• wethepeopleofhk

Hong Kong's indigenous people face linguistic and other discriminations

Under UN obligations Hakka, Tanka and all national or ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities children must be taught in school using their mother tongue - however in Hong Kong they are being taught only HK Cantonese dialect which is illegal assimilation! This is linguistic discrimination.

WTPOHK knows some Hakka and Tanka people - so this article is about two groups of 'indigenous' minorities in Hong Kong (HK) Han Chinese people 'Hakka' (many were originally farmers in the New Territories), and the aboriginal non-Han Chinese 'Tanka' boat people.

Hakka and Tanka as indigenous peoples in HK have closely knit communities and lives based on openness and communications - something we can all learn and benefit from!

We use the term 'indigenous' because as always, there are disputes about which peoples are indigenous depending on who supposedly settled first in HK.

Prehistoric Hong Kong is the period (roughly 50,000 - 12,000 years ago) between the arrival of the first humans in Hong Kong and the start of recorded Chinese history during the Han dynasty. The history of China's south, which may possibly include Hong Kong, is reckoned to have been first recorded in 214 BC with Qin Shi Huang conquering the Baiyue (the Yue people, ancestors of the Tanka) which creating the Jiaozhou province. History of the Han dynasty. Most likely the Tankas were the original indigenious people of HK because they were already settled in HK before the Han Chinese!


Under HK's Joint Declaration and its rule OF law, there must not be discrimination against anyone.

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has designated that Beijing dialect 'putonghua' using simplified characters is the language of unity - the official language of China. We expect that CCP in a relatively short time will focus on removing the Cantonese dialect from HK schools, media, etc. and replacing it with the official Beijing dialect 'putonghua' using simplified characters (translated means 'common language').

Putonghua is the world's most widely spoken native language, Romanized 'pinyin' is widely used in place of Chinese characters, and with only 4 tones compared to Cantonese dialect of 9 tones (without common use of Jyutping) is relatively much easier to learn and use. Ethnic minorities children in China have no difficulty learning putonghua, whilst in HK an ethnic minority child after 12 years of education has only the fluency of a native Cantonese speaker after only 2 years in school.

The main language used in HK is the 'Cantonese' dialect the Chinese language utilising traditional Chinese characters.

Cantonese is one of the world's hardest languages to learn to speak with 9 tones; it is mostly a spoken language which uses Putonghua traditional characters for its written language. HK Cantonese uses a lot of slang terms and is constantly changing. In China there are small differences in dialects even in villages only 20 km apart!

HK Chinese peoples use of Cantonese is linked to a fierce will to retain their unique language, culture and heritage which so far they have been able to do by retaining their unique Cantonese dialect. HK's online chat rooms using Cantonese dialect, traditional characters and slang makes it almost impossible for CCP's putonghua speakers to understand - almost as if encryption is being used.

Although HK claims to have three languages of Putonghua, Cantonese and English locally almost everyone is using Cantonese. English is used for international business. In the Basic Law the official language is 'Chinese' without reference to which dialect, and English may be used by the Courts.

Taiwan, like HK, uses traditional Chinese characters. Mainland China uses 'simplified' Chinese characters - which some traditional character using people claims changes the 'width' and 'depth' of Chinese as a language.

Officially CCP's language policy in education is for all children to learn their mother tongue, later in Primary school to learn Putonghua and finally in Secondary school to learn English. CCP illegally practices assimilation across China - it starts by replacing a child's mother tongue local dialect with the official Beijing dialect of 'putonghua'.

Under the United Nations 'Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious & Linguistic Minorities' all minorities have freedoms and human rights without distinction (no discrimination) for equal access to public services, participate equally in society and its economy, etc.


Non-Cantonese Sinitic languages in Hong Kong

Hakka language (Jyutping: Haak3 gaa1 waa2; Traditional Chinese: 客家話) is commonly used in many walled villages (Jyutping: Wai4 cyun1; Traditional Chinese: 圍村) in New Territories and Hakka ethnic communities in Hong Kong, being one of the languages of Hong Kong indigenous peoples. Hakka is, like Cantonese and putonghua, a member of the Chinese language family, but has close to zero mutual intelligibility with either. Hakka people also have their own distinct culture, differing from Cantonese people in traditional architecture, music, cuisine, and other customs.

Waitao language (Jyutping: Wai4 tau4 waa2; Traditional Chinese: 圍頭話), is the language of the 'Punti' another of Hong Kong's indigenous languages. This dialect appears to be linked to the ancient Chinese kingdom of 'Nanyue' people in a part of China covered the area south of the Nanling Mountains including Guangdong, Hong Kong and as far south as todays North Vietnam.

The non-Han Chinese Tanka people (Jyutping: Daan6 gaa1 jan4; Traditional Chinese: 蜑家人), traditionally living onboard their boats, but nowdays live in fishing villages, is another group of Hong Kong indigenous peoples. Their language is Tanka (Jyutping: Daan6 gaa1 waa2; Traditional Chinese: 蜑家話), and their own version of Cantonese.

Punti people

Punti' (本地; Jyutping: bun2 dei6, literally local(s)) is a Cantonese endonym referring to the native Cantonese people of Guangdong and Guangxi. "Punti" designates the 'Weitao' dialect Cantonese-speaking locals in contrast to the other Yue Chinese Cantonese speaking people's and others such as Taishanese; Hoklo people from Fujian who speak the Hokkien dialects; the Hakka immigrants who arrived in Guangdong and Guangxi during the Qing dynasty; and ethnic minorities such as the Zhuang people of Guangxi, and the boat-dwelling Tanka people who are both descendants of the Baiyue – although the Tanka have largely assimilated into Han Chinese culture.

In Hong Kong, "Punti" as an ethnic group refers in a strict sense to the Cantonese-speaking indigenous inhabitants of Hong Kong who had settled in Hong Kong before the New Territories of Hong Kong were leased to the British Empire in 1898. Prominently represented by the "Weitou people" (圍頭人) – the Hau (侯), Tang (鄧), Pang (彭), Liu (廖), and Man (文) – these indigenous Punti inhabitants were afforded additional privileges in land ownership enshrined in the Convention for the Extension of Hong Kong Territory and the Basic Law of Hong Kong. Punti literally means natives.

"Punti" is equivalent to the Standard Cantonese mainly used in Guangzhou (formerly Canton), Hong Kong and Macau. Punti became a commonly used word in Hong Kong law courts and other authorities such as the police; when a defendant chooses to use Punti in the court, he/she elects to use Cantonese as the language of trial instead of English. Despite the reference of "Punti" in this context means nothing more than "Cantonese Chinese" as a spoken language and the Hong Kong variation of the language, there are political and practical reasons of not using direct reference to the word "Cantonese Chinese".

Modern use of the demonym "Punti" is promoted by the Hong Kong Museum of History, which maintains an extensive collection of Punti artefacts.

Hakka people

The Hakka (客家), sometimes Hakka Han, are Han Chinese people whose ancestral homes are chiefly in the Hakka-speaking provincial areas of Guangdong, Fujian, Jiangxi, Guangxi, Sichuan, Hunan, Zhejiang, Hainan and Guizhou. The Chinese characters for Hakka (客家) literally mean "guest families".

Unlike other Han Chinese subgroups, the Hakkas are not named after a geographical region, e.g. a province, county or city, in China. Modern day Hakka are generally identified by both full Hakka and by different degrees of Hakka ancestry and usually speak the Hakka language.

The Hakkas are thought to have originated from relatively northern provinces particularly Henan and Hubei. In a series of migrations, the Hakkas moved and settled in their present areas in Southern China and from there, substantial numbers migrated overseas to various countries throughout the world.

The Punti–Hakka Clan Wars were a conflict between the Hakka and Cantonese people in Guangdong, China between 1855 and 1867. The wars were fierce around the Pearl River Delta, especially in Toi Shan of the Sze Yup counties. The wars resulted in roughly a million dead with many more fleeing for their lives. Hakka literally means guest family, and Punti literally means natives. The Punti are also referred to by the languages they spoke, Yue Chinese.

The origins of this bloody conflict lay in the resentment of the Cantonese towards the Hakka people whose dramatic population growth threatened the Cantonese people. The Hakka were marginalized and resentful in turn, and were forced to inhabit the hills and waterways rather than the fertile plains.

As the most diasporic among the Chinese community groups, the worldwide population of Hakkas is about 80 million to 120 million. The Hakkas moved from Central China into Southern China at a time when the earlier Han Chinese settlers who already lived there had developed distinctive cultural identities and languages from Hakkas.

The Hakka people have had significant influence on the course of modern Chinese and overseas Chinese history; in particular, they have been a source of many government and military leaders—in 1984, over half of the Standing Committee of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Politburo were ethnically Hakka.

Today, Hakka is one of the official languages of the Republic of China (Taiwan).

Tanka people

The Tankas, or boat people, are a sinicized ethnic group in Southern China who have traditionally lived on junks in coastal parts of Guangdong, Guangxi, Fujian, Hainan, Shanghai, Zhejiang and along the Yangtze river, as well as Hong Kong, and Macau.

The boat people are referred to with other different names outside of Guangdong (i.e. they are not called Tanka). Though many now live onshore, some of the older generations still live on their boats and pursue their traditional livelihood of fishing.

Historically, the Tankas were considered to be outcasts. Since they were boat people who lived by the sea, they were sometimes referred to as "sea gypsies" by both Chinese and British. Tanka origins can be traced back to the native ethnic minorities of southern China known historically as the Baiyue who may have taken refuge on the sea and have gradually assimilated some of Han culture. Tanka have preserved many of their native traditions that are not found in Han Chinese culture.

Interestingly a small number of Tankas also live in Vietnam - they are called Dan (Đàn) and are classified as a subgroup of the Ngái ethnicity.

The most widely held theory is that the Tanka are the descendants of the native Yue inhabitants of Guangdong before the Han Cantonese moved in. The theory stated that originally the Yueh peoples inhabited the region, when the Chinese conquest began, either absorbed or expelled the Yue to southern regions. The Tanka, according to this theory, are descended from an outcast Yue tribe who preserved their separate culture.

The three groups of Punti, Hakka, and Hoklo, all of whom spoke different Chinese dialects, despised and fought each other during the late Qing dynasty. However, they were all united in their overwhelming hatred for the Tanka, since the aboriginals of Southern China were the ancestors of the Tanka. The Cantonese Punti displaced the Tanka aboriginals, after they began conquering southern China.

Todays cultural of indigenous Hakka and Tanka peoples in HK

Traditional Hakka villages, including some walled villages, still exist today in HK. In HK's New Territories a village created by Hakka people will always lead back to an original partiarch who started the village.

Everyone in the village has the same family surname, most are closely related, and most - at least to outsiders - seem to argue nonstop with each other all day and night! These villages are open extended families in which everyones character and emotions are worn daily for all to see and participate in.

All houses are open - there are no fences between houses, no locked doors - everyone is wandering around sticking their noses into everyone elses business! There are few boundaries - and fewer secrets!

The Hakka and Tanka generally marry within their own people - and sometimes amongst each other.

In their relationship amongst themselves as community members they are fundamentaly different from other Han Chinese people in HK - they are not as selfish, they know how to share and cooperate.

There is no power in HK greater than a group of old Hakka village women with long sticks determined to defend what they believe are their rights as villagers. There are numerous stories of local villagers not agreeing with the governments decisions - and nobody can change these villagers minds.

Having said this the lineage for indigenous peoples rights to New Territories 'ding' houses is only available to men - women do not count! so much for HK'e rule of law!! These rights, and their misuse, is a major bone of contention for everyone in HK!

Tha Tanka are boat people and they know how to live as a community on small and often crowded boats. The one thing a boat teaches us is how to get along with others!

China considers Tanka to be its citizens - so Tanka have always freely moved between HK, Macau and China. A Tanka fisherman we know was born on a wooden sailing junk (sails, no engine) owned by his father that sailed the waters of the Pearl River Delta. During the cultural revolution of 1967-1976 when there was little rice in China the CCP still gave free rice to the Tanka people - he said without this rice they would not have lived because they were so poor.

WTPOHK hopes that HK community can learn more from all minorities, including the Hakka and Tanka, on how to cooperate better for HK communities development! HK must give every minority their full human rights and democracy!

Elderly Hakka woman in Hong Kong

Pre-1980's Hong Kong Tanka boat people with their junks

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