hakka folk songs and Mountain songs

Hakka Folk Songs

Hakka singing is referred to as “Nine Accents and Eighteen Melodies”, because of the great variety of Hakka songs. The nine accents include the Hailu, Szihsian, Raoping, Lufeng, Meihsian, Songkou, Guangdong, Guangnan, and Guangxi accents. The eighteen melodies are the pingban, shangezi, laoshange (or nanfengdiao), siliange, bingzige, shibamo, jianjianhua (or shi’eryue guren), chuyi zhao, taohuakai, shangshancaicha, guanziren, naowugeng, songjinchai, dahaitang, kuliniang, xishoujin, maijiu (or yaojiu), taohua guodu (or chengchuange), and xiuxiangbao melodies.

Traditionally, Hakka folk song has a history of over one thousand years. Their music initially consisted of droning tunes hummed to release their feelings. Later, this would be accompanied with the sounds of boat sculling, shoulder poles, chopping trees, or walking to express emotions, to drum up courage, or to communicate with people on the other side of a river or up on a mountain. These gradually took on melodies. Consequently, Hakka songs reflect life-they are interesting and some are love songs. The mountain songs that have been passed down in Taiwan can be divided into three types-laoshange, shangezi, and pingban. The singer of a song can arrange or create lyrics to any song as he sees fit. The special thing about the xiaodiao, like the taohuakai, siliange, and shi’eryue guren, is that the tune and lyrics are memorized and are not altered. They have permanent lyrics and music, so it is easier to record them using modern day sheet music.

Hakka mountain songs

The majority of Hakka mountain songs have seven characters per stanza. Particular emphasis is placed on tonal patterns and rhyme. The first, second, and fourth lines of most songs end in either a first or second tone, while that of the third line is either a third or fourth tone. Rules regarding the other lines are not as strict.

One of the most unique characteristics of Hakka folk songs is that they are frequently impromptu in nature whether sung by an individual or sung in duet. Not only are these ad lib pieces filled with wonderful metaphors and profound wisdom, they adhere to the rules of tone!

One story describes a woman who was skilled at singing mountain songs by the name of Liu San Mei. She lived in Mei County, Guangdong. People from far and near came to ask her to teach them. One day, a scholar rode a boat filled with mountain songbooks so as to compete with her.

When the boat arrived in Songkou, San Mei just happened to be there washing clothes on the riverbank. Not knowing who she was, the scholar asked her, “Excuse me, do you know where San Mei lives?” San Mei asked him what it was he wanted. He replied, “I’ve heard that San Mei is a talented singer. I’d like to have a contest with her.” San Mei asked him, “How many mountain songs did you bring?” The scholar answered, “My boat is bursting at the seams with songbooks!” Laughing to herself, San Mei stopped and lifted her voice in song.

Liu San Mei washing clothes in the river,

Asked the gentleman from where he had come

Mountain songs have been sung through the ages

Who in the world carries them in a boat

Only then did the scholar know that he was talking to Liu San Mei. She was such a skilled speaker that he just got back in his boat and left.

The impromptu nature of mountain songs is what makes them so interesting. It is fascinating to watch them sing to each other in the mountains or by a river, while picking tea leaves, planting rice, or harvesting rice!

Extracted from http://edu.ocac.gov.tw/lang/hakka/english/c/c3b.htm

more on Hakka folksongs

Hakka mountain  song – was never really a accepted as a mainstream culture among the educated elite of the traditional Hakka. For being steeped in the Confucian traditional moral and ethics, they would frown upon the expression of love in the crude and uncultured prose sang in duet among the young men and maidens. However among the common folks, the songs were a lively part of the Hakka folk culture.

There was many a tale of this smart & quick-witted maiden who in a song duel was no match for the scholar.

In the 1960/s – while the hills in the west were alive with the Sound of Music from Julie, out on the highlands to the east, it was reverberating with the mountain folk songs of Third Sister Liu – 刘三姐- Liu Sanjie.

This hit musical movie from Communist China, which was filmed in the scenic Guilin – 桂林 , Yunan Province – 云南省- was adapted from a Hakka folklore. Liu Sanjie used her singing talent – in the songs she sung to defy the oppressive bourgeois landlord. It was also a love story – Liu San Jie, found her prince charming that could match her singing talent during the annual Song Festival up on the mountain.

Excerpt taken from i came i saw i come i see on  mountain folk song 客家山 歌

small portion from the movie


Hakka “cool hat” (客家凉帽)

picture taken from ZHKJW.net

For the Hakkas, the Hakka woman wear a special unique cool hat . These hats
are weave usually from thin wheat stalks and straw. Except for the front
side, the the hat is surrounded by  a cloth of around 16cm height well distributed
throughout. The thin cloth come in colors of black, blue and white, some
are even adorned with flowery motifs. When viewed from afar, these hats
resembles stalks of beautiful wild flower. In significance, unmarried young
ladies tend to sew coloured ribbons at the extreme ends of the cloth. Thus,
this came a symbol whether one hakka lady is married. As this type of hat
is capable of blocking the sun and provides a better shelter, the Hakka
have used to call it “liang li li” (凉笠哩)

It is said that, the Hakka woman’s cool hat has 1000 years of history. It
is dated from the last years of Jin Dynasty, in order to escape from the
foreign invaders,
the people of the central plains migrated to the south . They reside in
southern china, places like Jiang Xi , Fujian as well as Guangdong region
of desolated mountainous area. In the north, where they came from, the men
will plough while the ladies sew, however, as they moved southern, these
traditional gender type life styles have changed. But, the morals and manners
of ladies not exposing their face in the public still exists. So the women
of the central plains thought of the idea of using the existing bamboo
hats from the working men and covered it with long  black cloth (to cover
their faces) and having two holes for vision. However, It soon became much
of a hassle. The cloth is removed ,instead it is sew  at the hat rim’s. And
after a while, the frontal side of the cloth is shortened and like this evolved
into today’s Hakka’s cool hat.

picture from http://www.ccots.com.cn/

info translated from http://zhidao.baidu.com on 客家凉帽与服饰文化

Hakka behaviour and personality

Excerpt form The Hakka Search for a Homeland by Clyde Kiang, on behaviour and personality, pg 60

George Campbell, a wel-known English missionary in China made a careful study of the behaviour and personality of the Hakkas. He mentioned the qualities of the fearlessness, self reliance, and love of liberty as characterizing the people. Evidence of the Mongolois stain is highly visible in many Hakka’s behaviour abd personality. To observe Hakka’s behaviour abs personality, Hsieh Ting-yu, a Haaka researcher, offers the explicit interpretation:

The character of the Hakkas is shown quite clearly in their name and history. They are a strong, hardy, energetic, fearless race with simple habits but a very contentious and litigious disposition. Self reliant and active, their rapid expansion and fondness of property have often brought  them into conflict with their neighbors.

As a minority, they are prone to defend themselves and usual the bravest in battle with indomitable courage. Probably because of this behaviour, the native Chinese regard them as a barbaric people. To Hakkas, the self-defense against attack from outside is their cultural virtue that they cherish generation after generation. George Kerr, the Vice Consul of the American Embassy in Taipei and long-time resident of Taiwan, describes “the  Hakka people, physically a larger, tougher type with bolder, more aggressive character” Chinese regard them as the social “out group” and their different language, habits and mode of life made it difficult to mix or assimilate with the majority. Men with deep ethnic roots. Hakkas are on the whole more independent, daring and prone to act than native Chinese.

On the other hand, to distinguish the Chinese character by contrast, according to the Confucianist, these qualities include “pacifism, contentment, calm and strength of endurance.” In reviewing the national characteristics of the Chinese race, Lin Yutang, the formost interpreter of ancient and modern China, finds that “Of the noble vitues of the West, of nobility , ambition, zeal for  reform, public spirit, sense for adventure and heroic courage, the Chinese are devoid. In this respect,  Hakkas are definitely  different from the Chinese race. To have a peace of mind often comes with the quality of Chinese characters while the temperament of Hakkas is restless and fiery.

It is evident that Hakkas have a highly developed national and ethnic consciousness. Their intense clannishness (groupism) and patriotism have undoubtedly been furthered by the fact that their villages have usually been surrounded by hostile environments – native Chinese or other ethnic groups. This segregated or insular position, whether in the continent or on the island, has encouraged common unity, individuality and continuity in their cultural development . Since the original, prehistoric migrations of their ancestors to the central plains in North China, they have coped with constant interruption from the natives along with latter invaders from Mongolia and Central Asia. They are apprehensive of a hostility or possible attack by outside forces that would stifle their economical or territorial expansion.

Further, it is appropriate to state the essentials of ethnic clannishness (groupism) and national patriotism as conceit, arrogance, and egotism. Hakkas who were born in some particular villages would likely consider themselves better, grander, noble, and more intelligent than the other ethnic groups inhabiting the region or any other community. It is therefore, the duty of Hakka people living in that chosen society to fight, kill, and die in the attempt to expand their power for survival and to impose their ethnic superiority upon all others if possible.

Viewing the Hakka race as a whole, they are not so placid, so contented, or so happy-go-lucky as the Chinese, similar to the Japanese, they are busy and bustling, determined to achieve their dreams, and welded together like granite. This dynamic granite may become explosive sometimes. Many Hakkas and Japanese support the view they both have the characteristic traits of boldness, obstinacy, peevishness, perseverance and tolerance. Both have courage in war, a sense of loyalty in their communal life. In much the same behaviour pattern of Hakkas, Professor Herbert Gowen had this to say of the Japanese traditional character qualities:

The Japanese have acquired certain easily recognizable psychological traits. They are cheerful and courteous, exceeding courageous, and capable of great restraint and composure. They are frugal in their habits, industrious in labor, artistic beyond most nations of the West, obedient to recognized authority, ready for sacrifice… they have also great respect for detail … It is well to remember that the Japanese characteristics have been much the same for at least a thousand years…

Lei cha 擂茶

Lei cha (; léi chá; literally “pounded tea”) is a Hakka tea-based beverage or gruel consisting of a mix of tea leaves that are ground or pounded together with various roasted nuts, seeds, and grains. The tea is drunk for breakfast or on cold winters as a tasty and healthy restorative. Lei cha is very popular in Taiwan, Southern China, Malaysia as well as any locations with a large population of Hakka people

Lei cha is traditionally a savory drink, however now it is usually consumed sweet.


Although commercially prepared and prepackaged Lei cha can be bought, the drink is usually made “from scratch” just as it is about to be consumed.

The any type of tea leaves can be used however, the most popular and common are either Green tea or Oolong. For ease of use, sometimes matcha is used. Roasted peanuts, mung beans, and sesame are most commonly used seeds and nuts in Lei cha, however other types may be used. Such as:

  • Cooked or puffed rice
  • Roasted soybeans
  • Lentils
  • Lotus seeds
  • Pinenuts
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Wheat

The ingredients are ground in a food processor or with a mortar and pestle until it is reduced to a powder resembling fine cornmeal. The powder is then place into a serving bowl and hot water is stirred into it such that a thin soup-like beverage is produced.

taken from Wikipedia : Lei Cha

Step 1 Grinding up the nut and tea mix.


step 2 : Nuts and tea are added to the dish and then ground up with a stick.


step 3 : After the mix is ground to become oily a powder is added and mixed in.


step 4:  Mixing the tea with hot water


step5 : Lei Cha after the water and puffed rice has been added. Ready to drink.


Equipment used to prepare Hakka lei cha


Pictures and caption  taken from David’s Formosa Photo Gallery : lei cha

youtube vid

Hakka cuisine

Hakka cuisine is the cooking style of the Hakka people, who are primarily found in southeastern China (Guangdong and Fujian), but also may be found in many other parts of China, as well as in the Chinese diaspora. Hongkong, Malaysia and Singapore have numerous restaurants serving Hakka cuisine.

Famous dishes

Salt baked chicken (東江鹽焗雞)

Famous Hakka dishes include:

  • Dung Gong Yam Guk Gai – Salt baked chicken (東江鹽焗雞) [tuŋ44 kɔŋ44 jam11 kuk5 kai44] – originally baked inside a heap of hot salt, but today many restaurants simply cook in brine, or cover it with a salty mixture before steaming it or baking it in an oven. [1]
  • Noh Mi Ap – Duck stuffed with rice (糯米鴨) [nɔ53 mi31 ap1]- a whole duck is de-boned while maintaining the shape of the bird, the cavities being filled with seasoned sticky rice.
  • Beef ball soup – very simple clear broth with lettuce and beef balls.
  • Fried pork with fermented tofu: this is a popular Chinese New Year offering which involves two stages of cooking. As previously mentioned, fresh food was at a premium in Hakka areas, so the marinated pork was deep fried to remove the moisture in order to preserve it. When a meal of pork was desired, the fried pork was then stewed with water and wood’s ear fungus. It is a Hakka equivalent to canned soup.

Ngiong Tew Foo (釀豆腐, stuffed tofu cube)

  • Ngiong Tew Foo (釀豆腐, [ɲjɔŋ55 tʰɛu55 fu53] stuffed tofu cube or Dung Gong Ngiong Tew Fu Bao – 東江釀豆腐煲): one of the more popular foods that originated from deep Hakka roots, it consists of tofu cubes heaped with minced meat (usually pork) and herbs, then fried till golden brown, or sometimes braised. Variations include usage of various oddments including eggplants, shiitake mushrooms, and bitter melon stuffed with the same meat paste. Traditionally, Yong tao foo is served in a clear yellow bean stew along with the bitter melon and shiitake variants. Modern variations that are more commonly seen sold in foodstalls are made by stuffing the tofu with solely fish paste. Usage of oddments to replace the tofu are more noticeable in this version, ranging from fried fish maw slices and okra to chili peppers.
  • Kiu nyuk (扣肉 [kʰju53 ɲjuk1], sliced pork with preserved mustard greens): thick slices of pork belly, with a layer of preserved mustard greens between each slice, are cooked and served in a dark sauce made up of soy sauce and sugar. A variation of the recipe on Wikibooks Cookbook is available here.

Kiu nyuk (扣肉;, sliced pork with preserved mustard greens)

  • Lei cha or Pounded Tea (擂茶) [lui11 tsʰa11] : A consortment of tea leaves (usually green tea), peanuts, mint leaves, sesame seeds, mung beans and other herbs, which are pounded or ground into a fine powder which is mixed as a drink, or as a dietary brew to be taken with rice and other vegetarian side dishes such as greens, tofu, and pickled radish.
  • Poon Choi (盆菜) [pʰun11 tsʰɔj53]: A variety of ingredients served in a basin.
  • Sohn Pan Tzai (算盘子) [sɔn53 pʰan11 tsai31] or Àbacus Beads: Made of dough formed of tapioca and yam, cut into abacus-bead shapes, which when cooked, are soft on the outside and a chewy on the inside. The dish may be cooked with minced chicken or pork, dried shrimps, mushrooms and various other vegetables.

The dish is stir-fried, seasoned with light soy sauce, salt, sugar and sometimes rice wine or vinegar (depending on taste).

Hakka food also includes takes on other traditional Chinese dishes, just as other Chinese ethnic groups do.

Taken from Wikipedia : Hakka cuisine

Hakka stone pillars ( 客家石笔)

These pillars are called stone pens, they are usually erected outside the ancestral house. They are rewarded to commemorate the Hakka scholars of passing the Imperial exams . The pillars ranging from 7-8 meteres to 10 metres were inscribed with the scholar’s name and the posts in the office as well as the surname. They are usually made out of marble or granite. the motifs on the body the pillars are  auspicious beast auspicious bird design relief. These pillars erected served as glorying bringing to a family clan as well as served as encouragement for the next generation.

In a metaphorical way, the stone pencils pointing upwards, liken a brush painting , using the sky as a canvas as if to announce the noblity to the heavens above.



Extracted from http://www.hakkasky.cc/wiki/doc-view-575.html , translated with aid of babel fish

More on Fujian Hakka Earth Castles Documentary (tu lou) in chinese

Part 1