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​The Hakka Chinese

By: Jacques K. Lee


             ho are the Hakka Chinese? The inhabitants in north China may not know, and yet that’s where we originate from: in the northern region of Henan and Shanxi. The dialect we speak is also known as Hakka and there are believed to be some 90-100 million Hakka speakers worldwide.


Today there are Hakka people in most countries where there are Chinese communities and in Taiwan we’re so numerous that the television news is even broadcast in the Hakka language. But can you guess in which country where almost 100% of the Chinese population are Hakka?


The Hakkas are not strictly a separate ethnic group: we’re a subgroup of the Han Chinese and in China we form seven per cent of the total population. But we appear to be better known outside China. In any country where there are Chinese, you will hear our dialect being spoken. We were among the first Chinese to leave China to go overseas to find work and we have since had significant influence in the course of Chinese history, not just at home, but also among overseas Chinese.


A few prominent Hakkas are: Sun Yat Sen, the first President of China; Deng Xiao Ping, leader of the People’s Republic of China; Lee Kuan Yew, Prime Minister of Singapore. They were named as the Most Influential Asians (Chinese) of the 20th century by Time Magazine. Yap Ah Loy, founder of Kuala Lumpur; Han Suyin, famous author; Jimmy Choo, renowned designer; Woon Wing Yip, Chinese tycoon who founded the chain of Wing Yip supermarkets; Alan Yau, founder of Wagamama restaurant chain.


After the fall of the Song dynasty (960-1280), the invaders from Manchuria caused the remaining Hakkas to retreat to the south. This series of migrations, which first started as far back as the Jin dynasty (265-420), became known as “The Long Migration of 2,000 years. It ended when they reached the province of Fujian and, eventually, Guangdong.


This was when we first became known as the Hakka Chinese. It’s the Cantonese pronunciation of the Mandarin “Kejia, sometimes spelt “Ko-Chia, meaning “the guest people, to distinguish them from the “Punti, the native southerners. In Roman letters it was originally written hack-ka. The “guests” were not exactly welcomed with open arms and had to occupy the less desirable lands, mainly in the hills. Their presence there led to several skirmishes in the Pearl River Delta in the 19th century which became known as the Punti-Hakka Clan Wars.


Many of the Hakkas who had settled in Fujian used the Tingjiane river to migrate south to the more prosperous province of Guangdong. When it became possible from the 19th century onwards, those who had settled in Meixian made their way to Hong Kong and from there to the four corners of the world – and some ended up in Mauritius.


It was from Mauritius that Chinese people went to other countries in the region, such as Madagascar and South Africa, and they were mainly the Cantonese. Why did they leave? Perhaps they didn’t like being in a community where the majority were Hakkas. As a consequence the Chinese in Mauritius are about 95% Hakka and 5% Cantonese.BW



Article first published in Chinese Cultural Group Merton's Newsletter, summer 2013




Jacques K. Lee’s parents are from Meixian, Guangzhou. They emigrated to Mauritius for a better life and ended up as shopkeepers there. Jacques came to England with the same objective –- to take advantage of greater opportunities.


One of the presents he was given at his farewell party was a Parker pen. He certainly made good use of it as he started writing articles for a Mauritian national paper during his second year in England. He is still writing, although he now uses a computer but he still has the pen.


Jacques studied accountancy as that was a subject that poor foreigners could study part-time whilst working as clerks. By the time his first son was born, he had begun to find the repetitive nature of accountancy work less appealing and took up insurance. After qualifying he opened his own brokerage specialising in life assurance and estate planning. Gradually he went into investment and opened other businesses.


In 1993 when his youngest son was safely at University, he sold everything and went back to school to study something he had had a life interest in, as he was brought up on Chinese medicine. He graduated in 1997 and for a while practised homeopathy and acupuncture before becoming an adjudicator for the General Medical Council and the General Dental Council, judging medical practitioners instead of treating patients.


Throughout his varied career, one thing was constant: he never gave up writing. He wrote hundreds of articles for various publications on every aspect of Mauritius. He was a major contributor to the Insight Guide: Mauritius, Réunion and Seychelles and gave talks on different radio stations but mainly on BBC World Service.


Jacques has so far written four non-fiction books, a pirated version of one, Mauritius: Its Creole Language, a phrase book (1999) is openly on sale in India. His Sega: The Mauritian Folk Dance (1990) is still the definitive book on this subject, now the symbol of Mauritian music. His other non-fiction books are: The Tongue: Mirror of the Immune System (1999) and Health Practitioners Companion (2001).


As a grandfather of six grandchildren, Jacques has also written a children’s book, The Nautilus and the Gang of Three (1983) currently on sale on Amazon as a rare book at £116.33! His second children’s book, Purple Sailor and the Hermit Crab, is still waiting for a brave publisher to take an interest in it.


Now in retirement Jacques is turning his hand to writing fiction and his novella The Sugar Baron’s Women (2012) is his first oeuvre. He is currently revising (for the umpteenth time!) a completed novel which is a sequel to the novella. He writes in English, his third language.

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