One of the features of the Longhua (Dalang) Sub-venue of the UABB will be an exhibition of artifacts that were taken back to Switzerland, when the missionaries left China in 1948. To learn more about the Basel Mission and their “Chinese children,” please read the rest of the article. The artifacts will be on display at the Longheu P+V Gallery from December 22, 2017 through December 4, 2018.
If you google “Hakka” all sorts of information comes up, ranging from Wikipedia’s Hakka People brief through the overwhelming comprehensive blog 客家风情 to more academic takes such as “The Secret History of The Hakkas: the Chinese Revolution as a Hakka Enterprise“.
These articles emphasize that the Hakka left the central plains for Southern China in a series of migrations. Hakka literally means “Guest People” and in the anthology, Down to Earth: The Territorial Bond in South China, for example, David Faure, Helen Siu and their colleagues nicely track the differentiation of Han Chinese into various ethnic groups, including the Dan (boat people not allowed on land), the Hakka, and dominant Cantonese.
Over time, the Hakka developed a distinct culture and history, including unique roles in the Taiping Rebellion (Hong Xiuquan was a Hakka) and subsequent Chinese Revolution; Sun Yat-Sen, the Soong sisters, and Deng Xiaoping, for example, were all Hakkas. Distinguishing features of Hakka identity include language, food, architecture, and a commitment to tradition and education that is said to exceed that of neighboring groups. Importantly, however, given the geographic range of Hakka settlements both within and outside the Chinese mainland, there is much diversity within the group. The Hakka standard is set in Meizhou, the county seat of Meixian, which brings us back to what’s at stake with the forced evictions in Meizhou.
The Hakka have lived in large compounds, where extended patrilineal families resided in organized proximity. These complexes have functioned as material genealogies with hierarchy emphasized through one’s room(s) within and location relative to the ancestral shrine, which has pride of place in any Hakka homestead. Indeed, even after compounds have been abandoned for newer buildings, often the ancestral shrine continues to host rituals and family matters, such as death memorials.
Many of the large homes that have been or are threatened with forced demolition in the Meizhou suburbs are low-income realizations of the larger ideal of bringing one family line together in one place. Overseas family members have contributed funds to build the homesteads, where several generations do live together. Importantly, those at home hold it for family members who are working either overseas or in cities like Shenzhen. Indeed, memories of and anticipated arrivals of absent family members characterize these homes. As does the cherished expectation of reunion, when the homestead will be filled and the family complete.
Also of note, many of the people standing guard over a family’s living history are women, who have married into the line and are therefore not considered part of the genealogy. So when the householder is female, she holds it for her sons, rather than explicitly for her husband. It became clear in conversation, that many of the women wanted a house for their families–children and maternal relatives, rather than explicitly to continue a particular line. Moreover, while the women told stories of their lives in these homes, the men would emphasize how these homes held a larger family together. Thus, the 5 or 6 women I spoke with were spoke of the need to keep a place for memories and future visits, while the men were more likely to demand compensation that would allow them to reproduce the building itself.
The unmaking of the multi-generational family has been one of the most obvious consequences of rural urbanization. After these homes are razed, they are replaced by smaller homes for China’s version of the nuclear family–an elder or two who take care of the only child of two working parents. In terms of traditional history, this breakdown clearly causes suffering and disorientation as family members try to make sense of a life without a shared root, even as it is also clearly that another uprooting has already taken place; the young people spoke Mandarin while their elders spoke Hakka. The results of centralized education and migrating populations contextualize the violence of rural reconstruction with respect to an ongoing state project to remake the countryside in Beijing’s image.
Meizhou VI/ Meizhou: Selected Translations
We hear stories of forced evictions and demolitions from Meizhou. These simple and brutal stories of State violence in order to dispossess peasants of their traditional landholdings sound all too familiar. The enemy is fast, omnipresent, and faceless, found in whispered rumors and chronic anxiety. The peasants’ furious screams and disjointed protests do not clarify the situation, but instead seem to work against them, further alienating them from urbane cool and ironic discourse.
Consider, for example, the tale of a 70+ grandma who had refused to sign over her land rights and sell her home. She occupied her home to protect her home. However, one day she needed to go shopping for a few everyday necessities because there was no one at home to help her. Less than an hour later when she returned home, “they” had already demolished her house. She had nowhere to go and nothing to bring with her. One can only imagine what she feels watching bulldozers raze the material conditions of her life. Suddenly, she is stripped to existential despair and helplessness in the face of relentless progress.
Yesterday I attended a screening of ongoing documentation of the situation in Meizhou. The salon was hosted by Shi Jie (in photo), a young documentary filmmaker currently based in Shenzhen. He has been documenting naratives of ongoing dispossession, bearing witness to the injustice of rural urbanization and concomitant suffering. First story online (in Hakka with Chinese subtitles). Shi Jie held the salon to discuss strategies to create solidarity between Shenzhen youth–especially young Hakka migrants–and the Meizhou peasants.
The conversation brought up three issues: (1) the need for peasants to articulate their demands in a more “urban” language, such as historic preservation or environmental conservation because the story of forced evictions and land dispossession was too common to become a media focus; (2) the need for the film makers to map the competing interests, including government dependence on land sales to meet their budget, the leading developers and the scale of investment;and (3) the need for the film makers to state their aims clearly, who was their intended audience and to what end?
Shijie’s savvy use of social media notwithstanding it is apparent that the heart of his effort is small, local and face-to-face interactions where he raises a fourth issue: how might those of us in Shenzhen is how to ameliorate an untenable situation?