Post-Modern Hakka (Letter 21.6.2016)

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Letter (email) to WL 21.6.2016

I suppose that ‘change’ has always been a part of the formulation of Hakka identity, with various stages of cultural adaptation being chosen (by habit) as being representative of Hakka culture.  I suspect that this is why Hakka people have often been very revolutionary or innovative, and at the fore-front of many historical events (including China’s Revolutions) of the last 500 years or so.  In the post-modern world, Hakka culture is changing again (as is all culture).  However, of course, distinct ‘Hakka’ cultural traits (developed in the distant past), will survive and bubble to the surface of multicultural societies, and probably ‘strengthen’ rather than ‘weaken’ Hakka identity, although changes will occur without question.  I find it interesting how traditionally minded Hakka people (as well as Chinese people in general), come to terms with modernity and post-modernity.  This is to say, how an inherently ‘conservative’ and ‘insular’ culture comes to terms with the requirement to be both permanently ‘liberal’ and ‘open’.  Of course, as it is happening all around us, we know that it is inevitable.  Interestingly, when we visited the ancestral village in 1999 (Sai Kung), its traditional life was more or less over, or at least beating a hasty retreat!  Many of the houses on the sides of the hill had been abandoned and the six people still left had moved into a ‘modern’ house on the top of the hill, which was of contemporary design with running water and an indoor toilet (which the villagers were very proud of).  The Head of the Clan was then an old woman of 80 years old.  the modern house had shrines at floor level for the god of the earth, and the Chan Name Temple was kept pristinely ‘clean’, but all else was slowly falling apart, or being consumed by vegetation, etc.  I noticed then that even the traditional Hakka clothing was nolonger worn, and the language spoken was a mixture of Hakka and Cantonese (with the occasional English word).  Those who have left this village have spread all-over the world and changed in the new environments they have encountered, and yet there is something distinctly ‘Hakka’ that holds it all together!

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