society, but alcoholism is recognized as a potential problem. Excessive gambling is a problem that concerns many.


Since the economic liberalization of mainland China began under Deng Xiaoping in 1978, Hakka women have enjoyed expanded social freedoms and fallen victim to increasingly common vices. Young women from rural areas, such as the Hakka homeland, have flocked to big cities in search of employment. Often these women find low paying jobs in factories or in the service industry. The meager wages they earn at these jobs allows them to provide for their family and pursue entrepreneurial ambitions. In recent years divorce has become both legally more accessible and socially accepted, resulting in an increased number of single mothers. One of the dark sides of Chinese economic liberalization has been a marked increase in prostitution, in particular in the southern provinces where the Hakka reside. Poor young women from the countryside work in brothels for a few hundred dollars a month, exposing themselves to sexual disease and social stigmatization.

In mainland China gay rights are limited and until recently the government classified homosexuality as a mental disease. Among Hakka living outside of the mainland, the most notable gay or lesbian in recent times has been Hong Kong actor Leslie Cheung, who reached international fame before taking his life in 2003.


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—revised by David Straub