There is a classical Chinese expression, “within the four seas, we are one family, shihaiyijia,” traditionally indicating the family of those with Chinese ethnicity, but at times expressing that all races are one family, onejia, in a more “magnanimous” gesture. Except there is one race of Chinese actually called KeJia, who have been historically outside this jia because they were considered guests or strangers. Their name clearly shows this, since ke客 is guest,jia家 is family, literally guests or strangers family, not exactly within the big family.To flip this story, however, I would like to suggest, that actually “we are all Kejias,客家,” or Hakka, the common English term, meaning we are all guest or stranger peoples.
I am actually ethnically Hakka, hence my special interest. Some ethnologists claim Hakkas are a “minority group” of China, who reportedly migrated from the northern plains of China where they originated, particularly moving to the south and southwest, and throughout the country. Because they were considered strangers, hence their name, they were often relegated, over many generations, to the mountainous areas. There they generally remained relatively poor, and had limited access to the lowland richer areas, with their much better transportation and communication systems.
One striking fact about Hakkas is that there is no such place called Hakka land, anywhere in China. Every language group of people in China probably has their so-called homeland, (eg Shantou or Chaozhou speakers come from Shantou, or Chaozhou respectively), but Hakkas do not; they are always considered strangers and wanderers!
Growing up in an English-speaking environment, I was actually not very aware of my heritage, until, strangely, in my teen years, I read James Michener’s famous book, “Hawaii.” In the preface to the book, he wrote about the Hakkas who populated Hawaii from China, which in a round-about way, stimulated my own interest in finding out more about my own heritage! From a “white guy.”
The Hakkas, feeling discriminated against by the lowland people, often explored other venues of opportunity. They began in particular to migrate to many of the islands of the world, including the Hawaiian Islands, the Caribbean islands, the Indonesia archipelago, Singapore, and Taiwan. They also targeted closer areas of Asia like Thailand and Malaysia; and, surprisingly, countries as far away as South Africa.
Indeed, I was pleasantly surprised very recently (2017) to be invited to a gathering of more than 100 South African Hakkas, to celebrate the 90th birthday of one of their own, in a Chinese banquet hall in Vancouver, Canada. What an amazing network that represented, spanning 3 continents, 7,000 miles from China to South Africa, and 10,000 miles from South Africa to Canada, often with a United Kingdom arm.
The story is often told that Hakkas have always been very hard working, possibly because they felt they had to work harder, in view of their disadvantaged positions in life. So, the story is usually that they did extremely well in the lands that they migrated to, and often became prominent business people in their new adopted homes. Of the Hakkas who migrated, probably the most famous island Hakka is Lee Kuan Yew, or LǐGuāngyào, Oxford educated founder of the Republic of Singapore and the longest-serving, 31 years, very popular Prime Minister. A stranger and a wanderer can certainly rise to the top.
Meanwhile, back in the home country, being discriminated against brought pressure often to band together. The ancient Hakka ancestral homes were often described classically as circular with members of many related families congregated together for community and safety. This I have only seen from drawings and pictures, especially in Fujian and Taiwan; when I went back to visit the ancestral home in Guangdong province, in the 1990s, our village had the more conventional Chinese village structure.
But the concepts of clannishness, gathering together for community and safety, had important value, especially when Hakkas migrated to foreign countries. Hakka “clan houses” were located in most towns where there were large numbers of Hakka migrants, and served importantly in welcoming new immigrants, settling them down in the new country, and even providing necessary loans and mechanisms to transfer moneys to and from the home villages. I am not aware, however of these overseas houses taking on the traditional unique architecture.
In the home country, some of the Hakkas became rather famous revolutionaries, maybe because they felt especially over-burdened and upset by the ruling classes. The most famous one was Dr. Sun Yat-Sen, a Hakka from Guangdong province, who is revered as the founder of the Chinese Revolution of 1911.He led the overthrow of the great Qing Dynasty, finishing off thousands of years of dynasties of China, and beginning a dramatic new phase of Chinese history, with varying degrees of democracy, minus the Emperor. Even though his Nationalist Government was later overthrown, and succeeded by a Communist Government, Sun Yat-Sen is still highly respected by both Nationalists and Communists, as the founding revolutionary that started the post dynastic order.
Dr Sun Yat- Sen was truly a unique person, and I have always felt a special pride that he was not only Hakka, and a Christian, he also attended my Christian high school in Hong Kong. He was among the first graduating class of the Medical College that preceded Hong Kong University Medical School, also my alma mater. And this year, 2017, is his 150th birthday, and 130th anniversary of the medical school, so it is a good time to remember all this.
Less known is the fact that the Taiping rebellion, which nearly overthrew the Qing Dynasty in the late 19th century, was led by Hong Xiu-Quan, also from Guangdong, and a Hakka. He had received Christian tracts, by missionaries, which so inspired him that he decided that he was now the 2ndson of God, after Jesus Christ. He began a new Taiping Kingdom cult, that took elements of Christianity into his new culture and military system. He declared that he was invincible, and gathered many Hakkas around him for his revolt. For a while, it looked like he could achieve the overthrow of the dynasty, fighting even all the way to the great city of Shanghai. However, he was defeated there, partly because British and other foreigners joined with the Qing Dynasty to stop him. Unwelcome strangers can start rebellions. And cults that severely distort religions can be really dangerous.
People who are discriminated against, but who can preserve their own culture, often seem to develop remarkable resiliency. I have always particularly admired the Jews, wandering in the world for 2000 years, and discriminated against in many countries. I like to think, they were like “Hakkas without a homeland.” Surprisingly to some, many rose above their circumstances, and assumed high positions, becoming fine businessmen, lawyers, doctors and scientists.
One of my outstanding fellows in training at our Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, was a direct descendent of Maimonides, chief Jewish Rabbi, and physician in chief for Queen Isabella of the Catholic Spanish Empire, equivalent to Queen Elizabeth I ruling the historic British Empire. A member of a small discriminated minority, becoming chief physician of the Queen of a huge Empire! Consistent with the concept of “God’s chosen,” this unique race of truly strangers and wanderers, after years of being persecuted and slaughtered, have remarkably returned to their original Holy Land. This return was foretold in the Bible thousands of years earlier, which many have declared a miracle of God. Other discriminated minority tribes can take inspiration from this impressive and moving story.
When the Chinese were “imported” for the gold mines of California, and the building of the groundbreaking railroads from America’s East to West, they were obviously considered as strangers, discriminated against, and looked down upon, with reputations as denizens of gambling (the “Chinese vice”) and opium dens. But, with the American born ethnic Chinese population becoming “fully American,” and coincident with increasing numbers of ethnic Chinese students and scholars coming to America, this minority group of people, rose from the ashes of their history to be called, somewhat condescendingly, “the model minority.”
My mother’s parents were very unusual, in that they were invited to come from Shantou, China, to Seattle at the beginning of the 20th century, at a time of minimal Chinese immigration, to pastor a very small beginning congregation of Chinese in Seattle. Reports vary of some 7 to 14 families of Chinese only at the time in the city, although presumably there were other single men around also. Greater Seattle now has an estimated 100,000 people of Chinese ancestry, and ethnic Chinese descendants are found in all walks of life, beyond the more stereotypical laundry and restaurant businesses of the beginning years. Strangers and wanderers sooner or later become settlers.
However, I like to think that everyone on earth, not just Hakkas, Jews, and migrant Chinese, is actually a Hakka, Kejia, guest, stranger or wanderer of some kind, either now or in their past history. I’m sure it’s not just in Seattle, London, Oslo, Kolkata, or Shanghai. Everyone likely has had some history of migration and a sense of being a stranger or wanderer, if we search far enough in our background. How about you?
Plus, the terrible refugee crises all over the world seems rather dismal at this moment, but in a sense, we are all some kind of refugee also. From the very long view of history, many of these refugee flows of large numbers of strangers, ultimately settle down, and become a vital force in many societies. You might call me an incorrigible optimist, but hope is something that helps to drive us also to not give up. And then the Good Book reminds us that we are all actually even considered pilgrims and strangers on this earth, before we go to the final true Holy Land. We are all Hakkas on this journey of hope.