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Guideline from Fujian helps the Hakka to preserve their cultural identity

Updated: 2020-10-01 09:30:00

( China Daily )

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It starts with the faltering economy in villages. Then the people start to move out. The use of a particular form of language diminishes. The local culture begins to vanish.

That is the cycle that has been plaguing Hakka culture in recent decades, said Cai Dengqiu, a professor at the Sanming University in Fujian province and a researcher with the university's Hakka culture research institute.

"Language is the most important carrier for the inheritance of culture," he said. "With the younger generation of Hakka barely speaking their language, it is natural that Hakka culture is losing ground."

The western part of Fujian province, including Longyan and Sanming, were the ancestral homes of the Hakka, a subgroup of the Han ethnic group, who resettled into the area from North China to escape wars during the Tang Dynasty (618-907).

Over their history, the Hakka people have created a culture featuring a shared language, art forms including puppet shows, hill songs, traditional music and techniques such as moveable-type printing and the knowledge and skills to build traditional houses, also known as the tulou.

The Fujian Tulou, the multi-family communal living structures designed for defense purposes, was hailed by UNESCO as "the most representative and best preserved examples of such buildings in the mountainous regions of southeastern China". It was inscribed into the list of the organization's World Heritage List in 2008.

The fact that the Hakka were mostly living in the mountainous areas in Fujian, and their strong desire to preserve their traditional culture has helped protect their tangible and intangible cultural elements, said Cai.

The urgency to protect the Hakka culture was also recognized in a guideline issued by the Fujian provincial government in November, which rolled out a systemic plan to ensure the survival, protection and inheritance of various Hakka cultural elements.

There are now 100 million Hakka in Fujian, Jiangxi, Guangdong, Taiwan provinces, the Hong Kong, Macao special administrative regions and overseas, and the urbanization and industrialization drive, which resulted in large-scale immigration of villagers into urban areas, has cut down the inheritance of cultural heritage between generations, the guideline said.

The guideline cited the example of Hakka hill songs, varying in themes from love to labor, which are losing their vitality and creativity due to the challenges of modern life.

"We need to find more platforms for the Hakka artists to stage their performances and to help them train more inheritors," said Lin Rishang, deputy head of the Sanming administration of culture and tourism.

He explained that a large number of Hakka villages have disappeared as a result of urbanization, and the number of residents taking part in traditional customs is also diminishing.

The situation is even more challenging for intangible cultural heritages that can only be passed down verbally from generation to generation, such as music, including hip-hop, percussion and singing of ancient Chinese prose.

Cai said the authority is now sponsoring 80 cultural events featuring performances of Hakka culture in different counties every year and introducing the traditional music and dances of the group to schools as part of preservation efforts.

In the meantime, an emergency protection campaign has been launched to record the knowledge and techniques of endangered cultural heritages and artists, he said.

However, Cai said a pressing challenge is that the younger generation is no longer taking any interest in the traditional art forms and techniques.

"With many of the cultural heritages losing their original values in the life and work of the group, it is impossible for us to restore them to their peak periods in history," he said.

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