Niki Andresen: Huizhou and Hakka


At the crack of dawn we bid farewell to the Poly Hotel and Guangzhou and boarded a chartered bus for Huizhou. We were greeted by several of the notoriously enthusiastic students of Huizhou University -our hosts in Huizhou.

  


The long bus ride brought us to the city, which should be significant for Vancouverites since our China Town was based off the city. While considered to be relatively small, Huizhou actually has about the same population of Canada's largest city, Toronto. Our partner professor at the university, Lynn, told us that most of the development in Huizhou has occurred within the last six years.

 

Lynn first introduced himself while we had started our lunch at the cafe adjacent to the campus hotel -which became a favourite haunt for its wi-fi access. He is a Canadian English professor whose been
teaching at Huizhou University for quite sometime.

 


Those excited accommodating students even offered us a campus tour, where we got to see dorms, dining halls, classrooms, fields stadiums, and the roads that link this massive home to over 10,000 students. They answered our strange questions as we marveled at the magnitude of the campus.

 

The night culminated in a Hakka-style dinner with Huizhou University staff. I know what you may be thinking and this has nothing to do with New Zealand Rugby.

 


The Hakka are a branch of Han Chinese who are defined by their connection to the Hakka language. While they share many similarities with the broader network of Han Chinese, the Hakka had a separate migratory history. Some suggest the Hakka originate in central China, then moved North. It is unamiously agreed that the Hakka moved from there to the South, where the majority of the population remains. Of the estimated 80 million Hakka people dispersed globally there are many living in Canada, Australia, Europe, Thailand, Malaysia, South Africa, Mauritius, Panama, Brazil, and even Jamaica. Rap fans should note that Jamaican artist Sean Paul is half Hakka. The Hakka ability to move and adapt is such an integral piece of their history that it is written in their name; Hakka literally translates to “guest people”.

 

One aspect of culture for which the Hakka are well known for is their architecture, the have built large fortress-like homes for extended family, usually taking the shape of a circle or a square with a central courtyard in the middle. Several of these buildings together creates a fortified village known as a Tulou. A cluster of many Tulou in Fujian province has been a UNESCO world heritage site since 2008.

 

Another point of international recogniton of the Hakka is their cuisine -which we had the pleasure to sample. It centers around texturized meat -think roasted or stewed- it is important to cook the meat without hardening it. In coastal areas, such as Hakka in Hong Kong, the emphasis is on seafood.

 

The most notorious part of Hakka culture has to be its language, although many Hakka -especially abroad- identify as Hakka even though they no longer speak the language. Hakka Chinese have 30 million native speakers worldwide, there are at least eight radio stations broadcasting in the Hakka language and, as of 2003, one television channel.

 

The most recognition for the Hakka language is in Taiwan where Hakka represent about over 15% of the population and there are substantial estimates that many families in Taiwan are descendants of Hakka Chinese.

Another stronghold of Hakka culture in in Hong Kong. It's estimated that the Hakka began travelling South during the time of the Qin Dynasty (221-207 BC). However by the time the Hakka had arrived in Hong Kong in the 1600s there were many other ethnic groups there first who had taken the more favourable agricultural lands. So, many of the Hakka who settled in Hong Kong stayed in the more mountainous areas.

 

The first ever World Hakka Conference was actually held in Hong Kong in 1971. The Conferences happen intermittently, but roughly annually, with the most recent being held in Jakarta in 2013. Additionally, Toronto has held Hakka conferences since 2000.

 

Among some of the recognizable Hakka Chinese are Ma Ying-Jeou -the current president of Taiwan; Yingluck Shinawatra -the first female Prime Minister of Thailand; Raymond Chow -who should be credited with making Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee famous; Dr. Sun Yat-Sen, and many of the winners of the miss Hong Kong beauty pagents.

 
 
Niki is a second year Global Stewardship student.  Niki also participated in the Guatemala Field School and this is her first time China.

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