This section of the Taiwan Documents Project will shortly treat language
issues related to Taiwan. In the meantime, please read the following interview with Prof.
Clyde Kiang on Hakka language and culture from the Taiwan International Review.
Hakkas in Taiwan: An interview with Professor Clyde
(Taiwan International Review January - February 1997)
by Kok-ui Lim
ed. note: This is the fifth in a series of articles on
Taiwan's culture and identity. The traditions which define the 21 million Taiwanese people
today embrace the collective history and experience of a rich diversity of peoples who
together have shaped and defined the customs of the island.
Clyde Kiang is the author of The Hakka Search For A
Homeland (English), The Hakka Odyssey & Their Taiwan Homeland (English),
and Hakka yi Taiwan (Chinese). A native of Taiwan, Dr. Kiang writes and speaks
fluently Mandarin Chinese, Japanese and English as well as his native Hakka. He is a
professor of library science at the California University of Pennsylvania.
TIR: Can you tell us where the word
"Hakka" comes from?
Kiang: The word Hakka is a Cantonese pronunciation
of the Chinese term "keh-chia" meaning "guest families",
"strangers", or "foreigners". The term "keh-chia" has been
in use since 780 A.D. when it appears in the Tang census and chronicles. In fact, when
Hakka ancestors migrated from northern China to settle in new lands south of the Yangtse
River, the native people of the south began calling them Hakka. It is interesting to know
that the Hakka people eventually adopted the term as their ethnic identity.
TIR: Who are the Hakka?
Kiang: Hakka are a distinct member of the Mongoloid
race and Han people, with considerable intermixture of indigenous stocks in the north as
well as the south. More specifically, they are descended from Hsiung Nu (Huns) and Tung-yi
(Eastern Barbarians). After centuries of settlement in China, Hakka have adopted much of
TIR: What is the history of Hakkas in
Kiang: The earliest record of Hakka people
in Taiwan dates back to the invasion of the island by Chen Leng in 610 A.D. As a pirate,
Chen brought his soldiers and explorers from Kwangtung (Canton). In the 16th century, more
Hakka pirates followed. During this period, Hakka wood cutters and animal hunters
penetrated into Taiwan's foothills. When Koxinga established his kingdom on the island,
his commander-in-chief Liu Kuo-suan was a Hakka and without a doubt there were a large
number of Hakka soldiers in Koxinga's army.
TIR: How many Hakkas still live in Taiwan? Are
Hakkas prominent in Taiwan society today?
Kiang: Presently there are about five million Hakkas
on Taiwan which represents about 25% of the population. Among the prominent Hakkas are
President Lee Teng-hui, KMT Secretary General Wu Po-hsiung, DPP Chairman Hsu Hsin-liang,
and many more.
TIR: How closely related is the Hakka language to
Cantonese, Mandarin, and Taiwanese?
Kiang: Strictly speaking, the Hakka language is not
related to Cantonese, Mandarin Chinese, or Taiwanese. Hakka is of Altaic origin with
sinicized adoption of Chinese characters as the means of written communication. Kevin
O'Connor, a linguist, has written a thesis in which he states that the Hakka language is
not descended from ancient Chinese, but from a pre-Hakka language. Linguists cannot find
enough similarities between Hakka and ancient Chinese to show a relationship. A variety of
Hakka expressions, vocabulary and grammatical structures are incomprehensible to Chinese
speakers and incompatible with Chinese usage.
TIR: Does the Hakka language have a unique written
Kiang: Hakkas first came into contact with Han
Chinese at a time when Chinese culture was more advanced and had already invented a
writing system. Instead of evolving a writing system of their own, Hakkas borrowed Chinese
characters. However, because of the distinct characteristics of the Hakka tongue, many
Hakka sayings cannot be written well with Chinese characters. As a result, during the
Taiping rebellion in China (1850-1864), Hakkas invented certain look-alike characters to
help in writing Hakka. This is very similar to what the Koreans and Japanese did. For
centuries Hakka scholars used Chinese for writing even though they spoke Hakka in their
TIR: What is the status of the Hakka language in
Kiang: Over the past four decades, the KMT regime
carried out a discriminatory policy of prohibiting the use of Hakka or any other ethnic
language in public. The political suppression of the Hakka language has been so effective
in the media, especially television, that a number of Hakka youth are unable to speak
their mother tongue. Since several public protests were launched in 1988 to oppose the
suppression of ethnic languages, the Hakka language has regained popularity.
TIR: How can we preserve/promote the language's
Kiang: There are several ways to promote or preserve
the Hakka language. First of all, the government must adopt a non-discriminatory policy
regarding the public use of languages. Secondly, Hakka children must have the opportunity
to learn their language in school as a means of communication. Thirdly, the government
should allocate funds for the promotion and preservation of the Hakka language.
TIR: What about Hakka architecture?
Kiang: In the old days, Hakka dwellings were
extraordinary constructions, rising out of the countryside like gigantic, multi-storied
fortresses. These communities resembled stadiums and six or seven hundred inhabitants
would live together in one walled community. The reason these forts were built was to
protect the Hakka from attack by other ethnic groups.