Hakka Rural Life
in the New Territories, HKSAR, and ShenZhen Region of China.
Tradtional Hakka Clothing of Working Farming Women
Older Hakka women of the New Territories still keeping the old dressware tradtions are often identifiable by their headgear. They often wear a distinct black cloth, called a "Bau1 Tdiu2 Tsai3" or literally a "small head wrapping" held by a long thin tassled lace ribbon called a "Bao1 Tdiu2 Tsai3 Dai4". This is considered as a type of hat. The act of wearing such headgear is know as "Dung1 Bau1 Tdiu2 Tsai3", where 'dung1' means to place on the head.
The purpose of the cloth is to cover the the top of the head and cover part of the top of the back of neck so that during work, the sun does not become too harmful.
The lace ribbon is often made at home by the wearer. The background colour of the ribbon is white. Coloured cotten is used to create a pattern. Black and red are the most frequently seen colours used in conjunction with the white background. The patterns themselves have names to them.
The tassle at the end of the Dai4 is also a distinguishing feature of Hakka Women's Hat ribbons. It is sometimes used with a another distinct type of hat known as a "Liong2 Mau4" or "cool hat". Liong2 Mau4 are rigid, round, wide and flat in construction with a short black curtain like frill surrounding it. It is woven into shape using a type of grass. There is also a hole in the middle of the hat which enables the wearer to keep it centered on the head. The ribbon is tied at two points on the intersection of the diameter to the circumference of the hat using the tassled ribbon. A towel of somekind is placed on the head before the Liong2 Mau4 is worn, to protect from exposure of the scalp to the sun. Hakka and non-Hakka women both wear this as a working hat to keep the face cool, but it is the tassle which distinguishes Hakka from other wearers.
In the New Territories and environs of ShenZhen, the local farming population of Hakka women wear a distince near black costume. It consists of the Bau1 Tdiu2 Tsai3, and a black work top with long sleeves, and black trousers. The reason for this is obvious, since work in the fields means often besmearing by mud and other materials connected with farming, such as natural fertilisers, and ash from fires.
Hakka women who work in the paddy fields do so often barefoot. When they leave the field they wear simple sandals without the heel straps. When they cut firewood or grass they wear a simple black plimsole like shoe which has a strap and buckle.
In Hakka farmlands, the village is the center of all activities. Surrounding the village is farmland stretching over low paddies (Tden2), to hilly orchards (Go3 Zen2) and terraced fields (Chia2).
These three basic types of farming situations dictate the type of food which can be grown.
In the paddy fields, rice plants are grown. These require a source of freshwater, though the coastal areas in which many farms are situated mean that at many times of the year, seawater can affect the paddyfields. This means that the rice strains grown must tolerate a certain amount of saltwater. Though the strict meaning of Tden2 is a paddy field because they are often immersed in water, the loose meaning is a plot of land, and so they can be used to grow vegetables. Chinese cabbage such as varieties, Pak6 Toi4, Bau1 Toi4, Toi4 Sim1; a type of Chinese broccoli Gai4 Lan2, and onion varieties such as the leek, Tai4 Son4, spring onions, Tung1 Tdiu2 and garlic, Son4; root crops such as potatoes, Su2 Tsai3, eddoes or taro, Vu4 Tdiu2, sweet potatoes, Fan1 Su2 and kudzu/yams Fun3 Got5 are grown.
Orchards are often kept, and they produce citrus fruits, mainly oranges (Tang2), tangerines (Git5)and mandarins (Gam1). Other fruits that are grown include pineapples (Bo1 Lo2), longyan (Lung2 Ngan3 lit. dragon eyes), lychees (Lai1 Go3) and bananas (Nga2 Jiau1 / Hiong1 Jiau1).
These pieces of land are often terraced on hillsides and are sometimes difficult to access. Small winding mud tracks lead to them. Types of vegetables which are grown in the hill Chia2 are often root vegetables which require less attention. Where Chia and Tden are near the village, and are not water laden, crops of fruiting vegetables such as aubergines or eggplants, Kio2 Tsai3 / Ai2 Ga2 and capsicums/peppers Jiau1 including the chilli peppers Lat6 Jiau1 are seen. Sometimes sensitive easily damaged soft fruits such as the papaya, Fa1 Len4 Go3 / Muk5 Ga1 are grown on bamboo frames.
Due to the situation of the hilly areas in which some of these orchards are situated, they sometimes have the added problem of the wild boar. Crops of root vegetables are often raided by families of wild boar. Fruits are often eaten by the birds, and ants attack banana plants. In freak weather such as typhoons, whole crops are lost either blown down or drowned under salty sea water. Many human casualties have also occured on rare occasions when weather is very stormy. When water in the form of rain soaks into the ground, villages are in danger of landslides from the water laden mud of the hillsides beside which the homes are often erected. For this reason, many hillsides behind houses have been shored up to prevent collapse. There is a unwritten code amongst villagers that trees near homes must be maintained and not felled for firewood. Their roots which often have a habit of appearing near the shored slopes help to bind the soil together, but risk damaging the slop itself so they must be pruned, which is often left to the women as in nearly all the farmwork.
Maintaining the Household, Tsi4 Ga1
Though this is not a full repetoire of edibles grown, they are grown as income for the household. In the past, when the fruits and vegetables have not ripened, firewood and grass were cut and taken to be sold. Electricity came relatively late to the more remote regions and there were no gas pipes that fed into the home so these natural fuels were used instead. Nowadays, remote villages still unconnected to a centralised gas supply, buy in kerosene for cookers. Electricity and telephones in the environs of the New Territories of HongKong is now almost universal, even in the most remote places.
The raising of livestock involves mainly the breeding of chickens, Gai1, ducks, Ap5, pigs, Tsu1, and the keeping of an ox or cow for plowing of fields. Mostly they are raised for family consumption, though they can be sold at market for profit if money was required. Animals such as pigs were sold by weight and involved the use of a large pair of Chinese scales, Tin4. Chickens and ducks were sold according to their visual and approximate size. Rarely are the poultry raised from eggs, since they are often bought a day or two old from established breeders.
Children and Education
Children are the investment one has in the future. Raising children initially was a daunting task for women who had all the responsibilities of rural life. When the children could walk and help out with work, their burdens could now be distributed and delegated to them. In pre-Second World War life, rural life excluded women from schooling because there was virtually no time for them to do so. The slighlty more well off families tutored their young girls at home using the Chinese Almanac or Tdung1 Su1. In the Tdung Su, there were important basic materials such as the Thousand Character Classic, Ten1 Tsi3 Vun2, and Hundred Family Surnames, Bak5 Ga1 Siang4, (which has several hundred names in all) and works such as the Chinese collection of proverbs known as the Tsen1 Gong3. Boys who went to school also read these classics by heart. They also needed to be able to recite the poems of the Tang Shi or Tdong2 Si1, a collection of roughly 300 Tang poems. This not only enabled them to be able to quote poetry even though their artistic and poetic skills were limited, but also these works formed a solid foundation upon which they could used their collective skills in writing Chinese characters. These works were often recited in Hakka, but in modern schooling, these tradtional works have been given a minor role and Hakka children are no longer being schooled in their first language from birth.
Menfolk and New Horizons
Whilst women till and harvest from the field, many menfolk work in the towns holding jobs with steady salaries. A portion of which arrives back at the village, though often this is not the case. In the mid Twentieth Century, Hakka peoples from all over Hong Kong took advantage of the connections that Britain had through its former empire to establish roots in other countries. They did this first through a work visa, and later, they sent money home for their wives and families to join them in their new found abodes overseas. Men at that time arrived via ship to Europe, a journey of almost a month from SE China, and worked whereever there was a call for workers. They tended to be catering establishments and so influence future careers of the young Hakka Chinese. Many proceeded on to form restaurants, and fast food retail shops and with their family, inducted a new generation of Chinese into the now clichéd life. With a business, there was a new increase in wealth. Menfolk could now afford to rebuild crumbling indigenous village houses and improve their status amongst the folk at home.
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This page was created on Thursday 26th February 1998
and last updated on Friday 27th February 1998.
© Dylan W.H.S. 1996-1998
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