Culture of Hakkas, in crisis, needs protection - Taipei Times
Sun, Dec 14, 2003 - Page 8 News List

Culture of Hakkas, in crisis, needs protection

By Richard Huang 黃瑞祺

National Central University in Chungli founded the College of Hakka Studies this year. National Chiao Tung University in Hsinchu and National United University in Miaoli are said to have plans for setting up Hakka colleges. These three universities are located in cities with large Hakka populations. Despite coming late, this is something to look forward to.

Although Taiwan has around 2 million Hakka people, the Hakka language and culture have withered. Only the elderly know the Hakka culture, while some middle-aged and younger Hakka aren't even able to speak the Hakka language.

Due to a lack of institutions, relevant documents have never been systematically collected. Anyone who understands Hakka culture must feel a strong sense of crisis. It is time to salvage the Hakka history and culture.

Despite the great number of Hakka people in Taiwan, they have been at a disadvantage politically and economically. To adapt themselves and make a living, Hakka people often find themselves hiding their language and culture while learning the language and culture of the major ethnic group. As time passes, many Hakka people have forgotten their language and culture, and, after several generations, even their Hakka status.

In a democratic era, political and economic power is proportional to the number of people because one person has one vote. The situation is different under an authoritarian regime, where a minority group often rules the majority and monopolizes national resources.

Riding on the democratization trend, Taiwan's political and economic structure has changed and Hakka people no longer need to hide their identity as their social status has improved. Many politicians even claim to be Hakka so as to win over the ethnic community's support.

Now there is a ray of hope for Hakka history and culture. As mentioned above, Hakka culture is gradually disappearing. Local researchers' efforts still fail to be fully accepted by universities and colleges, although there are some courses and research centers. Setting up a department or graduate institute dedicated to Hakka studies in a university means that Hakka culture is accepted and supported by society, fully legitimate.

The idea of cultural diversity recognizes that different ethnic communities and cultures exist in harmony, and that they don't have strive to become more alike.

To preserve cultural diversity, cultural chauvinism displayed by the mainstream culture should be restrained and disadvantaged groups and their culture should be bolstered to avoid extinction. This way, various ethnic groups and cultures can communicate on an equal basis and enrich the overall cultural life.

In present-day Taiwan, Hakka and indigenous cultures are faced with cultural crises and require protection. This is not to protect these two cultures alone, but to safeguard Taiwan's cultural diversity. This has become a new type of human rights in today's world -- the right of culture.

But there are some hidden worries in this seemingly favorable situation.

It might be difficult to recruit qualified teachers and outstanding students if several colleges or graduate institutes for Hakka studies were to be established within a short period of time. The timing of the foundation of new institutions and enrollment of students should be coordinated as soon as possible. In any case, Hakka people should seize this historic opportunity to make these institutions a success. Otherwise, the Hakka people's century-old expectations will be dashed and the concept of cultural diversity in Taiwan will not be implemented.

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