Special Character Traits of Hakka Women


Original Chinese Language Article By: Chen Wen Hong (陳文紅)

(Translated by Adrian Chan-Wyles PhD)

As the ancient culture of the Hakka has become more prominent in recent times, the character traits that define the Hakka people have become better well known and respected.  For instance, Hakka women have a well-earned reputation for being tough, tenacious and self-reliant.  The early foreign scholar Ernst Johann Eitel, stated in his Hakka ethnography studies entitled ‘Hakka History’ that: ‘The Hakka people are tough and resilient, and yet calm and accommodating.  They are also a very caring people, who are highly supportive and loyal to the country.  Hakka women are hardworking and considered amongst the finest women in China…  Hakka people live on milk and cheese – which is very highly valued – but due to their physical labour, it is not uncommon for Hakka women to be given around 70% of this produce to maintain their health.’  Throughout history, it has been the Hakka women who have preserved the Hakka family through their labour, and enabled it to survive as distinct clan lineages.  This is very different to the traditional lifestyle of ordinary (non-Hakka) Han women.  This demonstrates the special characteristics of the Hakka women.

Within Hakka culture, Hakka women have never bound their feet – unlike the Han women, whose feet have been bound.  Binding feet prevents mobility and reduces the role women can play in society.  Hakka people have had to migrate hundreds of miles in the past, and Hakka women had to be able to walk long distances and carry heavy weights on their backs.  It is also the case that hills had to be climbed and bound feet would prevent this activity – particularly if the Hakka people settled on mountainsides and there was a regular need to climb up and down.  By comparison, Han women had to be carried from one place to another.  It is a cultural trait for both Hakka men and women to take care of their feet (and legs) and ensure that they are tough and robust.  This generally means that Hakka people have prominent and well developed feet.  The Western Missionary George Campbell stated in his study entitled ‘Hakka Origins and Migrations’ that ‘Hakka women do not bind their feet because of their robust outdoor life.  As they are always active, they are generally in very good health.’  Life for Hakka people – both male and female – has often been full of suffering and turmoil – this is why as a distinct people they are renowned for their physical toughness.

Hakka women have a social and cultural authority within Hakka culture that reflects the importance of their function within Hakka society.  Luo Xiang Lin, in his book entitled ‘Introductory Hakka Research’ states that: ‘Hakka women are tough and self-reliant – they selflessly work for stability of the community and the nation.’  When the Hakka people migrated into South China, living resources were scarce.  This meant that Hakka men often left the family to look for work elsewhere – even to foreign lands.  This left the Hakka women in control of the clan and community – a situation usually unheard of within Chinese culture.  This granted Hakka women a very special place within China’s traditionally patriarchal society.  According to the ‘Guangxu Emperor: Volume of Etiquette and Customs of Jiaying State Record’, the following is stated: ‘The common people of the State who live in the mountainous areas are poor and exist by farming small fields.  The men spread to the four directions in search of work, and the running of the home and community is left to the women.  These rural women do all the work such as tilling the fields, collecting firewood, weaving cotton, making clothes and taking care of the food supply.’  Therefore as Hakka women worked for themselves and in so doing supported the entire community, they earned the right to be respectfully considered as collectively possessing the rank of a community elder.  The Guangdong Hakka scholar named Fang Xue Jia concluded in his research that Hakka women secured their ‘elder’ status through actively generating, sustaining and controlling the economic life of the community.  Not only this, but in so doing, they earned so much respect that a parallel system of ancestor worship arose whereby Hakka women could be buried in a separate clan cemetery and the woman’s ancestors worshipped instead of those of the men.

In the past, Hakka women have not only led their communities, but they have also participated in extraordinary deeds of national importance.   This is because they have understood what it means to uphold a great and righteous cause, whilst facing all the dangers of participating in warfare.  According to legend, the Emperor Zhao Bing of the late Southern Song Dynasty was once being pursued by the invading Yuan army, when he was rescued from certain death by a group of Hakka women who were cutting wood in the mountainous Meixian area of north-east Guangdong province.  These Hakka women formed-up in military formation en masse and advanced toward the Yuan army – carrying bamboo sticks and farming implements as weapons.  The Yuan army mistook the Hakka women for imperial troops due to their martial bearing and retreated from the area.  As a consequence for this brave behaviour, the Emperor Zhao Bing conferred upon all Hakka women the imperial degree of ‘Ju Ren’ (孺人) – meaning ‘Wife of a Senior Official’ – a title of significant respect.  This was only usually awarded to the wife of a Prefect or Magistrate of the Fifth Rank – and only then post-humorously.  As common Hakka women were awarded the title of ‘Ju Ren’, this demonstrates the high regard with which they were held, and the relatively high social status they enjoyed.  In 1277 CE the Yuan army invaded South China, and the Southern Song Emperor raised an army of Hakka men and women to defend the nation – led by the poet-general Wen Tianxiang.  Wen Tianxiang wrote the following about this Hakka army: ‘Eight thousand loyal (Hakka) men and women joined to fight (the Yuan).  The men arrived carrying weapons, whilst the women arrived carrying armour.’  During the Qing Dynasty, a large number of Hakka women joined the female regiments formed by the anti-Qing – Taiping Heavenly Kingdom Movement.  The Qing Dynasty deployed their great general Zeng Guo Fan (who commanded the Xiang Army) to counter the Taiping threat – and he described the Hakka women-soldiers he encountered on the battlefield as ‘Big footed, barbarian woman.’  During the Central Soviet Area Era in China, Hakka women were the main driving force behind the spreading of the Scientific Socialism.  They converted the Socialist thinking into Hakka folk songs which they sang to their husbands, sons and grandsons, encouraging them to go to the front and assist the Red cause in its fight against fascism.  As the Hakka men helped the Red Army carry its equipment and find grain and salt, the Hakka women looked after their families and prepared the area for defence against fascist attack.  However, many Hakka women also joined the Red cause in their own right and were renowned for their fighting spirit and selfless natures.  Hakka women, because of their willingness to work hard, suffer and finally prevail over the enemy during that time, their revolutionary spirit has left an indelible mark on the history of Socialism.

©opyright: Adrian Chan-Wyles (ShiDaDao) 2016.

Original Chinese Language Article:









歷史上的客家婦女在社會活動中同樣有出色表現。相傳南宋末趙 帝被元軍追逐,為梅縣一群上山砍柴的客家婦女所救,南宋末趙 帝因此賜封客家女性死後為“孺人”。“孺人”本是五品知府以上官員夫人死後的稱謂,普通客家女性故後稱為“孺人”,可見其在當時的社會地位。宋景炎二年(1277)元兵南侵,文天祥率勤王師起兵抗元,客家男女“男執干戈女甲裳,八千子弟走勤王。”清代太平天國運動,大量客家婦女投身太平軍女兵營,勇猛抗清,被曾國藩率領的湘軍稱為“大腳蠻婆”。中央蘇區時期,客家婦女更是擴紅宣傳的主力軍,她們唱著山歌把丈夫、兄弟、兒孫送上前線,挑著擔子幫助紅軍募鹽籌糧,獨持家務支持丈夫安心殺敵。客家女性堅韌不拔、剛毅自強的精神,在蘇區革命鬥爭史中留下了濃墨重彩的一筆。



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