According to researches, Hakka people is a Han Chinese subgroup who lived in Shandong and Henan region which called China’s central plain in ancient times. Throughout the history, Hakka people moved to Southern China and settled at mountain areas of Fujian and Guangdong.

In the early Qing dynasty, an anti-insurgency order demanded that the southern coastal regions be cleared out as was known as the Great Frontier Shift. Later under the rule of Kanxi, there was repel of the clearance edicts and great incentives were offered to re-populate. As a result, many Punti people, Tanka people (live on boats) and Hakka people (live on reclamation of mountain areas) moved back to the coastal regions and relocated to Hong Kong. In the mid-19th Century, Hong Kong already had over 300 Hakka villages. Apart from living in the New Territories, Hakka people also settled in Kowloon and Hong Kong Island. In addition, there were renowned Hakka villages at Tai Hang. These Hakka villagers mainly earn their living through tilling the lands, fishing and providing supplies and services to ships passing via Hong Kong.


Throughout the development of society, Hakka villages eventually disappeared in the urban area and were replaced by modern buildings. However, the strong community cohesion of Hakka people helped to preserve most of the traditional Hakka living styles, although certain elements eventually merged with other Chinese and western cultures – thus formed a unique living culture in Hong Kong. In some local Chinese restaurants, we can still find a lot dishes are actually originated from the typical Hakka cuisine. Moreover, many festival celebrations preserve the spirits of Hakka culture. The culture of every ethnic group is portraited through the details of its living style and Hakka culture has no exception. The special characteristics of Hakka culture can be found from its language, opera, music, performance art, craftsmanship, walled village, cuisine, traditions and festival celebration – all upholds the advocation of literacy and education, as well as wisdom from mountain agriculture.

The HKSAR Government announced a total of 480 items in first intangible cultural heritage (ICH) inventory of Hong Kong’s in June 2014. Among these items, Hakka culture can be found in the subsections “Performing Arts”, “Oral Traditions and Expressions”, “Social Practices, Rituals and Festive Events”, as well as “Traditional Craftsmanship”.


Hakka Hill song, Folk song, Wedding laments and Funeral laments

Hakka people like to sing in various circumstances to express their feelings. In the past, Hakka people sang the Hill Songs during gatherings, festivals and courtships. Nowadays, they sing these songs in performances. Hakka Hill Songs vary in theme from love to personal conduct. In the past, they are said to have been used as a method of courting between young men and women. The songs are also used as a form of communication at a distance. Since Hakka people mostly live in hilly areas, song is used as a better means of communication than spoken words. The lyrics can also be made to contain riddles, as a game or a more competitive nature. The challenger will answer the riddle in the form of song of similar melody. Most of these Hakka Hill Songs have four sentences with seven words in each sentence.

The Hakka Folk Song was created by two scholars in Qing Dynasty. They wandered around Hong Kong at weekends and used the Hakka dialect to sing to describe the scenery. These songs were not written and so spread through word of mouth. The content of Folk Songs are mainly about places and rural areas in Hong Kong. In the past, Hakka villagers sang Folk Songs in their leisure time or in travelling. Nowadays, they sing in performances. The female villagers in Hakka villages sang Wedding Laments as a wedding ritual before their weddings. The lyrics of the laments mainly described the sadness over their separation from family and friends, and that they could no longer serve their parents with filial piety. The bride had to sing as loud as possible to demonstrate the sadness of separation. If not, her family would be laughed at for not educating the bride well. They also sang Funeral Laments as a funeral rite for their deceased relatives. Both Hakka Wedding Laments and Funeral Laments were not written and also spread through word of mouth.


Hakka Dialect

Today, many elders in Hong Kong can speak fluent Hakka Dialect. Some Hakka villagers still speak the Hakka Dialect, especially during some traditional rituals. Like general Chinese language, Hakka Dialect forms by initial consonants, finals and tones. There are a total of 19 initial consonants and 74 finals in the Hakka Dialect. The 6 major tones include level tone, rising tone, falling-rising tone, falling tone, yin entering tone and yang entering tone.


Traditional Hakka Wedding Ceremonies

Hakka wedding ceremony has its own tradition and practices. A Chinese unicorn dance is performed when the bridegroom visits the bride’s home and takes her back to his own home, to send blessings to the new couple. Later, it performs the “plucking the greens” and chew up the vegetable to bring about a red banner with wordings blessing the couple to have endless love. When the bride is heading back to the broom’s home in a sedan chair, a lady holds a bamboo sieve with a pair of black trousers from the bride, food, plants and ten pairs of chopsticks – to represent a blessing that the bride will have a prolonged sweet marriage with abundance food and clothes. There is also an interesting section in the wedding ceremony. When a pig’s head and tail are offered to the couple, the bride has to kiss the pig’s head. Traditional Hakka wedding ceremonies are still being practiced in Sai Kung. There are rituals such as combing hair, fetching the bride to the groom’s house and ancestral worship.


Hakka Cuisine

The Hakka people have a marked cuisine and style of Chinese cooking which is closely related to their living style. Hakka cuisine emphasizes the usage of salt and soup. Boil, stew and brew are the usual cooking techniques. The early Hakka people who moved to Hong Kong earn their living by farming which required much body energy. As a result, Hakka cuisine emphasizes on “oily, salty and scent nicely”. Oily food can provide enough energy while salty food helps the farmers to resume the salt concentration that drops during hard physical works. Food with nice scent can stimulate the appetite. Kwo (Rice cakes) and Hakka Buns are the popular snacks for Hakka people. They are made by glutinous rice or sticky rice. The difference between them is the former is placed on a leaf to serve while the latter is not. Hakka people also like to mix Jishiteng (Chinese Fevervine Herb and Root) to rice cakes and Hakka buns. Some other special snacks are made at different festivals and celebrations like fried rice cake and yuan lung bun (Hakka New Year rice cake) for the Chinese New Year, as well as Hakka rice dumpling for the Dragon Boat Festival.

Hakka stewed pork and pork with plum vegetables are two very popular Hakka cuisine. Among the Hakka dishes on pork, the Hakka Pork Bowl has its special characteristics. It required a whole week to prepare and steam, and this dish was done almost only once a year in the past. At the end of a year, a married daughter would cook several Hakka Pork Bowls and bring back as gifts to her parents to appreciate their love and care in upbringing. Hakka cuisine’s highest recognition comes from its Gau Dai Gwai (Nine Big Dishes banquet). In the past, only the rich families could afford to serve this banquet to their guests during the biggest celebrations like wedding and birthday of elderly. At the banquet, the dishes were serves on special bronze food vessels called “Gwai”. In contract to the Chinese tradition to use even numbers at celebrations, Gau Dai Gwai has nine dishes. This is because the Chinese character “nine” has the same pronunciation as “long-lasting”, which is recognized as an auspicious symbol as well as a respect to the guests. The character “Dai” means “big” and resembles grand and rich. Traditionally, the nine big dishes include braised pork, stewed pork, cooked chicken, fried glass noodle, spicy duck, mixed vegetables, carrot with squid, peanuts and chicken feet soup, and stuffed tofu puffs.

Hakka lantern band embroidery technique

Hakka lantern band embroidery technique is passed on to the young generation by the elder women. Hakka people use threads of different colours to embroider a wide variety of lantern bands. Hakka embroidered band knitting is a key element in Hakka apparel, possesses both practical and decorative functions. Cabinet bands are used for wedding ceremonies. Head bands are used for fastening the apron and hat. In the old days, the Hakka women usually wear black clothes during working and farming. The patterned bands bring the only colours to the traditional dark clothes. Hakka lantern bands are hung on the lanterns by the families with new-born sons during the lighting lantern ritual. In Hakka dialect, the lantern band implies the son will be brought up properly.

The colours on the Hakka embroidered bands have different meanings. The single women wear embroidered bands in green and blue while the married women wear bands in red. The patterns on the embroidered bands are closed related to Hakka daily lives, like family portraits and auspicious elements. A Hakka embroidered band is usually made by over 30 threads, among which the four elementary colours are red, green, white and yellow. Three embroidery sticks are used in the process and the direction of embroidery is strictly designed, with one thread on the front and another at the back of the band to ensure the pattern to be displayed properly. If a thread is found wrongly embroidered, it has to be removed and replaced by a new thread.