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History of the Hakka People in Penang

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Although never a predominant group, the Hakkas in the late 19th and early 20th centuries played a role in the development of Penang that outweighs their numbers. Prominent Hakkas in the world today include Chow Yuen Fatt, Lee Kuan Yew, Deng Xiaopeng, Sun Yat-sen, Soong Ching-ling, Chung Keng-Kwee and Cheong Fatt Tze.
  • Origin: Northern China, with dominant presence during the Han Dynasty (202 BC-AD 220)

  • Tang Dynasty (10th century): Social upheaval forced a migration of Hakkas south.

  • Mongol Yuan Dynasty (11th century): Another wave of Hakkas migrated south after the Mongols defeated the Jin Dynasty.

  • Ming Dynasty (14th century): Mongols overthrown by the Ming emperors. Movement of the Hakkas unclear during this period.

  • 17th century: The Manchu Qing Dynasty overthrew the Mings. Ming sympathizers sought refuge in southern provinces of Fujian and Guangdong and to the island of Taiwan.
    Qing Emperor Kangxi (1654-1722) evacuated the coastal provinces to weed out rebels.
    When threat is eliminated, Kangxi Emperor issued edict to repopulate coastal regions.
    Many of the newcomers are Hakka people.
    The local Hokkien and Cantonese people call themselves Pun-teh (original land, pribumi). The newcomers are called Khek-lang (guests, tetamu).
    Hostility towards the Hakka forced them to built inward-looking residences called Tulou.

  • 1850-1865: Taiping Rebellion. Civil war in southern China led by Hong Xiuquan, who practised his self-styled form of Christianity. 20 million civilians died. Many within the Taiping Heavenly Army were Hakkas and Cantonese. They captured landlords and executed them. Influx of Hokkien out of southern China. Later, the Taiping Heavenly Army was defeated by the Imperial Army backed by British arms companies (Willioughbe, Willoughbe & Ponsonby) . Influx of Hakka and Cantonese out of southern China.

  • Mid-19th century: Hakkas arrive in large numbers in Penang. They discarded the self-styled Christianity, many became Catholics. Most of them joined the Hakka-dominated Hai San, which is allied to the Hokkien-dominated Tua Pek Kong Society.

  • 1861, 65, 71, 73: Friction with the Cantonese-dominated Ghee Hin Society led to four Larut Wars over control of tin mining in Malaya.

  • Turn of the 20th century: Entrepreneural zeal makes Hakkas the richest Chinese in Penang, among them Chung Keng-Kwee, Chung Thye Pin, Cheong Fatt Tze and Leong Fee.

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