Cover photo is from Gold Leaf, a drama available on Netflix Taiwan
Hakka accounted for 1/3 of the Han population in Taiwan prior to 1945. Now, at least 1/5 of Taiwanese are of Hakka descent including all 4 democratically elected presidents. The term “Hakka” is Cantonese that means “guest people” used to describe the people that were guests in the Canton region. It is not a self-designated label, but it has stuck since.
Where are Hakka from?
There are not definitive origins of the Hakka people, but many theories point to a mixture of Northern and Southern Chinese. Unlike more groups of people where a shared geographical location is the key, Hakka people are bonded by their shared language, Hakka or Hakka fa. They were migrants to different areas in Southern China. Back in the days, the dynasty officials had state examinations to be a government official. Each region had a certain quota. Since Hakka people were guests in each region, they could not take up the region’s quota. Instead they requested to have a separate quota for Hakka people. A new “Hakka” people were designated.
The Hakka Spirit
In the Hakka language, or Hakka fa, this is typically use “hard neck” to scold a child for being stubborn, referring to a hard neck that never lowers the head. Originally a term with a negative connotation, it took on a new spirit in 1988. That was when the Republic of China government was pushing their “Mandarin Language Policy,” causing many people in Taiwan to lose their mother tongues. The Hakka people took to the street to protest the gradual disappearance of their language. The term “Hard Neck Spirit” was used in the media as a symbol of strength and perserverance in the face of adversity. Now, the “Hard Neck Spirit” is synonymous with the “Hakka Spirit”.
Due to their migratory, hardworking, and rigorous lifestyle, Hakka food is often pickled and fatty. Braised pork with preserved vegetables, “moi cai keu ngiug” in Hakka is a classic Hakka dish. “Moi cai” is the pickled Chinese mustard greens. This vegetable is easily pickled, dried, and carried around. They would also braise the fatty pork belly as its high fat content helped them have enough energy to do hard manual labor.
Another iconic Hakka dish is Hakka stir fry or Hakka cau ngiug. A resourceful people, after making their offerings to the gods followed by a big family meal, the leftover bean curd, fish, pork and celery is made into a stir fry.