Shung Him Tong Tsuen, the village of the “hall of humble worship,” is a Hakka Protestant community that was founded in the northeastern part of the New Territories of Hong Kong in 1903. From the time of my earliest contact with Shung Him Tong people in 1984, and again when I conducted a year of field research there in 1986 and 1987, I was struck by the apparent facility (sometimes bordering on a sense of urgency) with which many Shung Him Tong people spoke of being Hakka. They referred to themselves as Hakka with a strong sense of pride, they directed me to books and theories about Hakka history, and they spewed off long lists of famous Hakka people without batting an eye. Although not everyone there could be considered an active bearer of Hakka identity, Hakka is an important element of Shung Him Tong community identity.
The Hakka consciousness exhibited by a number of Shung Him Tong people was very different from the attitude of other people whom I encountered in Hong Kong who claimed that their ancestors were Hakka but that they no longer were, or who said that Hakka identity is no longer important or meaningful in Hong Kong, or who admitted when pressed that they were of Hakka ancestry, but who never took it upon themselves to advocate its value or importance.
The sense of Hakka identity that exists in Shung Him Tong seems to be much stronger and more clearly and self-consciously articulated than that among the Malaysian Hakka described by Sharon Carstens (this volume), or the Hakka of Kwan Mun Hau only a few miles away, described by Elizabeth Johnson (this volume). Unlike the people of Kwan Mun Hau, who have maintained certain Hakka traditions but who do not seem to have a correspondingly strong or conscious sense of Hakka identity, the people of Shung Him Tong lack a number of practices that are sometimes said to characterize the Hakka in Hong Kong. For example, unlike the people of Kwan Mun Hau, they have no ancestral halls that can be distinguished in style from those of their Cantonese neighbors and they do not practice a distinct form of ancestor worship that might be identified as Hakka. Like many Hakka in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Malaysia, and Calcutta, their Hakka language also appears to be on the decline, and they no longer dress in clothes that were once considered distinctively Hakka, nor do they sing Hakka mountain songs.1 Yet despite the lack of certain traditional cultural markers, their Hakka identity, in many ways, remains vital, and thus it demands further explanation.
Several factors might account for the striking difference in the sense of importance of Hakka identity in Kwan Mun Hau and Shung Him Tong. The Hakka of Kwan Mun Hau are Punti (i.e., legally classified as “native” or “indigenous” inhabitants, pre-1898 residents of the New Territories) or what they call bentu. As such, they receive political and economic benefits as Tsuen Wan people and as New Territories natives. In contrast, the people of Shung Him Tong are relative newcomers, and an ethnic minority in what has been a predominantly Cantonese-speaking Punti region of the New Territories. Such differences in their social status might suggest that Hakka identity is maintained in Shung Him Tong because of its political or economic salience.
Certainly during the early decades of the community, especially during the 1920s and 1930s, this was one part of the picture. At that time, when Cantonese Punti in the region wielded more economic and political power than they do today, allying themselves with other Hakka-speakers yielded certain advantages for Shung Him Tong people. Many became financially prosperous and some attained powerful posts in the Hong Kong government. By the 1940s and 1950s the conflicts that corresponded to Hakka-Cantonese differences around Shung Him Tong and in Hong Kong at large, however, had greatly diminished, as had the economic differences between the two groups. Today the interests of the people of Shung Him Tong no longer align with ethnic divisions as they may have during earlier decades. Local Punti and other non-Hakka neighbors may be considered allies in opposition to more recent immigrants, for example. Since political and economic factors no longer correspond with ethnic distinctions, they cannot account for the current importance or ongoing significance of Hakka identity in Shung Him Tong.
The single most important factor in explaining the high degree of Hakka consciousness among Shung Him Tong residents is—somewhat paradoxically—their Christianity. Christianity, and the accompanying institutional framework of the church, can be said to have influenced Hakka identity in at least three important ways: it created a social context in which Hakka identity was shared, often ascribed, and assumed to be important; it provided a reason to perpetuate Hakka identity; and it influenced the form Hakka identity could take.
The missionaries from the Basel Evangelical Missionary Society, who arrived in China just after the middle of the nineteenth century, chose to focus their evangelizing efforts almost exclusively on Hakka speakers and in Hakka regions of Guangdong. In so doing, the mission stations, churches, and schools they established created a new social context in which Hakka identity could be expressed. Members of this new social group shared not only their religious views, but also their language and the label Hakka. Regardless of the degree of Hakka consciousness before the conversion of Hakka to Christianity, the church provided a setting in which Hakka identity was assumed, and could be nurtured and articulated. Shung Him church, historically tied to the Basel mission, is widely known throughout the Fanling region as a “Hakka church,” and its members are usually presumed to be Hakka even in the few cases in which they are not.2
Conversion to Christianity also helped create a reason to perpetuate Hakka identity. To non-Christian Chinese, especially during the second half of the nineteenth century, but still today, conversion to Christianity was considered an act that alienated individuals from their Chinese roots and thus estranged them from their Chinese identity. Chinese Christians, in the wake of the Opium War (1839–42), at a time when foreign imperialism was particularly abhorred, had, in the eyes of non-Christians, transformed themselves into “barbarians” or “foreigners” by embracing an alien faith. They destroyed their idols, no longer performed the proper death rituals, stopped contributing to local shrines and temples, and, perhaps worst of all, ceased worshiping their ancestors. Without such practices, how could they be deemed proper Chinese? In the context of Shung Him Tong, asserting Hakka identity—an identity that some believed carried with it some very negative implications—became an important way for Hakka to link their Chinese and Christian identities and to claim that they could be both.3
Christianity also influenced and severely limited the form Hakka identity could take in Shung Him Tong. Unlike some less conservative churches in Hong Kong, which allow, for example, Chinese couplets over the doorway of the church and bowing or burning incense at the grave of an ancestor, and which tolerate a certain degree of religious syncretism, Shung Him church, having inherited the stance of nineteenth-century Swiss and southern German pietists, strongly disapproves of such activities. The people have therefore had to devise secular ways to express their Hakka and Chinese identity to themselves, to one another, and to outsiders. The last, while the most difficult to do under such constraints, has also been, in some ways, the most important.
In this chapter I address the question of what it means to be Hakka in Shung Him Tong by focusing on several verbal and nonverbal expressions of Hakka identity and describing the social and historical context in which these expressions acquire significance. The case of Hakka identity in Shung Him Tong illustrates the limitations of both instrumentalist and primordialist (or sentimentalist) approaches to the study of ethnicity, neither of which can satisfactorily explain the continued relevance of Hakka identity in Shung Him Tong, or the particular meaning it has acquired there. Verbal expressions of Hakka identity from Shung Him Tong illustrate how the people there distance themselves from existing negative stereotypes about the Hakka and construct a Hakka identity that is compatible with their Christian beliefs. Both the role of women in the Hakka church and the conception of the Hakka Christian cemetery can be read as symbolic expressions of Hakka identity that are unique to Shung Him Tong and that help mediate the ambivalence and inherent conflicts between Hakka, Chinese, and Christian identities. The particular construction of Hakka identity of the people of Shung Him Tong paradoxically serves both to link them to and alienate them from the wider Hakka and Chinese non-Christian community described in other chapters of this volume.
SHUNG HIM TONG: SOCIAL AND HISTORICAL CONTEXT
The area surrounding Shung Him Tong is still largely rural, but it is located within walking distance of a small but bustling market town, a modern high-rise housing estate, and the Fanling train station, from which it is an easy commute into Kowloon and other parts of Hong Kong. The church building, with its modern architecture, stands out in this rural setting as the first clue that this is no typical New Territories village, as both insiders and outsiders to the community often reminded me.
Shung Him Tong is unusual for a number of reasons. Of its approximately two hundred residents, well over 90 percent are Christian and an even larger percentage are Hakka.4 This is quite striking given the fact that at the turn of this century Lung Yeuk Tau, the larger region in which Shung Him Tong is located, was still dominated by Cantonese-speaking Punti who belonged to one of the most powerful higher-order lineages in Hong Kong, the Tang (see Faure 1986; Potter 1968; Rubie S. Watson 1985, 1982).5
As several local and Hong Kong–wide government administrators remarked, many of the villagers, beginning with the earliest residents, attained a very high level of education, not at all typical of rural villagers in the New Territories. According to one district official, Shung Him Tong Village has produced more university graduates per capita than even the most urban and elite districts of Hong Kong. Shung Him Tong claims among its most prominent past and present residents one of the founders of Chung Chi College at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, the first ethnic Chinese secretary of Chinese affairs in the Hong Kong Government, one of the founders of the Heung Yee Kuk (an important New Territories governing body), the founder of the famous Wah Yan College in Kowloon, and several university professors and government officials. The prominence of many of Shung Him Tong’s native’s is linked in part to their connection with the Basel mission.6
Ling Kai Lin, the recognized founder of Shung Him Tong, was born around the middle of the nineteenth century in the Bao’an district of southern Guangdong, which adjoined what later became the New Territories of Hong Kong. When he was a young man he, along with his father and other members of his immediate family, converted to Christianity. He then worked many years as a missionary for the Basel mission, and his children were educated at mission schools. In 1903, shortly after his retirement, Ling and his sons “purchased” some land in the New Territories from the Tangs (which was in fact leased in perpetuity from the Hong Kong government). They then invited other relatives and Hakka Christian friends to join them. As was common in other parts of the New Territories, poorer kin were willing to work the land as tenants (see Rubie S. Watson 1985), and the wealthier arrivals bought their own land in the area.
By the 1930s Shung Him Tong’s population included eleven households of eight different surnames, all of whom were Hakka and Christian. Three of the household heads had worked at one time as missionaries for the Basel mission, many had been mission educated, and several were related to one another by marriage. At first the pattern of settlement in Shung Him Tong resembled that of other local villages, in that many of the first settlers shared surname ties and came from the same native villages in Bao’an or near what is now the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone, across the border from the colony in Guangdong. But Shung Him Tong’s population quickly grew to include people from more distant regions of Guangdong who shared neither surname nor native place. What linked these immigrants to other people in Shung Him Tong were their Christian beliefs—particularly their shared affiliation with Basel mission schools and churches—and also the fact that they were Hakka.
As mentioned above, the Basel missionaries worked primarily in Hakka regions of Guangdong and among Hakka speakers in Hong Kong. After the defeat of the Taiping Rebellion, and in the wake of the Hakka-Punti Wars (see Cohen, this volume), Hakka people in South China were the target of persecution and hostility. During that time the numbers of Hakka converts to Christianity greatly increased. It is likely, given these historical events, that many Basel mission converts already shared a sense of Hakka identity when they joined the church. The missionaries, in their writings, certainly labeled them Hakka (e.g., Eitel 1867, Oehler 1922, Piton 1873–74). One of the main attractions of Shung Him Tong Village, as the Lings and other Hakka Christians recorded in their family and village histories (Pang 1934), was that they expected to have a safer, more peaceful home in the British colony than in their native places in Guangdong, where they had suffered persecution both as Hakka and as Christians.
Here I shall only briefly mention that the establishment of the community was not without conflict.7 The earliest struggles were with the local Tangs, followed in the 1930s by those with wealthy Cantonese developers and with new immigrants to the area. These conflicts were generally resolved to the satisfaction of Shung Him Tong people either through the efforts of Shung Him Tong church/village leaders, by activating their connections with the Heung Yee Kuk, through their ties to the British government, or through their voluntary associations. In the 1920s, in contrast to Kwan Mun Hau villagers, several Shung Him Tong people decided to join the Hong Kong–based international Hakka organization, the Chongzheng Hui.8 Luo Xianglin, a famous Hakka historian who later joined Shung Him church, was one of those who was instrumental in the founding of the association. In the 1930s the leaders of Shung Him Tong also organized a Hakka mutual aid association with the main function of protecting Hakka in the Lung Yeuk Tau region from robbers and hostile neighbors. Today few Shung Him Tong people belong to the Chongzheng Hui, and the local Hakka association, which lasted only until the 1950s, has been largely forgotten. A large gong—once used as an alarm to alert neighbors of trouble—stands in an old house as the only concrete reminder of past concerns.
While in the past conflicts between Hakka and their Cantonese or Punti neighbors were quite common, today around Shung Him Tong ethnicity is rarely believed to be the cause or basis of conflicts. During the past three decades the Punti population of the nearby villages has diminished and has been largely replaced by Hakka, Cantonese, Chaozhou, or other immigrants from Guangdong. Some older local conflicts between Hakka Christians and local Cantonese are still known of, but no one mentions them openly. As one older Hakka Christian explained, “We don’t like to bring that up because we don’t want to cause trouble or bad feelings.” More to the point, however, is that the people of Shung Him Tong no longer need to activate ties based on Hakka identity to resolve their conflicts and address their concerns.
Outside of the context of their village, church, and the wider Tsung Tsin Mission to which Shung Him church belongs, the people of Shung Him Tong are very much like other people in Hong Kong today who are unaware of each other’s ethnic identity, or learn of it only by chance. They exhibit no visible markers to identify them as Hakka and their spoken Cantonese is indistinguishable from that of other longtime Hong Kong residents. Their coworkers, clients, business associates, and classmates are not exclusively Hakka. In the village context, however, the situation is quite different. Church members and Shung Him Tong residents are still labeled as Hakka by people from the surrounding regions. Many of their closest friends are Hakka, and over the past several years, most of the marriages I am aware of in Shung Him Tong have been between Hakka Christian villagers. As one man in his forties explained to me, the young people tend to interact most with other Shung Him church members or with members of other Tsung Tsin Mission churches. Although they might invite non-Hakka friends and schoolmates to visit the church, few people from outside the local community join the church because it does not appeal to them. To many people, he explained, it appears to be a rather exclusive Hakka village church, and outsiders are often put off by the use of Hakka during the Sunday service.9
ETHNICITY AND HAKKA IDENTITY
Hakka identity is best understood as historically constructed and, following Charles Keyes’s definition of ethnicity, is best defined as a claim to common identity based on putative shared descent—as a type of “descent symbolism” and fictive kinship (Keyes 1981; see also Bentley 1991). Unlike more symmetrical kinship groupings, ethnicity is the product of an awareness of asymmetric or unequal relations (Comaroff and Comaroff 1992:55; E. Wolf 1982). As was pointed out in the Introduction, there is little question as to the importance of economic or political inequality in the initial emergence of Hakka ethnicity, during the nineteenth century or perhaps earlier. But ethnicity is not necessarily maintained by the same circumstances out of which it originally emerged. Thus a so-called “instrumentalist” explanation does not adequately explain persistence or maintenance, or the form that Hakka identity takes today in Shung Him Tong.
Instrumentalist or circumstantialist approaches, characterized by the classic work of Abner Cohen (1969, 1974) and Fredrik Barth (1969), and still popular in other fields of social science, tend to overemphasize the instrumental or manipulative use of ethnicity to gain or maintain political power and economic advantage over another social group, and to underplay the historical and ideological construction of ethnicity. A more instrumentalist approach would suggest that if Hakka identity persists, then it must serve some material or instrumental ends. This, however, is clearly not the case in contemporary Shung Him Tong. Hakka-Punti conflicts have greatly diminished over the past few decades around Shung Him Tong, and there are no longer political or economic interests that line up along ethnic lines. In the wider context of Hong Kong in recent years, distinctions based on political views, or between older Hong Kong residents and recent immigrants, have become far more relevant than ethnic ones. The marked decrease in the overt political relevance of Hakka identity since the first part of this century, however, has not been accompanied by a corresponding decline in or disappearance of Hakka identity in Shung Him Tong.
A primordialist explanation for the persistence of ethnicity places the emphasis on shared sentiments, which are passed from one generation to the next and are thought to derive from a shared primordial past (see Bentley 1991, Geertz 1973, Isaacs 1975a). These bonds—based on a common language, religion, or history, for example—are believed to create the basis for ethnic ties, which are maintained or resurface in new social contexts to satisfy sentimental or emotional ties to the past. One problem with this approach is that ethnic identity is almost always cast as primordial—that is, as having roots in time immemorial—but as Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger (1983) have illustrated in the case of what they call “invented traditions,” what is important is that people believe “traditions” to be old, not that they are in fact so. Language, history, or religion may or may not be constructed as symbols of group affiliation, and they may or may not have been inherited from a previous generation. In and of themselves such imagined bonds are not the source of the identity, nor can they explain its persistence, disappearance, or reappearance in a different form and context.
As Charles Keyes (1976, 1981), G. Carter Bentley (1981, 1983, 1987, 1991), and Stevan Harrell (1990a) have pointed out, and as most contemporary anthropologists concur, ethnicity need not be of the either/or variety. An exclusive focus on either the primordial or the instrumental basis of ethnic identities unnecessarily restricts the types of questions to be asked, and cannot sufficiently explain the persistence and the maintenance of ethnic identity in situations such as Shung Him Tong where it has lost its political and economic salience. In order to understand why Hakka identity remains of greater concern and interest in Shung Him Tong than among other Hakka in Hong Kong who live in more anonymous urban areas and who can easily avoid any reference to their Hakka identity, the specific history of the church community must be considered. Shung Him Tong illustrates how ethnicity “may be perpetuated by factors quite different from those that caused its emergence” (Comaroff and Comaroff 1992:61). As members of a community that is labeled Hakka, the people of Shung Him Tong are more likely to become aware of their Hakka heritage. Yet Hakka identity in Shung Him Tong is far more than a mere survival. It maintains its relevance and is distinct from the Hakka identity of people in many other Hakka communities.
As the essays in this volume collectively suggest, there may be some repeated themes, patterns—or, as Sharon Carstens refers to them, “tendencies”—that are associated with Hakka in different regions. But the patterns Carstens identifies as economic conservatism, egalitarian political attitudes, and special gender roles—regardless of whether one believes they originated from a common Chinese past or a more recently constructed ideology—take on different meanings in the particular contexts in which they are found. The Hakka entrepreneurs of Calcutta are clearly not as economically conservative as some of the other Hakka described in this volume. Where patterns such as these are found, despite their similarities in form, they may take on very different meanings. Economic conservativeness, distinctive gender roles, and egalitarian ideals, for example, may characterize both the Hakka of Pulai and those of Shung Him Tong, but these patterns necessarily hold different meanings for Hakka Christians and non-Christians. Likewise, history, language, and other cultural factors may be used in the expression, construction, and legitimation of Hakka identity, thus creating an impression of essentialism or primordialism, but superficial similarities diminish when they are examined within the different social and historical contexts in which they are produced.
Although no longer directed exclusively towards utilitarian, objective, or material goals, issues of power and domination are central to the contemporary conception of Hakka identity in Shung Him Tong. Power must be understood to include power in the sense described by such writers as Bourdieu, which includes power over “symbolic capital” (1977). The Hakka of Shung Him Tong seek to reappropriate the meaning of “Hakka,” and to contest the stigma they believe is associated with it. Hakka identity in Shung Him Tong is not simply manipulative of material resources or local political power; it involves control over symbolic meanings—in this case, power over the other dominant and hegemonic implications of Hakka identity.
The construction of Hakka identity in Shung Him Tong has involved a continuing, although not entirely successful or satisfactory, attempt to reappropriate it from an assortment of other competing sources. Different meanings of “Hakka” are imposed—or have been threatened to be imposed—on the Hakka from a variety of directions and at different times: by other Han (or ethnic Chinese), by popular rhetoric, by official policy in the People’s Republic of China that attempts to blur the differences between Hakka and other Han, by local Cantonese who imply that Hakka are less Chinese or not Chinese at all, by nineteenth-century missionaries who defined Hakka in relation to Christian qualities, by Hong Kong government tourist brochures, which reinforce certain popular stereotypes about the Hakka, and also by Chinese and foreign social scientists and anthropologists (myself included) who claim some particular knowledge or authority on the subject of the Hakka. All of these sources provide definitions against which and with which Hakka also attempt to define themselves as pure Chinese, good Hakka, and pious Christians.
REFLEXIVE EXPRESSIONS OF HAKKA IDENTITY
During the nineteenth century “Hakka” sometimes served as a derogatory label that referred to people whose language and customs differed from those of the Cantonese-speaking Punti of Guangdong. As a nineteenth-century missionary wrote, “A thorough-bred Punti [Cantonese],” when asked about the Hakka “would certainly, in the case of his ever condescending to acknowledge that he had ever heard of such people, turn up his nose and tell you that the Hakkas are quite beneath your notice, that they are a kind of semi-barbarians, living in poverty and filth” (Eitel 1867:81). Derogatory stereotypes of the Hakka were often related to the issue of whether they are “really Chinese” or descendants of “barbarian tribes.”
Several cultural differences between Hakka and Punti helped fuel the assertion that Hakka—particularly during the nineteenth century—were different from other Han and that in some ways they resembled so-called “hill tribes” or Chinese “national minorities.” Two key features that were used to support this view, and that are examined in more detail below, are the unorthodox behavior and treatment of Hakka women, and the Hakka’s supposed lack of loyalty to the land and thus to their ancestors—an accusation that is all the more powerfully directed towards Hakka Christians.
In Hong Kong today, as in Taiwan and nineteenth-century China, Hakka are widely reputed to be poor, rural farmers, and Hakka women have a reputation for working extremely hard. These images, expressed by Hakka and non-Hakka, also appear in tourist brochures and in popular media, but rarely make explicit reference to the possibility of Hakka non-Chinese origins. In the People’s Republic of China today the Hakka are officially considered part of the Han Chinese majority nationality, not one of the national minority groups. The question of Hakka origins has repeatedly been “laid to rest” by scholars of the Hakka and by Hakka themselves, who are satisfied that Hakka claims to northern Chinese origins around the fourth century are substantiated by historical and linguistic evidence (e.g, Cohen, this volume; Hsieh 1929; S. T. Leong 1980; Luo Xianglin 1965; Moser 1985; Jerry Norman 1988). But to some people of Shung Him Tong, this is still a very sensitive issue. Any negative stereotypes of the Hakka, and any reference to their “questionable origins,” constitute a grave insult because of the underlying implications about Chinese identity.
The examples below illustrate some of the most common ideas about the Hakka that I heard from Hakka themselves (mostly Christians, but also non-Christians). They all echo the popular view that Hakka are industrious and hardworking, honest, thrifty, straightforward, cooperative, diligent, and practical—qualities that are also, significantly, believed to be essentially Chinese (see Eugene N. Anderson 1968, Blake 1981). These qualities and characteristics, as they were expressed to me in Shung Him Tong, are all embedded in a cultural construction of the Hakka past—a history that contains their connection to north central China—the cradle of Chinese civilization. Hakka characteristics are viewed in a sense as adaptations to the poverty and hardships experienced during repeated historical patterns of persecution, migration, and resettlement. They are also qualities that are very compatible with Hakka ideas about “good Christians.”
Although Chinese interethnic conflicts are infrequent in Hong Kong today, ideas about ethnic differences and memories of ethnic conflicts provide an important backdrop for Hakka expressions of identity. As Keith Basso has eloquently argued in the case of Western Apache and their joking imitations of “the white man” in the United States, people often define themselves by who they are not (1979). Implicit—or sometimes explicit—in Shung Him Tong Hakka expressions of self is a comparison with Punti, Cantonese, or, less often, Chaozhou. Such depictions of “the other” reflect power relations (Said 1979, 1989; Zhang Longxi 1988); those who are culturally dominant control the symbolic capital of the other by controlling their identity. The Hakka resist symbolic domination by asserting their own definitions of themselves.
The discussions of Hakka identity I heard in Shung Him Tong are notably devoid of descriptions of visible markers or customs. Occasionally I was told about Hakka foods that were still widely eaten, but songs, clothing, and other distinctive markers were only rarely mentioned, and then usually in connection with non-Christian Hakka, or Hakka in the past. When during my first month of research in Shung Him Tong I told one man I was an anthropologist doing research on the Hakka, he told me that they were certainly Hakka, and that I would find Hakka history there in the village, but if it was “customs” (jaahpgwaan) I was looking for, I was in the wrong place. Shung Him Tong was a Hakka village, without a doubt, but it was a modern Christian community, he told me. If I wanted to learn about Hakka customs, I should visit some of the older Hakka villages in the New Territories where there still were Hakka ancestral halls, Hakka was spoken more, and women wore Hakka-style clothes and jewelry. Or better yet, he suggested, I should some day go and study Hakka who lived in Sabah or other rural regions of Southeast Asia. There I would find Hakka culture. History, however, he could tell me about, and he began to cite Hakka genealogical connections to north central China of various village families.
The following extract of a conversation I had with a seventy-year-old man demonstrates several typical patterns pertaining to discussions of Hakka identity in Shung Him Tong. First, he compares the Hakka to non-Hakka, in this case Punti (Cantonese). Second, he regards Hakka—especially Hakka Christians—as morally superior to the generally wealthier, politically more powerful, and culturally dominant Cantonese. And third, his depiction of the recent history of Shung Him Tong as having repeated broader patterns of more distant Hakka history serves to strengthen and substantiate various Hakka Christian claims about their identity.
“What makes Hakka different” he began, “is their history, language, and the fact that they are hardworking and honest.” I asked whether the Cantonese are not also hardworking and honest. He thought for a minute and reluctantly admitted that yes, “of course Cantonese parents teach their children to be honest and hardworking, but the Hakka are even more likely to be so because of their history. They have had to be to survive.” As he often explained to me, Hakka have had to struggle, and to live in hilly areas where the land is not so good. “The Cantonese,” he explained, “were in the plains [in Guangdong] longer and are richer and learned not to work so hard. They got lazier.”10 “The Cantonese,” he once said, “think of Hakka as inferior, aggressive, and uneducated, but Hakka people have shown that they are wrong. . . . Other people may try to be good and honest and hardworking, but Hakka people have had to be.”
Making the transition from general Hakka history to the history of Shung Him Tong, he went on to describe the early founding of the village, how Shung Him Tong people didn’t let outsiders “bully them,” and how they organized themselves:
The early settlers got education and built a church and a school. The other people in the area have no such organizations. The Hakka people would farm and dig and build buildings and work very hard and show that they are not the way other people think of them. Other people don’t have the same capabilities as Hakka people. They [non-Hakka] might smoke opium and gamble away their money. They can’t hold on to their money because they are weak. Look at [he names three neighboring villages, and gestures in their direction]—before, there were Cantonese people in those villages, but where have they gone? Now it’s largely Hakka people. I don’t know where they went! Hakka people are capable and have their culture and traditions.
A young woman schoolteacher in her thirties who is related to one of the earliest immigrants to Shung Him Tong put the same points quite succinctly, again contrasting the Hakka and their Cantonese neighbors:
Hakka people are very good people—hardworking, thrifty, and practical. Not like the Punti, who like to have a good time and are not hardworking. When they [Punti] make money they just become opium addicts, in contrast to [Hakka] people like my grandfather, who was poor and saved a little bit of money so he could buy some land.
The pattern of mentioning one’s parents’ or grandparents’ generation in reference to the Hakka was often a way of connecting the distant past with more immediate and personally known events. A university-educated man in his forties who no longer lives in the village but who was also related to one of the founding families of Shung Him Tong connected the Hakka distant past with his grandmother’s way of life:
In the past the Hakka lived on the . . . less fertile land in a naturally harsh environment to make a living . . . and they have somehow developed a kind of diligence . . . But, observing and thinking about my grandmother [a respected church elder in her time], I somehow have the idea that Hakka are hardworking and straightforward people. They aren’t as prone to deception. . . . Maybe this is the mark of being country people, of living a very simple life.
To each of these three people, Hakka culture and traditions—depicted as qualities and character traits—are best expressed by looking at the past and at Hakka and village history. Rarely did they identify or mention specific customs and practices as Hakka.
Hakka are also well aware of the negative qualities attributed to them by non-Hakka. Like the older man suggests in the first quotation above, Hakka are “not the way other people think of them.” They know, for example, that they are considered poor and stingy. Poverty, however, is not always regarded by Hakka as a negative characteristic and, along with the hardships experienced by them, is considered the basis for a number of their good qualities. As one young man whose family joined the church in the 1940s put it, because Hakka were poor,
there is a strong “we” feeling among [them]. They are supportive and treat each other as brothers. They are hardworking, honest, straightforward, and they stick together even when they live in foreign countries. They are also stubborn. In the past all Hakka people suffered a lot and were persecuted. These are the characteristics that describe Hakka people and they also describe good Christians.
In this quotation, what non-Hakka describe as “clannishness” has been described positively as mutual support, unity, and cooperativeness arising from times of hardship and poverty. Also important in this quotation is that poverty, cooperativeness, and thrift—expressed as one-time characteristics of all Hakka and found in several of the other cases described in this book—are decisively equated with those of “good Christians.” The equation of Hakka moral character with that of pious Christians—in opposition to Punti (Cantonese) non-Christians—is also implicit in the first two quotations above. References to Hakka piety, or the idea that Hakka were already closer to becoming Christian than were other Chinese are also found in some nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century European writings about the Hakka. Some European missionaries viewed the Hakka as more likely than other Chinese to become Christian because their religion was said to be closer to monotheism, their treatment of women was “healthier,” and they were more likely to be monogamous.11
Hakka of Shung Him Tong depict themselves as hardworking in contrast to other Chinese. They believe that in the past they were poorer than most others, especially the Cantonese. Another difference lies in the honesty and morality ascribed to the Hakka in contrast to the dishonesty and immorality of others. Such a view is emphasized by the pious and moralistic stance of Hakka Christians. In the following statement the poverty of the Hakka is transformed into wealth. In contrast to the wealth of the Punti, however, which Hakka Christians believe corrupts and leads to immoral activities, the wealth of the Hakka is earned through honesty and hard work. It is implied that Hakka keep their wealth because they do not gamble or squander their money on drugs or prostitutes. As an elderly village man put it:
We [Hakka] were threatened and treated like outsiders; we had a hard time. . . . Well, the [Punti] Tang were lazy. Perhaps they smoked too much opium and played mahjong all the time and gambled and lost their money. . . . The Hakka have the reputation of going through China and usurping the land from the wealthy landlords by working very hard.
On the surface this statement may appear strikingly similar to that of Ellen Oxfeld’s Hakka landlady in Calcutta, who explained that “when Cantonese make money, they get lots of servants, eat with ivory chopsticks, and use tablecloths, . . . but Hakka keep working very hard” (this volume). In both cases Hakka are frugal and hardworking and Cantonese squander their money. But, although the generalizations about Hakka and Cantonese are similar, it is important to note that the specific examples provided by the man from Shung Him Tong of what Cantonese are said to do with their money carry a far more moralistic message. Non-Christian Hakka, even in the communities surrounding Shung Him Tong, are very likely to partake in mahjong and other forms of gambling, which Hakka Christians disdain.
While this man and other people from Shung Him Tong told me that the Hakka are known for “taking over and becoming landlords” (Cantonese: Hakka jim deihjyuh), this is not a view I ever heard expressed by non-Hakka. To non-Hakka, Hakka are often viewed as stingy. What non-Hakka think of as stinginess, however, is to Hakka thrift. In contrast to the wasteful Cantonese, who eat only the leafy greens of the choisam, the Hakka, I was told by one woman, eat the whole vegetable, stalk and all. During one conversation at which both Hakka and non-Hakka were present, a Cantonese woman married to a Hakka man said, “The Hakka don’t spend their money and they are stingy. But unlike other Chinese who are careful with their money, the Hakka don’t get rich.” Her Hakka husband defended himself and all Hakka and described his grandfather’s thrift and generosity. A little later in the evening he began to expound on the many famous and successful Hakka, to which his Cantonese brother-in-law responded, “But the Chaozhou are even more successful!”
References by non-Hakka to Hakka success (or lack thereof) usually refer to financial success. To defend themselves, the Hakka of Shung Him Tong interpret success more broadly to include academic, moral, political, or social success. Along similar lines, I was directed to a man who is often cited in the village as an example of a successful Hakka. He is a retired politician who has not lived in the village since he was a child. After I very briefly explained that I was conducting research in the Hakka community, he interjected, “Why not study the Chaozhou? They’re much more interesting.” I asked why this was so, and he answered that they are “much more [economically] successful. Hakka who become successful are no longer Hakka.” He considers himself a case in point. As a successful person, he no longer identifies himself as Hakka, and non-Hakka are unlikely to assume that he is Hakka. He lives in an exclusive part of Hong Kong, his children have married non-Hakka, and in public he speaks flawless Cantonese. It is also important to note that, like many other members of his branch of the family, he is a practicing Catholic and rarely attends the Hakka church, only on occasions such as weddings and funerals.
Scholars also perpetuate the idea that “few Hakka became successful in business” (e.g., Moser 1985:245). It is not that there are in fact no successful Hakka entrepreneurs—the Hakka tanners in Calcutta are a vivid example of business success (see Oxfeld, this volume), but, as is suggested by the quotation above, Hakka who are economically successful may better fit the stereotype of successful Chinese entrepreneurs than that of poor Hakka farmers. To people with whom I spoke in Hong Kong—who conveniently forgot that Aw Boon Haw, whose fortune was based on Tiger Balm medicine, and C. J. Soong, founder of the Bank of China, are both Hakka (ibid.)—the idea of wealthy Hakka entrepreneurs seemed as comically incongruous and as much a contradiction in terms as would the idea of rich Oakies or hillbillies in the United States.
Even among the Hakka of Shung Him Tong—who are quick to list many famous Hakka politicians, scholars, and entertainers—one finds a marked lack of Hakka who have achieved commercial success. In part this shortage may be because Hakka are proud of their heritage of frugality and hard work, but such can also be said of the wealthy Hakka in Calcutta. From the point of view of the people of Shung Him Tong there is another explanation. Success in business, they say, requires illegal or dishonest, immoral activities. Gambling, inviting important contacts to the jockey club and the horse races, and living the high life all are—from their Christian point of view—considered corrupt and corrupting, yet necessary for success in the field of commerce.
For Hakka Christians this is in part a rationalization, but it is also true that their success lies not in commercial enterprises, but in education, politics, and civil service—fields that were traditionally and officially held in high esteem both by the Chinese and by their church community. Although Max Weber’s Protestant ethic equates business success with grace and salvation, for the people of Shung Him Tong wealth is often thought to be a sign of corruption. Thus, in striking contrast to the Hakka of Calcutta, who view capitalism as a legitimate route to upward mobility, the Hakka of Shung Him Tong believe, and are reassured, not by material wealth but by the thought that “the meek shall inherit the earth.”12 They share with the Hakka of Calcutta an idea of Hakka frugality and thrift as positive characteristics that render them superior to the Cantonese, but they do not consider wealth the ultimate measure of success. Like the Hakka of Malaysia, they believe Hakka are not particularly skilled in business, but it is not, they claim, that “Hakka have no head for business,” as a Hakka Malay explained to Sharon Carstens, but rather that they choose not to. The stereotype of Hakka poverty and lack of business acumen articulates well with their image of being good Christians and their beliefs about their Hakka heritage.
HAKKA WOMEN AND HAKKA IDENTITY
Like many of the women belonging to non-Chinese “hill tribes,” with whom the Hakka were sometimes compared during the nineteenth century, the image of Hakka women did not fit the shy, modest, feminine, Han ideal of the nineteenth century (Diamond 1988). Although Hakka were patrilineal and patrilocal, as were other Han, Hakka women are said to have been allowed more freedom than were other nineteenth-century Chinese women. For Chinese women of that time, freedom was not considered a good thing. For other Han Chinese binding one’s daughter’s feet was a point of pride, status, and wealth—an indication of the strict control of a patriarchal society over women. That Hakka women’s feet were not bound suggested that they were undisciplined, unrestrained, and uncontrolled by Hakka men, who were, by implication, weak and to some extent subordinate to their wives. On a symbolic level, the behavior of Hakka women posed a serious threat to Han patriarchal hegemony.
In many historical and missionary documents from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries (e.g., Campbell 1912, Lechler 1878, Oehler 1922, Piton 1873–74), in commemorative publications of the International Hakka Association, and in travel magazines and tourist publications in Hong Kong, one easily finds many statements, generalizations, popular images, and stereotypes regarding Hakka women. Hakka women still capture the imaginations of many observers. In tourist brochures visitors to Hong Kong are told to look for women in distinctive circular, flat, straw hats with black cloth trim. These, they are told, are the famed, hardworking Hakka women. In fact, these hats (as well as darker skin, stockier builds, and larger feet) often serve more as class or occupational markers than as ethnic ones, but women seen doing agricultural or construction work—especially if they are wearing circular, black-fringed hats—are often mistakenly assumed to be Hakka. This reinforces not only the working-class stereotype of the Hakka, but also the reputation of Hakka women as extremely hardworking compared to other Chinese women.
No Hakka or non-Hakka I have ever spoken with has disagreed with the claim that Hakka women are extremely hardworking. Hakka men might deny and resent the stereotype that they are lazy compared to Hakka women, but both sexes in Shung Him Tong express pride in the fact that Hakka women work very hard.13 Their idea of hard work goes well beyond the essentialized image of women farmers or construction workers in the supposed Hakka hat. As one older man said when describing his mother, Hakka women are taught to “be an official’s wife and go out from the drawing room” (jouhdak gunleung, cheutdak tengtong). This means, he explained, that Hakka women are expected to be good, proper, officials’ wives as well as being able to cook and clean. “They should be able to talk intelligently to important guests and also do hard work.”
The double requirement placed on Hakka women—that they be competent in both the domestic and public spheres—is interpreted by many Hakka as evidence of advanced or modern views regarding the emancipation of women. The important and visible role of Hakka women in the Taiping Rebellion (as leaders and as military trainees) is also cited to demonstrate enlightened views regarding women. It was not, according to Hakka men (and some women), that Hakka women had to work in the home as well as in the fields because they were poor, subservient, or exploited, or because the men frequently emigrated or were lazy, but because they were entitled to work (see also Eberhard 1974). Thus a recent rhetoric of gender equality has come to be associated with Hakka women’s work outside the home. According to missionary records and many Hakka I spoke with, even when Hakka in the past were wealthy enough not to require women to work outside the home, women never had their feet bound. While to other Han this was a sign of Hakka low status, as one man from Shung Him Tong asserted with pride, it is to Hakka an indication that in the nineteenth century they were well ahead of the times in promoting women’s liberation.
I was told by one man that, because of their ability to work hard, Hakka women rarely have become beggars or prostitutes. Such views were presented by both men and women, with one difference. Several Hakka women in Shung Him Tong (including the church evangelist and the daughters of two church elders) explained, with reference to their own and their mothers’ work loads in both the domestic and the public spheres, that “Hakka men are so spoiled that the women have to do everything.” Others put it in terms of male laziness or helplessness, thus casting the labor of women in the realm of necessity rather than privilege or choice. While they agreed with the popular image of the hardworking Hakka woman, many women articulated an awareness of the inequality and the contradictions posed by their “liberated” position.
In Shung Him Tong the roles of women in the operation of the church and in church-related activities reflect what is in retrospect constructed as traditional Hakka approval for the visible and equal public roles of women. While the pastor is a man, there is a woman evangelist who delivers the sermon at least once a month. There is usually a woman translator who renders the Hakka sermon into Cantonese each Sunday, and of the group of four people who are selected each week to collect offerings, two are always women, one older and one younger.14 The apparent symmetry of the church functionaries, board of directors, and elders is offset by the relative imbalance in the congregation itself—in which women are clearly in the majority. In terms of church decision making, I was told that women often go along with what the male elders and board members (who are often their husbands) decide, but, at least publicly (as in the past), they play a secondary and less vocal role. Women may be visible, but they are not equal. Women in the church are cast in support roles. The treasurer is a man, but Sunday school classes are taught primarily by women, and evangelizing work is also largely performed by women. The power relationship between Hakka men and women is thus reproduced in the context of the church. The pattern of women performing what the man above referred to as “hard work” as well as “intelligent conversation to entertain important guests” is still the rule, and women have become, in a sense, objectified as a symbol of Hakka identity, an embodiment of Hakka qualities, and the basis for a Hakka claim to a rhetoric of modernity.
Although Hakka in the nineteenth century were mainly intensive agriculturalists who were sedentary compared to nomadic groups of North and Northwest China and swidden agriculturalists of the southern hills, or even boat people, Hakka sometimes faced many of the same insults and accusations of inferiority from their non-Hakka neighbors. Hakka were accused of being less rooted to the land than the Punti, which also implied that they were less dedicated to their ancestors. As their name suggests, they had a reputation for migrating frequently. Although they were far less transitory than most “hill tribes” or other Chinese ethnic minorities, and Hakka often settled in an area for several centuries, their name and their less elaborate ancestral halls (see Johnson, this volume) suggested to their Chinese neighbors that they were less civilized outsiders who did not show proper respect for their ancestors. Hakka (and other Chinese) who converted to Christianity, and therefore no longer practiced ancestor worship and rites, were even more prone to be accused of no longer being Chinese, having forsaken and deserted their ancestors.
As James Watson (1988) and Myron Cohen (1991) have suggested, “orthopraxy”—the proper structure for the practice of funerary, marriage, and other rituals—was more significant in Imperial China as a marker of Han identity than was “orthodoxy,” or the concern for unified belief that might underlie any given ritual. The concept of orthopraxy helps to explain why to their non-Hakka, non-Christian neighbors, Hakka Christians are considered to be, in a sense, no longer Chinese: the structure of their rituals appears wrong. But the people of Shung Him Tong place greater emphasis on unified belief, and claim that a continued concern for, and knowledge of, the importance of the ancestors, for example, can be maintained without the traditional heathen practices associated with their worship.
The Shung Him Tong cemetery is a place of great pride for a number of reasons that go well beyond its practical purpose. The cemetery gives testimony to a number of positive characteristics that the people of Shung Him Tong attribute to the Hakka in general and to Hakka Christians in particular, and on a symbolic level the cemetery is an important feature in the claim to their Chinese identity. As such, the cemetery can be read as a material expression of a number of central tenets of Hakka identity, most of which are tied to ideas of Hakka history.
When I first began investigating the information recorded on grave markers, no one in the community seemed particularly surprised or disturbed. On the contrary, a number of people said that it was an important place for me to look if I wanted to learn about the community. The famous Hakka historian Luo Xianglin, who had been a dedicated church member and elder and who was buried in the cemetery, had also done research there. Each grave marker contained genealogical information including the deceased’s place of birth, his or her photograph or portrait, a list of his or her descendants, and the native place of his or her recent ancestors.15
In addition to a visit to the church and school, virtually every tour of the village included a visit to the village cemetery or a walk to a view of the cemetery. It was clearly a point of pride for a number of reasons. It provided the opportunity to discuss several prominent villagers who are buried there, and was noteworthy because Shung Him Tong is one of the few villages in the New Territories to have the advantage of its own cemetery. According to Hong Kong law, only Punti—defined in this case as descendants of those who resided in the New Territories before 1898—have the legal right to burial in authorized regions of the New Territories. Most others are buried in one of the official public cemeteries. Through the initiative of some of the early village leaders, however, the people of Shung Him Tong petitioned for the land behind the village and, after great persistence and numerous financial contributions from the villagers, permission was granted for a Christian cemetery in 1931. In order to appreciate the significance of such a feat, one must realize the great limitations placed on burials for non-Punti in the New Territories and also the limitations on burial land and land in general in Hong Kong. The cemetery suggests the rootedness of the Hakka in the area, the permanence of their community, and their ability to overcome hardship and local opposition.
Many parts of the Shung Him Tong cemetery are found covered in weeds and overgrown except at Easter time. The usual paper and food offerings presented at the grave sites at funerals and during the Qing Ming and Chong Yang festivals in Hong Kong are forbidden at the Shung Him Tong cemetery, and are rarely seen at the graves. But Easter, which everyone explains corresponds closely to Qing Ming, is the time when the entire church “family,” as it is called, visits the graves, brings flowers, and sings hymns there. Several elderly women mentioned that they would be happy to be buried there because even if their descendants forget them, they would be guaranteed a visit from the church family at least once a year. A similar concern may have occurred to the few early village residents who chose to transfer the remains of several ancestors from Guangdong to the Shung Him Tong cemetery.
Hakka Christians are robbed of the ability to express their Chinese identity—particularly their genealogical connections to a glorious Chinese past—through the usual means of a family altar or ancestral hall. For this reason the cemetery fills an important void. It at once heeds the Christian proscriptions against ancestor worship and clearly and publicly depicts people’s connections to the past. Out of a similar concern that Christians might lose an important link to their past, Luo Xianglin attempted to establish an ancestral hall for the Luo lineage in Hong Kong with one side for non-Christian worship and another for Christian prayer.
Likewise, the cemetery serves as a kind of public genealogy or historical text. This is not difficult to accept if one considers that a mimeographed volume on Shung Him Tong history compiled by the household heads in the 1930s (Pang 1934) is one of the main sources for Luo’s famous history of the Hakka (Luo Xianglin 1965). Luo’s work, which is strongly influenced by his personal and professional connection to Shung Him Tong, has been referred to as a “veritable bible for the Hakka” (S. T. Leong 1980) and provides the basis for the Hakka history that is reproduced in Hakka associations worldwide. In Shung Him Tong even those who have not read Luo Xianglin’s book know of it and know its main points. The book itself is a symbol of Hakka legitimacy. Other Hakka in Hong Kong and further afield who express pride in their Hakka identity often assert—whether they are aware of it or not—many of the central tenets expressed in Luo’s writing (e.g., the huiguan quotations cited by Carstens, this volume). That is not to say, however, that Hakka identity is the same everywhere.
For the people of Shung Him Tong, Hakka identity is conceived of largely as subjective qualities and character traits that are believed to be rooted in history—a history of temporal and spatial migrations connecting them to the core of China. History, as a concrete text, is memorialized in grave markers, gender roles, and everyday conversations. Hakka identity in Shung Him Tong continues to be expressed and negotiated within the parameters of what is deemed appropriate—pious Christian belief and behavior.
Contrary to what one might expect, and unlike Christian and other types of religious conversion that are said to serve as a means to “escape a stigmatized identity” (Berreman 1979, Juergensmeyer 1982), Christianity has played an important role in perpetuating, transforming, and strengthening Hakka identity in Shung Him Tong. Like the early settlers who suffered the double stigma of being both Hakka and Christian, the current residents must also struggle to define themselves and construct a positive self image. This helps to explain why their Hakka identity is more often asserted, and more clearly reflexive, and also more defensive at times, than that of other Christian or non-Christian Hakka who live in the more anonymous urban regions of Hong Kong.
This Christian/ethnic identity is an ingenious blend of symbolic forms wherein the prominence of women, the consumption of the whole choisam, and the construction of a cemetery all serve to strategically integrate aspects of Christian faith with ethnic stereotypes. Although not political in the way in which the Hakka movement in Taiwan is (see Martin, this volume), Hakka identity in Shung Him Tong still has political implications in terms of the symbolic capital under negotiation. Hakka identity, as it is expressed in Shung Him Tong, both incorporates and resists definitions of the Hakka imposed from outside by Punti, European missionaries, the state, and other sources.
Their brand of Christian beliefs requires that they reject many cultural practices that their non-Christian neighbors consider essentially Chinese. The rejection of “proper” rites, customs, gambling, mahjong, and horse racing, and the introduction of what neighbors perceive as foreign, peculiar, or amusing Christian practices alienates them from other Chinese. Their insistence on a Hakka identity defined as essentially primordial and historical allows them to argue that they are at once pious Christians and more Chinese than their neighbors. By extension, their identity as well educated, successful Hakka challenges the state-perpetuated image of the Hakka as poor, rural folk.
Hakka identity takes on a very particular meaning in the context of Shung Him Tong, but it also echoes certain themes expressed by other Hakka—both Christian and non-Christian—within and beyond Hong Kong. Many of the ideas held by Hakka Christians in Shung Him Tong regarding Hakka history, the role of women, hard work and industry, and a commitment to the land and the ancestors, are themes that appear in the publications of Hakka associations worldwide. It is noteworthy that Luo Xianglin himself popularized many of the stereotypes and images that appear in these publications. Thus, at least on the level of rhetoric, Hakka Christians are linked with all Hakka worldwide. While one could interpret this in a primordialist way, to do so would essentialize the past—a past that is more appropriately seen as the product of strategic imaginings.
I am grateful to the Joint Committee on Chinese Studies of the American Council for Learned Societies and the Social Science Research Council; the National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Stipend Program; the University of California at Berkeley, Humanities Research Grant; and the Western Michigan University Faculty Research and Creative Activities Support Fund for supporting the research upon which this chapter is based. I also wish to thank Joseph S. Alter, Nancy Abelmann, Kathleen Adams, Jeanne Bergman, Andrew Y. L. Cheung, Stevan Harrell, Mary Porter, William A. Shack, Robert Sundick, and James L. Watson for comments, suggestions, and encouragement. An earlier version of this chapter was presented at the 1991 conference of the Association for Asian Studies, at a panel entitled “What Does It Mean to Be Hakka?”
1. I found, as Elizabeth Johnson did in Tsuen Wan, that Cantonese is spoken fluently by all but the oldest residents of Shung Him Tong. Some young people speak only Cantonese, but many could understand and also speak Hakka. My research was carried out mainly in Cantonese and English, and thus the spoken Chinese that is cited in this essay is romanized Cantonese following the Yale system in Parker Huang’s Cantonese Dictionary (1970). Other Chinese terms follow the Mandarin pinyin romanization, while place names in Hong Kong follow the local spellings according to the Gazetteer of Place Names (Hong Kong 1960) or Hong Kong Streets and Places (Hong Kong 1983, 1985).
2. This helps to explain why passing as Cantonese has not been an option for the people of Shung Him Tong, as it has been for those in other regions of the New Territories (see Johnson, this volume; also Baker 1968).
3. There were, of course, material advantages to converting to Christianity, especially with regard to education. For more details on this topic see Smith (1985) and Constable (1994).
4. The population of Shung Him Tong is difficult to pinpoint. Some residents reside in the village only during certain times of the year or the week. The geographical boundaries of the region also vary according to the official boundary, which included some 1,300 people in 1986, or the unofficial social boundaries of the community. The figure I am using here is a rough estimate based on the commonly perceived social and geographic boundary of Shung Him Tong, which corresponds most closely to the traditional borders of the village and the perception of most residents.
5. It is important to note here that in the context of Shung Him Tong, all Punti were Cantonese speakers, in contrast to the Punti of Tsuen Wan described by Johnson in the previous chapter, who were Hakka-speakers. The Cantonese name Tang is often written Teng (pinyin: Deng) in English-language publications.
6. Shung Him church is one of about twelve in Hong Kong that are members of the Tsung Tsin Mission, also known as the “Hakka church.” The member churches were affiliated with the Basel mission until their independence. Tsung Tsin Mission is now a member of the larger group of Lutheran churches in Hong Kong.
7. For more on this topic see Constable (1994: chap. 3).
8. This, I believe, was viewed more as a useful political link with other local Hakka than as a statement of pro-Taiwan or Nationalist sentiments.
9. In 1986 Shung Him church began translating Hakka sermons into Cantonese, and Cantonese sermons into Hakka, in an attempt to attract more people to the services.
10. On another occasion when I asked him how Hakka people learned to be hardworking, he said it was probably mostly from their parents, but also was “in their blood and inherited.” The church, he said, “may also tell people to work hard, but not in the same way that people work hard because they are Hakka.”
11. For more on this theme, see Constable (1994: chap. 6).
12. As is discussed in greater detail by Ellen Oxfeld (this volume) and Hill Gates (1987:260–61), in late Imperial China capitalism offered an alternative to the state-controlled system of degrees and government office as a legitimate route to upward mobility.
13. Burton Pasternak also found among Hakka men in Taiwan disagreement with the idea that “they spend a lot of time sitting around talking while their wives do all the work,” although they are the first to admit that “their wives are among China’s most industrious” (1983:25).
14. Non-Hakka whom I asked insisted that this gendered division of labor and the conscious attempt at visual balance is unique to the Hakka church, but this question remains open for further research.
15. The spatial arrangement of the cemetery also reflects relative status of members of the Shung Him Tong community (see Constable 1994:104).