This article aims to demonstrate that the Teochew-Hokkien People are an independent nationality. This article does not aim to prove that “ Teochew-Hokkien people should integrate into the Zhonghua Minzu or Han Chinese nationality”, or that “Teochew, Hokkien, Taiwan, and Singapore should establish a Pan-Hoklo nationality.” This article does not serve as a value judgment (of course you can all have your own judgments about the facts I’ve laid out), but serves only to elaborate on the fact that the Teochew-Hokkien people are indeed an independent nation.
To every Teochew-Hokkien person: it is important that you recognize your own ethnicity and culture. I further hope that people everywhere are able to respect the ethnicities and cultures of others. I hope this article is able to live up to that ideal of awareness and respect. (However this point is unrelated to the arguments and content put forth in the remainder of the article)
1. Defining the Teochew-Hokkien Nationality
The aforementioned ‘Teochew-Hokkien Nationality’ most accurately refers to people who: have Hoklo (generally from Eastern Guangdong or Southern Fujian in modern terms; and also includes the including Teochew Language) as their native language, adhere to a belief in Matsu, dwell along the southern coast, and lay equal stress on agriculture, fishing, industry, and business (and could truly be called ‘businessmen’ when compared to Han people from the Yangtze and Yellow river basins). This also includes the descendants of these people who, from the Ming Dynasty onward, emigrated to foreign lands (primarily to Southeast Asia). The following sections are divided into discussions of how factors of race, language, religion, culture, geography, and economy distinguish the Teochew-Hokkien people from other ethnic groups, and argue that this demonstrates the Teochew-Hokkien People to be an independent nationality.
Groups such as the Hainanese, Leizhou, Putian, and Hoklo speaking Hakka people are racially related to, and / or are historically located among or near the Teochew Hokkien people; as such they could be considered to partially match the characteristics of Teochew-Hokkien people. Therefore this article will not serve as an analysis of whether or not these people are a subset of the Teochew-Hokkien, but rather focuses on describing the distinctiveness of the Teochew-Hokkien nationality from Han Chinese.
1.1 Form of Address
There is not a widely accepted form of address to describe the Teochew-Hokkien people. Before the establishment of modern China (P.R. China), Teochew people would generally refer to themselves as ‘Teochew People’. The literally meaning of these characters being ‘people from Chau-chow Prefecture’; even though the native Hoi Luk Fung region is not psychically part of Chau-chow Prefecture, the term used both internally and externally was ‘Teochew People’. Hokkien people from Fujian Province (and Taiwan) would generally refer to themselves as ‘Chiangchew People’, ‘Choachew People’, ‘Taiwanese’, or ‘Southern Coastal People’, while outside of the region they were called ‘Hokkien People’. The neighboring Hakka and Cantonese people referred to Teochew-Hokkien as ‘Hoklo People’. In places such as Hoi Luk Fung or Zhao-An where Hoklo and Hakka people lived together, the Teochew-Hokkien People would also call themselves ‘Hoklo People’. In contemporary society the generally accepted terms of address are ‘Teochew-Swatow People’ (for those in Eastern Guangdong Province), ‘Southern Min People’ (for those in Fujian Province), and ‘Hoklo People’ (for those in Taiwan).
Because the original meaning of ‘Hoklo People’ referred to all Hoklo speaking people from Eastern Guangdong or Southern Fujian, out of convenience the remainder of the article will regularly use the term ‘Hoklo People’ to refer to the ‘Teochew-Hokkien Nationality’.
Racially both Teochew and Hokkien people could be considered a subset of the ‘Min People’. The primary lineage comes from three groups: the indigenous Ancient Minyue People, the Ancient Wuyue People who emigrated south from Zhejiang during the Eastern Zhou, Qin, and Han Dynasties, the people who emigrated during the Eastern Jin Dynasty (Central Plains People and the indigenous Wuyue People). Since the Song and Yuan Dynasties, the population density in the Quanzhou-Putian region has become quite considerable. There has been substantial migration to the Zhangzhou and Teochew regions as well as oversees (including Taiwan). However the current immigrant population in the Teochew and Hokkien regions is quite small and can be expected to assimilate into the Hoklo people — thus we’ll consider it negligible for the present discussion.
Modern research on race and consanguinity is relatively limited, but through examining Mitochondrial DNA and phenomena such as the lack of the hangover-preventing ‘Du Kang gene’ we can, at least circumstantially, argue that Teochew-Hokkien people are genetically distinct from the Northern Chinese.
Moreover, this difference in Y chromosomes is reflected in the ratios of surnames. In and around Teochew and Fujian ‘Chen’, ‘Lin’, and ‘Huang’ are the three most common surnames. Teochew-Hokkien also have characteristic surnames such as: Qiu, Cai, Zheng, Lai, Fang, Weng, Xu, Zhuang, and Ke. For people from Hubei, Shandong, Sichuan, and Liaoning the four most common surnames are ‘Wang’, ‘Li’, ‘Zhang’, and ‘Liu’.
In terms of appearance, Hoklo People are different from other nationalities. My parents are, in most cases, able simply by appearances to distinguish Hoklo and Hakka people from those from other provinces. Personally I’m largely able to distinguish between Hoklo, Cantonese, and people from other provinces.
People in the Teochew and Hokkien regions use the Hoklo language (this definition holds Teochew and the Fujian dialect to be types of Hoklo). Within academia in Mainland China this is known as the ‘Min Language Hokkien Region’ (which includes both Teochew and Hokkien segments). According to ISO 639 (an international set of standards for the representation of names for languages and language groups) the ‘Min Language Hokkien Region’ and the ‘Min Language Leiqiong Region’ (which includes the Leiqiong dialect as well as Hainanese) are classified together as an independent language called ‘Min Nan Chinese’ (ISO 639-3 code: nan). Regardless of how the specific boundaries are drawn however, Hoklo (or ‘Min Nan Chinese’) — no matter where it is spoken and who is speaking it — is a completely unintelligible, fundamentally different language than Mandarin.
The modern lexicon of Hokkien is comprised of three major sources: a small amount of residual vocabulary from the Ancient Minyue language, a significant portion of words from Classical Chinese of the Eastern Jin dynasty, and a number of words from the formal vocabularies of Middle Chinese from the Tang and Song dynasties. Conversely other languages in China (e.g. Cantonese, Wu languages such as Shanghainese, and languages from Hunan and Jaingxi) are comprised primarily of words from the Tang and Song dynasty languages, with a few words from Classical Cantonese. This points that Hokkien and Mandarin split apart during the Eastern Jin dynasty (about 1600 years ago) and developed independently. This distance is about the same as the difference between Spanish and Romanian, or between English and German.
Matsu is a belief which is characteristic of the Hoklo People. Matsu temples are found all throughout Teochew, Fujian, and Hainan. Since the Ming and Qing dynasties the boats of Hoklo merchants and fisherman would sail as far North as Tianjin and as far South as Java; this led to the misconception that ‘Matsu is the religion of the coasts’. That’s simply not true. In fact the Matsu temples found in other regions came along because of the Hoklo People. As other peoples lacked a seafaring tradition, the idea of Matsu as a goddess to protect those at sea simply could not originate outside of the Hoklo. For example, the English the term ‘Macau’ originates from the A-Ma Temple, which was built by Hoklo sailors during the Ming dynasty. What’s more, the distribution of Matsu temples in Taiwan is often used as a correlate in estimating the historical distribution of Hoklo and Hakka people in the region.
In the early modern period (around the 1940s) in Teochew a new religion developed called ‘Tek-ism’, which still has followers in Southeast Asian to this day. Tek-ism holds Kwan Ti as a diety. Kwan Ti stresses the importance of reason and good sense and is the god of wealth and the military, thus his following is widespread among Hoklo merchants and mobsters. In the old city center in Shantou, the two oldest buildings are the adjacent Kwan Ti Temple and Tin Hau Temple (commonly known as ‘Matsu’s Palace’). The Hoklo practice of combining seafaring tradition and Business Thinking, as in the beliefs in Matsu and Kwan Ti, is something rarely found among other nations and peoples.
The following figures are photos I took of the roofs of the Kwan Ti Temple and Matsu’s Palace in Shantou as well as the Kwan Ti Temple in the old town section of Chongwu in Fujian.
Cultural issues are a bit more fine grained, so I’ll only give a few brief explanations.
Hoklo shrines and temples have consistent differences from the styles in other regions: the roofs are high and slanted with exaggerated but finely-detailed decorative inlays of wood and porcelain. (See the above picture of the Kwan Ti Temple).
Hoklo people love to eat little cakes called ‘Kway’, and they’ve developed many different kinds. Hoklo people also hold seafood in very high esteem, often consuming it raw or marinated – a practice seldom found elsewhere.
5.3 Dress and Adornment
Before modernization, British articles about Chinese people tended to describe the widespread custom in Teochew-Hokkien of wearing colorful ‘Wengong’ scarves. There is also the classical text “Changyi qinggai” which describes the are many different customs surrounding Teochew-Hokkien clothing. These customs still remain, even today, among many women in Hoi An:
The four prefecture-level cities of Teochew and three of Hokkien are the principle geographic region of the Hoklo People. In Taiwan as a whole, and specifically in the coastal plains region of Western Taiwan, the Hoklo People account for the majority of the population. In Singapore, Penang, and downtown Johor Bahru, the Hoklo also constitute the majority group (Kuala Lumpur and Ipoh among other cities are primarily Cantonese and Hakka). In the metropolitan areas of Bangkok and Manila there are also significant numbers of Hoklo (or part Hoklo people); and in such areas the Hoklo tend to be among the highest socio-economic status groups.
Thus even with a conservative estimate, there is a large chunk in Eastern Guangdong, southern Fujian, and Taiwan in which Hoklo People comprise the majority of the population.
The economy of the Teochew and Hokkien regions has always attached great importance to the traditions of oversees colonization and business. Before the Chinese central government opened up to free-trade and there a ban on maritime trade, this business was considered piracy. From the Zayton port of the Song and Yuan dynasties, to the Wokou pirates during the Ming dynasty, to the wave of migration following the Treaty of Nanking, to the spontaneous rise of the port cities of Amoy and Swatow, all of these things reflect the ways in which the economy of the Teochew-Hokkien region has differed significantly from that of China Proper, and also the regions around the Pearl and Yangtze River Deltas.
What’s more, the Economic Spheres of the Teochew-Hokkien region are also divergent. The vast majority of imports and exports at ports in Swatow and Amoy in the last thirty years have come from Fujian, Guangdong, Taiwan, and Southeast Asia, with only a small portion from Japan, Korea, and the rest of China. This differs significantly from China’s traditional Economic Sphere.
Since the implementation of the Reform and Opening policy, the development of Teochew-Hokkien has also been distinct from the Pearl and Yangtze River Deltas (not to mention the rest of China). Outside of just the practice of village owed enterprises, the Teochew-Hokkien region also has all kinds of maritime smuggling syndicates, under-the-radar betting and gaming companies, and fully-functioning underground banks offering deposit-taking, lending, and foreign currency exchange services. One would be hard-pressed to find other examples of this type of economic model in China outside of Teochew-Hokkien region and Wenzhou.
For any nationality, self-identity or ‘Ethnic Awareness’ is an often overlooked but nonetheless very important underlying factor. Firstly, the self-identity of Hoklo people is a very complex issue. Hoklo people carry on the nostalgic legacy for the ‘Central Plain’. Unfortunately there are now large cultural differences inherent between the two people; when Hoklo people actually have meaningful interactions with contemporary citizens from the ‘Central Plain’ (broadly around modern day Henan province) those nostalgic ideals quickly fade. In fact, even just within Hoklo people there is not just one singular quantifiable pan-Hoklo identity. Even so, among Teochew People, Hokkien People, and Taiwanese People there is, internally at least, a very strong sense of self-identity. In regions of mixed backgrounds, all one must do is utter a simple sentence in Hokkien saying ‘We’re family’ and there is instantly a feeling a togetherness – whereas for outsiders that just might not happen.
Before 1949, ethnic awareness had been aimed mainly at the idea of Hakka people as outsiders. In Hokkian, Teochew, and even Taiwan and Malaysia, the linguistic and cultural differences between Hakka and Hoklo peoples has led to continuous fights between the two groups. These ‘generations of hate’ still had an impact even up to the modern era.
Yet in modern and contemporary history, ethnic awareness is primarily aimed at ‘mainlanders’ (those who aren’t Hoklo, Cantonese, or Hakka). These ‘mainlanders’ are known as by a variety of different terms including ‘outsiders’ (in Teochew), ‘Northerners’ (in Hokkien), or even ‘Chinese pigs’ (by older Taiwanese). In the Teochew-Hokkien region these outsiders occupy the lowest levels of society while in Taiwan and Hainan they stand on the upper-echelon. Regardless though of the relative positions, in each case these terms establish a dichotomy between ‘my ethnic group’ and ‘anyone not in my ethnic group.’ In the 228 massacre in Taiwan as well as 2011 Chaozhou Riot there were issues of identity; “Can you speak Hoklo?” served as a dividing factor between groups amid the escalation of the conflicts. In the beginning of Taiwan’s Democratization Movement, and connected with the Hoklo struggle for independence, all the leaders of the democratization movement were Taiwanese, and they all used Hoklo in giving their speeches. There is also a strong connection between ethnicity and political affiliation. During the democratization movement, over 90% of the so-called ‘outsiders’ voted for the Kuomintang and the New Party – which is to say ethnic conflict had already risen to a higher level than supposed ‘universal values’. (although currently both parties attempt to deny the existence of such ethnic conflicts). This highlights the strength of the Hoklo People’s self-identity on a regional scale.
The Teochew-Hokkien People possess a unique culture and language. They have an economic model and ideology distinct from others, a strong sense of self-identity, and they exist as the majority population in several areas, even in entire countries and regions (Singapore, Taiwan). For all the reasons above, the Teochew-Hokkien People are an independent nationality.