Cantonese Dim Sum

cantonese-dimsum

The custom of eating dim sum actually extends back to a much older tradition known as yum cha (饮茶) or “drinking tea”. Yum cha has been popular in Cantonese-speaking regions such as Guangdong province, Hong Kong, and Macau for decades, and is somewhat similar to the English custom of afternoon tea. The term refers to a type of meal that is usually eaten from early morning until mid-afternoon, where patrons drink Chinese tea and eat small dishes of food. It has its roots in the ancient Silk Road, when travellers would stop to rest at teahouses and order small snacks to give them a boost of energy.

While dim sum is the name used to describe the small dishes, the entire meal is generally known as yum cha. Since the meal is often eaten early in the day, most dim sum dishes are steamed or stir-fried rather than deep-fried to keep them tasting light and fresh. It is customary to offer a wide range of dishes, including savoury snacks like dumplings and sweet treats such as egg tarts. Each dish is usually quite small, with normally three to four bite-sized portions per plate. Dishes are shared among all of the diners at the table, allowing everyone to try a wide variety of food. That being said, after you’ve tasted a few delicious dim sum dishes, you may find you don’t want to share!

Traditional dim sum restaurants have a truly unique way of serving their miniature meals. Several dishes of dim sum are fully cooked and then placed on heated carts, which are wheeled around the restaurant. Diners are free to select what dishes they please without having to order from a menu, and a card at their table is stamped to indicate what they’ve taken. In this instance, dishes aren’t individually priced, but are instead priced according to size. They are generally classified as small, medium, large, extra-large, and special, with the “special” category referring to expensive dishes containing rare ingredients. Nowadays many restaurants only serve dim sum via the cart method during peak times, and revert to an à la carte menu during quieter periods so as to minimize food wastage.

Several types of tea are served alongside the dim sum, including chrysanthemum tea, green tea, oolong tea, pu’er tea, and a variety of scented teas. However, much like afternoon tea in England, the tea usually takes a backseat to the main event: the food! From bamboo steamers weighed down with plump dumplings to plates piled high with thickly sauced chickens’ feet, dim sum is a time to indulge in all the weird and wonderful treasures that Cantonese cuisine has to offer. We’ve listed just a handful of the standard dim sum dishes that you’re likely to come across, so prepare to get your taste-buds tingling!

Changfen (肠粉)

changfenCommonly known in English as a rice noodle roll, Changfen is made from a wide, thin strip of rice noodle known as hor fun in Cantonese or Shahe fen in Mandarin Chinese. It is so-named because it is said to have originated from the district of Shahe in Guangzhou. The rice noodle sheets are made from a simple mixture of rice flour, glutinous rice flour, and water, which is spread thinly over a flat pan with holes and steamed until the sheet is cooked but still maintains its elasticity and sheen.

It is then folded approximately three times and served with a warm, sweetened soy sauce poured over the top. While the plain variety contains no filling, more popular types are filled with shrimp, pork, beef, vegetables, and a number of other ingredients. In this instance, most chefs will place the filling onto the noodle sheet before it has finished cooking. This means that, as the noodle continues to cook, it will set around the filling. A well-made Changfen should have two qualities: a good aroma, and a smooth or slippery texture. Just make sure it doesn’t slip right out of your chopsticks, or you’ll be bitterly disappointed!

The noodle should be a little transparent so as to slightly reveal the filling, and is typically scored three times at the top. The rolls are generally served in threes, because you can’t go wrong with the magic number! The most popular style of Changfen served during yum cha is known as Zhaliang (炸两). This involves tightly wrapping the rice noodle sheet around a piece of youtiao or fried dough. This fluffy treat is then served with a helping of sweetened soy sauce, hoisin sauce, or sesame paste. It is often eaten with soy milk or congee (Chinese rice porridge) as part of a hearty dim sum breakfast.

Dumplings (饺子)

fun-guoWhether it’s breakfast, lunch, or dinner, there’s never a bad time to gorge on a few dumplings! These plump parcels have been a staple in teahouses for centuries, and naturally made up part of the original platter on offer at the first dim sum restaurants. However, the dumplings you’ll find on the average dim sum plate will be very different to the Beijing dumplings that you might be used to. While Beijing dumplings are undoubtedly delicious, the sheer variety of dumplings available during yum cha might just make your head spin!

Popular types of dumpling in Cantonese cuisine include Har Gow (虾饺) and Fun Guo (潮州粉果), to name but a few. Har Gow are colloquially referred to as “shrimp’s bonnets” because of their characteristic ingredient and pleated shape. Traditionally, the perfect Har Gow should have at least seven but preferably ten or more pleats imprinted on its wrapper. The skin must be thin and translucent, but sturdy enough not to break when picked up with chopsticks.

On top of all this, the dumplings must not stick to each other, the shrimp must be thoroughly cooked but not rubbery, and each dumpling should contain a generous portion of meat but not so much that it cannot be eaten in one bite. A throne fit for a king may be hard to find, but making a bonnet fit for a shrimp is an arduous task indeed! The delicate nature of the dumplings means they require great skill to prepare, and are sometimes used as a test for aspiring dim sum chefs.

Fun Guo is a variety of steamed dumpling that originates from the Chaoshan region of Guangdong province. Much like Har Gow, the dumpling skins are made from glutinous rice flour, which endows each dumpling with their characteristically transparent skin. However, unlike Har Gow, the skins are a little thicker, resulting in a heartier flavour. They are typically filled with an aromatic mixture of minced pork, dried shrimp, chopped peanuts, chopped spring onions, and mushrooms. While Har Gow and Fun Guo are two staple types of dumpling in the dim sum canon, there are so many different varieties to choose from that you’re sure to be in dumpling heaven!

Baozi (包子)

char-siu-baoWhat could be better than a dumpling? A giant dumpling, of course! Baozi or “Steamed Buns” are widely regarded as the dumpling’s larger, stockier cousin. These velvety soft buns can either be steamed or baked, and come in all shapes and sizes, from savoury to sweet and from meat-filled to vegetarian. When it comes to Cantonese dim sum, the most popular variety of baozi is known as the Char Siu Bao (叉烧包) or “Barbecued Pork Bun”. Steamed Char Siu Bao are white and fluffy in texture, while baked ones are coated with a light sugar glaze that gives them a temptingly golden brown crust. The dough used in this type of baozi is also unusual in that yeast and baking powder are added, which gives it the texture of slightly dense bread.

In Cantonese cuisine, Char Siu is a type of siu mei or specialty barbecued meat. The cooking process involves slathering a fatty slice of pork in an aromatic mixture of honey, Chinese five-spice, red fermented bean curd, dark soy sauce, hoisin sauce, and Shaoxing rice wine before roasting it over a fire or in a rotisserie oven. The result is tender strips of pork that are beautifully marbled, mouth-wateringly moist, and dark red in hue. The pork is diced and added to a syrupy mixture of oyster sauce, hoisin sauce, roasted sesame oil, rice vinegar, soy sauce, sugar, and rice wine, which is then stuffed into the baozi. As the baozi is cooked, the meaty juices and thick sauce soak into the surrounding dough and impart a simply irresistible flavour.

Phoenix Claws (凤爪)

phoenix-clawsDon’t let the name fool you; Chinese biologists haven’t stumbled upon a mythical creature just yet! Phoenix Claws are the euphemistic and rather inventive way of referring to a classic dim sum dish made from chickens’ feet. In order to make the dish, chickens’ feet are first deep-fried and then steamed to make them puffy before being simmered in a sauce made from fermented black beans, black bean paste, and sugar.

Some restaurants also serve a variation known as White Cloud Phoenix Claws (白云凤爪), where the chickens’ feet are simply steamed and served with a vinegar dipping sauce. While they may not look particularly appetising, the meat has a light and springy texture that perfectly complements the thick sweetness of the sauce. No dim sum dinner would be complete without this staple dish, so have a try and don’t be chicken!

Tofu Pudding (豆腐花)

tofu-puddingTofu Pudding is an archetypal example of the many wonderful desserts on offer during yum cha. The dish itself is as simple as it is delicious. Soft, silken tofu is spooned into a bowl and served with a clear sweet ginger or jasmine flavoured syrup, although in some restaurants it’s mixed with black bean paste or coconut milk instead. The result is a silky smooth dessert that tastes both delightfully sugary and refreshingly clean. It’s the ideal palate cleanser after a long meal of dumplings, steamed buns, and chickens’ feet!

 

 

Cantonese Cuisine

cantonese-cuisine-caixin

Out of the Eight Great Culinary Traditions of Chinese Cooking, Cantonese cuisine is undoubtedly the most internationally renowned. When droves of expatriates left Guangdong province in search of work across the globe, they took their love of their local food with them, and this eventually led to Cantonese food becoming the most widely spread style of Chinese cuisine in the world. So, when you next go to your local Chinese takeaway, chances are you’ll be ordering a variation of a Cantonese classic!

While Cantonese food in the West has largely been adapted to suit foreign palates, signature dishes in Guangdong province and Hong Kong have retained their traditional flavours. This style of cuisine is characterised by its use of the freshest ingredients, minimal seasoning, and quick cooking, predominantly by steaming or stir-frying. No Cantonese dish would be complete without soy sauce, spring onions, and ginger, which make up the bulk of the seasoning. Sweet sauces like oyster sauce and hoisin sauce are also popular, while other spices may be used, but always sparingly.

Since Guangdong province and Hong Kong are both coastal regions, the locals have a marked preference for seafood. Delicately steamed fish with finely sliced ginger and stir-fried shrimp with a dash of salt and pepper form just some of the dishes that exemplify the Cantonese dedication to freshness and natural flavour. Many Cantonese restaurants even go so far as to keep aquariums of live fish on the premises, ready for consumption at a moment’s notice. Yet the style has also become notorious for its use of strange and controversial ingredients, including shark’s fin, snake, rat, and abalone. So be sure to double-check your order before it arrives!

Char Siu (叉烧)

char-siuChar Siu or Barbecued Pork is a popular example of a Cantonese cooking style known as siu mei (烧味). This is where meats are roasted on spits over an open fire or in a wood-burning rotisserie oven to create a unique and intense barbecue flavour. Before being roasted, the meat is typically coated in a thick sauce, with different sauces being employed for different types and cuts of meat. As you can imagine, most family homes don’t come equipped with their own rotisserie oven, so siu mei is typically prepared at specialty shops! At these shops, patrons can purchase sliced meat on its own, or special meal boxes complete with tender roasted meat and fluffy white rice.

Char Siu literally translates to mean “fork roast”, and refers to the way in which strips of boneless pork are skewered with long forks before being roasted over a fire. In ancient times, wild boar was the meat of choice, although nowadays the cut of meat used is usually pork loin, pork belly, pork shoulder, pork fat, or pork neck-end. These cuts are chosen for their sumptuous fatty marbling, which ensures the roasted meat stays mouth-wateringly moist. The meat is seasoned with an aromatic mixture of honey, Chinese five-spice, red fermented bean curd, dark soy sauce, hoisin sauce, and rice wine, giving it a noticeably dark red complexion. Like most siu mei meats, Char Siu is often consumed with rice, noodles, or inside a bun as a form of dim sum.

White Cut Chicken (白切鸡)

white-cut-chickenAlthough White Cut Chicken is usually classed as another type of siu mei, it can be somewhat misleading since the dish isn’t actually roasted. Instead, a whole chicken is first marinated with salt before being cooked in hot water or chicken broth seasoned with ginger. Other variations involve seasoning the broth with a myriad of ingredients, including spring onions and star anise. When the water starts to boil, the heat is turned off and the chicken is left to cook in the residual warmth for about 30 minutes. This ensures that the meat is deliciously moist, without being too rubbery or overcooked. Once cooked, the chicken’s skin will still be very light in colour, but the meat will be tender and packed full of flavour.

The chicken is usually allowed to cool before being chopped into pieces and served with the bone in. It is sometimes garnished with a mixture of coriander and ginger, but is typically accompanied by a dipping sauce made from finely chopped ginger, spring onions, salt, and the leftover chicken broth. Some restaurants may also offer hoisin sauce, soy sauce, oyster sauce, or chilli oil sauce as a fun twist on the traditional recipe. The tantalisingly fresh chicken is perfectly complemented by the subtle sauce, creating a dish that is simple and naturally flavourful.

Wonton Noodles (云吞面)

wonton-noodlesWe’re sure you’re familiar with the venerable Wonton Noodle Soup, a family favourite that graces the insides of so many Chinese takeaway menus. Just like chicken noodle soup, a steaming bowl of this Chinese classic is sure to warm you up on a cold day. Yet you might be surprised to hear that this homely dish is often used to test the ability of many Cantonese chefs in training! The best wontons should always be bite-sized, and this requires a high level of skill. Too much filling and the wonton wrapper won’t close properly; too little, and the diner is left with a flavourless ball of pastry.

The wontons themselves are stuffed with a mixture of minced prawn, chicken, or pork, chopped spring onions, and mushrooms or black fungus. They are normally served in a broth, along with noodles and a garnish of leafy vegetables, such as Chinese kale. The perfect dish of Wonton Noodles should have four distinct features: the wontons should mainly contain prawn, with small amounts of minced pork or no pork at all; the noodles should taste fresh and smooth, with a slight al dente texture; the broth should be served piping hot and must be flavourful but not overwhelming; and the leafy vegetables used as garnish must imbue the dish with a pleasant aroma.

The most experienced Cantonese chefs follow a strict cooking process in order to achieve noodle perfection. The wontons are cooked first, and then placed in a bowl. The noodles are then blanched for just 10 seconds before being rinsed in cold water and placed alongside the wontons. Finally, the hot broth is scooped into the bowl on top of the wontons and noodles.

When served, the spoon must be placed at the bottom, with the wontons above the spoon and the noodles at the very top. This ensures that the noodles don’t soak up the broth for too long and thus become overcooked. After all, there’s nothing worse than soggy noodles! If you’d rather not risk it, there’s a version of this dish known as Lo Mein, which is served dry. The wontons are simply served on a large bed of noodles, with either a separate bowl of broth or a light sauce for dipping.

Beef Chow Fun (干炒牛河)

beef-chow-funWhen it comes to Cantonese cuisine, with great noodles come great responsibility! Beef Chow Fun is a staple dish made from tender strips of stir-fried beef, crunchy bean sprouts, and a special type of noodle known as hor fun in Cantonese or Shahe fen in Mandarin Chinese. The star ingredient of the dish is the noodles, which are so-named because they are said to have originated from the district of Shahe in Guangzhou.

Hor fun is a type of rice noodle that is white in colour, chewy and elastic in texture, distinctly wide, and somewhat slippery. Since the noodles are quite delicate, they are typically cooked in soup or stir-fried to retain their shape. To make Beef Chow Fun, the beef is first marinated in a mixture of corn starch, sesame oil, and soy sauce before being seared in a swelteringly hot wok. Sliced ginger, Shaoxing rice wine, and chopped spring onions are then added, along with the noodles. Finally, a heaping helping of bean sprouts are thrown in, and the dish is considered ready once they become tender.

It is important that the wok is kept at a very high heat in order to impart what the Cantonese describe as “wok hei” (镬气) or “breath of the wok”, which is said to give the dish a strong umami flavour. Since the ingredients are cooked over a high flame, they must be stirred quickly to prevent the meat from burning but still handled carefully so the noodles don’t break into pieces. Therefore cooking this popular dish is another major test for Cantonese chefs wishing to prove their skill. That being said, don’t turn every meal into an examination, or you might just suck the “fun” out of Beef Chow Fun!

 

 

Guangdong Province

shenzhenIn China, the province of Guangdong has long been synonymous with commerce and prosperity. Since its time as a major trading hub along the Maritime Silk Road, it has flourished into one of the most populous and wealthiest regions in the world. In fact, its population is so huge that, if it was counted as a separate nation, it would rank among the top twenty largest countries by population in the world! Like the floods of people who flock to New York to pursue the American Dream, millions of people immigrate to Guangdong every year to try and make their fortune. Since its long coastline fronts the South China Sea to the south and southeast, it remains one of the world’s most important centres for maritime trade.

The region, which was formerly known as Canton or Kwangtung, received interaction from foreign countries far earlier than other parts of China, thanks to its numerous bustling trading ports. This has led to Guangdong developing its own unique cultural identity, a perfect intermingling of Chinese and Western influences with a bit of local flair thrown in for good measure. The Pearl River Delta, a confluence of the Xi (West), Bei (North), and Dong (East) rivers, represents the cultural heart of the province, while the rest of Guangdong is characterised by its smooth, low hills.

%e5%b9%bf%e4%b8%9c%e5%a4%aa%e5%b9%b3%e9%95%87Since it is one of the southernmost provinces, it benefits from a humid subtropical climate, with short, mild winters and long, hot summers. July temperatures sit at a sweltering average of between 28 to 30 °C (82 to 86 °F) and drop to a comfortable 13 to 16 °C (55 to 61 °F) in January. However, this glorious weather does come with a catch! The rainy season, which lasts from mid-April to mid-October, is particularly fierce, and from July to September the region is frequently buffeted by typhoons. Therefore it’s recommended that you check the weather forecast carefully and regularly before planning your trip!

The population of Guangdong is made up predominantly of Han Chinese people, with small constituencies of Yao and Zhuang people dotted throughout various autonomous counties. However, the level of diversity within the Han ethnic group itself is astounding. Numerous subgroups of Han people dominate certain parts of the province, including the Tanka or Boat People, who generally live along rivers and the coast; the Teochew people, who inhabit an eastern coastal area known as Chaoshan; the Hakka people, who can be found throughout eastern Guangdong; and the Cantonese people, the largest subgroup of them all. Each of these subgroups boasts their own language, culture, customs, festivals, and delicious styles of cuisine. So be sure to catch a performance of the famed Hakka Hill Songs, or perhaps indulge in an evening of Teochew Opera!

Not to mention, the local Canton-style cuisine is heralded as one of the Eight Great Culinary Traditions of Chinese Cooking. Since more Cantonese people immigrated to foreign countries than almost any other ethnic group in China, this style of cuisine is the most prevalent in Chinese restaurants throughout the world, and it is the one that most non-Chinese people are familiar with. It is characterised by its variety of fresh ingredients, minimal seasoning, and quick cooking techniques, with signature dishes like Sweet and Sour Pork and Chow Mein delighting palates across the globe. The Guangzhou International Food Festival, which is held in the provincial capital of Guangzhou during October or November every year, is the ideal place to sample some of the province’s delicacies.

Danxia, GuangdongSince Guangdong doesn’t draw the same kind of tourist crowds that many other provinces do, you’ll often find that you’ll have many of its excellent attractions all to yourself! From Zhaoxing Lake and the Seven Star Crags to Mount Danxia and Dinghu Mountain, nature lovers will be spoilt for choice in this lush, hilly region. For history buffs, there’s always the Foshan Ancestral Temple, which is dedicated to Beidi, the Northern God; the Sacred Heart Cathedral, one of the only churches in the world to be built entirely out of granite; and the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall, which honours the politician Sun Yat-sen.

kaiping01However, the magnificent Diaolou of Kaiping County are undoubtedly the province’s star attraction. These multi-storey watchtowers were first built during the early Qing Dynasty (1644-1912), but reached their peak popularity during the 1920s and 1930s. Originally there were more than 3,000 of these spectacular structures, but nowadays this number has dwindled to approximately 2,000. Their unusual blend of Chinese and Western architectural features make them unique among fortress-like buildings in China, and they were collectively designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2007. However, if all that sight-seeing sounds too exhausting, you can always take a leisurely cruise down the Pearl River instead!

 

 

Hakka Performance

Hakka Performance

The Hakka people have become known for a type of folk song known as Hakka Hill Songs. These rural songs are sung exclusively in the Hakka language and many of them are over 1,000 years old! Originally they were designed as a method of communication over distance. Since the Hakka people mostly live in mountainous regions, singing was a better means of communication than the spoken word because the higher pitch of sound would carry further. Some people even believe that in the past they were used as a method of flirtation between young men and women. So next time your mobile phone has no signal, just try singing instead!

The theme of the songs can vary from love to personal etiquette, although some focus on more sombre topics such as hard work and poverty. Nowadays many Hakka Hill Songs are improvised on the spot and convey a specific message or express the singer’s feelings. The lyrics may also contain puzzles as a way to entertain or challenge the listener. Other singers will then answer the puzzle in the form of another song with a similar tune. Guangdong’s Meixian Prefecture is home to many Hakka people and they frequently hold Hakka Hill Song competitions, where they invite competitors from across China to participate in battles of wit and melody!

 

 

Hakka Cuisine

 

Hakka cuisine

The cooking style of the Hakka people, also known as Hakka or Kuhchia cuisine, originated mainly from the provinces of Guangdong, Fujian, Jiangxi, and Guangxi. It is marked by its emphasis on the texture of food rather than the flavour, so they are masters of stewing, braising, and roasting meat. Their skill lies in their ability to cook meat thoroughly without making it tough and to naturally bring out the umami or meaty flavour of their ingredients. The simplicity of their signature dishes is matched only by how delicious they are!

The Hakka who settled near the coastal areas of Hong Kong have also developed an almost entirely seafood based cuisine. Instead of using expensive meats, their dishes tend to incorporate an abundance of vegetables with only mild seasoning to preserve the original flavour of the ingredients. Hakka-style restaurants can be found throughout Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore so, if you come across one, be sure to give it a try!

Dongjiang Salt-Baked Chicken Dongjiang Salt-Baked Chicken (东江盐焗鸡)

This signature Hakka dish originally involved baking a chicken over a heap of hot salt, but nowadays most restaurants will simply cook it in brine or cover it with a salty mixture before steaming it or baking it in an oven. The chicken is served alone without any seasoning but, once you try a slice of its delectably moist meat, you’ll see why! It’s an incredibly simple dish but is irresistibly tender and packed full of natural flavour.

Ngiong Tew Foo or Stuffed Tofu (酿豆腐)

Ngiong Tew Foo or Stuffed TofuThis dish has deep Hakka origins and is one of the most popular in the Hakka community. It consists of tofu cubes that have been stuffed with a meaty paste made from minced pork, salted fish and herbs. The tofu is then fried until it turns a rich golden brown, although it can be braised. There are several variations of the dish that include eggplants, mushrooms, and bitter melon in place of the tofu cubes. Traditionally the fried tofu is served in a clear, yellow-bean stew along with bitter melon and mushrooms. Nowadays even more modern variants on the dish have appeared where the tofu is replaced with fried fish or chilli peppers. It’s an unusual dish packed full of multiple flavours that are sure to both perplex and delight your palate.

Kiu Nyuk (扣肉)

Kiu NyukThere are two versions of this sumptuous dish; one where preserved mustard greens are used and one where yam is used. The first, which is by far the more popular, is made by taking thick slices of pork belly and layering preserved mustard greens between each slice. The pork is first marinated in soy sauce and sugar while the greens are being boiled. They are then stir-fried together along with the marinade until thoroughly cooked. The other, less popular version involves shallow-frying the yam and pork belly together until it is nicely browned and then steaming it with five-spice powder and yellow rice wine. The resulting dish is quite fatty but deliciously indulgent.

Pounded Tea or Ground Tea (擂茶)

Pounded Tea or Ground Tea A mixture of tea leaves (usually green tea), peanuts, mint leaves, sesame seeds, mung beans and other herbs are ground into a fine powder and then added to hot water to form a refreshing tea. It is thought to have several medicinal properties and is often served with rice, vegetables, tofu, and pickled radish, which can be added to taste. In this way it actually resembles more of a soup than a tea!

 

 

Try some authentic Hakka cuisine on our travel: Explore the distinctive Tulou(Earthen Structure)

 

Hakka History

hakka_map

The Hakka people have unfortunately been subject to much calamity in their time, yet in spite of this adversity they appear to have triumphed. Most scholars agree that their ancestors originated from northern and central China. They came from an area somewhere near the Yellow River in what is now modern-day Shanxi, Henan, Anhui, and Hubei but were forced south in five successive waves of migration.

The first migration is believed to have taken place sometime around the Jin Dynasty (265-420), when social unrest and frequent invasions prompted the Hakka’s ancestors to move towards Jiangxi. The second migration took place during the Tang Dynasty (618-907) for similar reasons and the third happened as the Song Dynasty (960-1279) was overthrown by the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368). The fourth was caused by the Manchu conquest of China, which resulted in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912), and the final migration took place during the 19th century due to conflicts between the Hakka people and other ethnic groups. With all this moving around, it’s amazing the Hakka have managed to keep track of anything!

The term “Hakka” was coined during the reign of the Kangxi Emperor (1661-1722). At the start of his reign, he had many of China’s coastal regions evacuated by imperial edict as he believed that members of the Ming court who had fled to Taiwan may still pose a threat to the area. They were left this way for over a decade, until he issued another edict to re-populate these regions. The newcomers were given monetary incentives and were registered as “Kehu” (客户) or “Guest Households”.

The resident Cantonese-speaking inhabitants, who referred to themselves as “Bendi” (本地) or “Original Landholders”, were fiercely protective of their fertile lands and pushed the newcomers into the outer fringes, where they were forced to farm barren, mountainous regions. The term “Hakka” or “Guest Families” became a derisive term used by the Bendi for these newcomers, implying that they did not belong there. Over time the newcomers miraculously adopted the term “Hakka” for themselves and took great pride in their ability to migrate and adapt. After all, the best way to stop people insulting you is to make their insults into compliments!

Since the Hakka were often left with little fertile land to farm, many of their men turned to careers in public service or in the armed forces. Education became a focal part of their lifestyle, and this would lead them to great success later on. Considering their relatively small size, the Hakka have had a hugely disproportionate influence on the course of world history. They started the Taiping Rebellion, the largest uprising in modern Chinese history. Four of the six key Taiping leaders were of Hakka descent and together they eventually established the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom (1851-1864), which at one stage occupied one-third of China!

Many contemporaries of Sun Yat-sen[1] were Hakka people, including the businessmen Charlie Soong, who provided financial support during the Xinhai Revolution. The Communists’ famous Long March[2] consisted of over 86,000 soldiers, 11,000 administrative personnel, and thousands of civilian porters, of which over 70% were ethnically Hakka. And the founder of the Red Army, Marshal Zhu De, was also of Hakka descent. Talk about an illustrious heritage!

Lee Kuan YewOther prominent leaders of Hakka descent include Deng Xiaoping, the Chinese revolutionary and statesmen; Lee Teng-hui, the President of Taiwan from 1988 to 2000 and the first popularly elected President in Chinese history; Lee Kuan Yew, the founding father of modern Singapore and its first Prime Minister; Thaksin Shinawatra, the only Prime Minister in the history of Thailand to be re-elected; and Nat Wei, the youngest member and the first British-born Chinese person to be inducted into the United Kingdom’s House of Lords. On top of their political prowess, Hakka people are renowned for their astute business skills.

 

[1] Sun Yat-sen (1866-1925): A Chinese revolutionary who played an instrumental role in overthrowing the Qing Dynasty, abolishing imperial rule and founding the People’s Republic of China. He became the first president of China in 1912.

[2] The Long March (1934-1935): The famous path that the Red Army of the Communist Party took to evade the pursuit of the Kuomintang (Chinese Nationalist Party). Mao Zedong led the retreat and his participation was instrumental in his subsequent rise to power.

 

Get some more stories about Hakka people on our travel: Explore the distinctive Tulou(Earthen Structure)

 

Hakka People

Hakka 01

It is important to note that the Hakka are not among China’s 55 resident ethnic minorities, but are in fact a subgroup of the Han ethnic majority. They are distinguished from Han people by their language, their unusual architecture, and a few other quirky cultural traits. The term Hakka or “Kejia” (客家) means “guest families” and was initially coined during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912) in reference to people or “guests” who had left their homelands and settled in other parts of China. The Hakka earned this unusual title because, over a period of more than a thousand years, they were subject to a series of approximately five forced migrations. So if you thought moving house was hard, imagine moving your whole extended family five times over!

They are believed to have originated from northern and central China, primarily from lands bordering the Yellow River that now make up modern-day Shanxi, Henan and Hubei. However they were forced further and further south due to political unrest and nowadays the majority of Hakka people can be found in the provinces of Guangdong, Jiangxi, Fujian, Hong Kong, Guangxi, Sichuan, Hunan, and Hainan.

meizhouIt is estimated that the population of Hakka people in China is now over 31 million, with 60% of the world’s Hakka population residing in Guangdong. They have successfully emigrated out of China and now constitute approximately 15% to 20% of Taiwan’s population, making them the second largest ethnic group in that country. They can be found not only in Asian countries such as Malaysia and Thailand but also further afield in Canada, Australia, the United States and throughout Europe.

Their language, known as Hakka Chinese, incorporates features of both Mandarin Chinese and Cantonese so many people regard it as a bridge between these two languages. It is considered one of the oldest languages in China and has remained largely unchanged for hundreds of years, although some people argue that it is a dialect of Chinese. As if that wasn’t confusing enough, there are a number of dialects within the Hakka language, of which Meixian Hakka is considered the standard. In some parts of China and Taiwan, the constituency of Hakka people is so large that some televised news-broadcasts are done in Hakka Chinese!

hongkeng tuloucover02They have become renowned for a special type of building known as a Tulou, which can be found throughout southwest Fujian, Jiangxi, and Guangdong. These buildings are usually round or square in shape and can be several stories high. They are essentially fortresses and the larger ones resemble fortified villages! They were initially built to protect inhabitants from bandits and wild animals but are still in use today. After all, you never know when a marauding panda might come sniffing around! These earthen structures are considered so unique that a representative sample of about 10 Tulou in Fujian were made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008.

As far as religion is concerned, the Hakka people’s beliefs are almost identical to those of the Han Chinese. Their primary form of religious expression is in ancestor worship and they tend to follow a mixture of Taoism, Buddhism, Confucianism, and folk religion, much like the Han. Politically speaking, the Hakka have had a huge impact on Chinese history and many famous political figures were of Hakka descent. Luodai Ancient Town in Sichuan even has a museum dedicated to the Hakka people and is reputed to be the greatest Hakka town in western China. Meizhou City, in Guangdong Province, is considered the largest Hakka city all over the world.

 

Get more stories about Hakka people on our travel: Explore the distinctive Tulou(Earthen Structure)