Punti-Hakka Clan Wars

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Punti-Hakka Clan Wars or Hakka-Punti Clan Wars (simplified Chinese: 土客械斗; traditional Chinese: 土客械鬥; pinyin: Tǔ kè xièdòu) refer to the conflict between the Hakka and Punti in Guangdong, China between 1855 and 1867. The wars were particularly fierce in around the Pearl River Delta, especially in Taishan 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 original land. The Punti are also referred to by the dialect they spoke, Yue Chinese. The origins of this bloody conflict lay in the resentment of the Punti towards the Hakka whose dramatic population growth threatened the Punti. The Hakka were marginalized and resentful in turn, and were forced to inhabit the hills and waterways rather than the fertile plains.


The existing Cantonese-speaking inhabitants (Punti or 本地, indigenous or "original land") of these areas were protective of their own more fertile lands, and the newcomers were pushed to the outer fringes of fertile plains, despite having migrated legitimately, or they settled in more mountainous regions to eke out a living. Conflict between the two groups grew and it is thought that "Hakka" became a term of derision used by the Punti aimed at the newcomers. Eventually, the tension between the two groups (the Hakkas had by then been settled for several hundred years and could not be regarded as migrants in any sense) would lead to a series of 19th-century skirmishes in the Pearl River Delta known as the Punti-Hakka Clan Wars (土客械鬥). The problem was not that the two groups spoke a different tongue. In fact, the "locals" comprised different peoples speaking several mutually unintelligible tongues, as was typical of the Chinese countryside all over southern China, but they would regard each other as "locals" or Puntis, but exclude the Hakka from such designation.

The term "Punti" is not synonymous with "Cantonese", as Cantonese people in any other part of China, Beijing for example, would not be able to call themselves "Punti", as the Punti of that area would be the Beijing or Hebei people.

Over time the newcomers adopted the term "Hakka" to refer to themselves, not least due to the migratory tendencies inherent in their own culture. However, because the term also covers Hakka speakers (in the same way that Punti covered several people speaking different tongues), and because the Han Chinese registered as Guest Families who migrated may not have been Hakka speakers, and because of intermarriages among Hakka and Punti members (which showed that relations between the two were very good at times) identification as Hakka was largely a matter of self-selection. Through studies of both Cantonese and Hakka genealogies, some Hakka and Punti people with the same surnames claim the same ancestors, although their descendants strongly identify with one group to the exclusion of the other.

When the Ming Dynasty was overthrown by the Qing Dynasty, Ming loyalists, notably Zheng Chenggong or Koxinga (simplified Chinese: 郑成功; traditional Chinese: 鄭成功; pinyin: Zhèng Chénggōng), fled to Taiwan to raise troops in the hope of eventually retaking China for the Ming. The Qing emperor, in order to stymie these efforts, twice commanded all residents of the coastal areas of Guangdong and Fujian Provinces to move inland by 50 li, approximately Lua error in Module:Convert at line 272: attempt to index local 'cat' (a nil value)., resulting in a large number of deaths amongst the Punti. After the rebels in Taiwan were pacified, the Qing emperor rescinded these edicts.

However far fewer Punti returned than expected, so the Qing emperor provided incentives to repopulate these areas. The most visible of those who responded were the Hakka. For some time the Punti and Hakka lived together peacefully. As the population of Guangdong Province soared, life became increasingly difficult and unrest broke out.

In 1851, the Taiping Rebellion, led by a Hakka Chinese, Hong Xiuquan, erupted in Guangxi Province and quickly spread throughout Southern China. The rebellion was finally suppressed in 1867. In 1854, during the rebellion, a local anti-Qing Triad took the opportunity to rebel, attacking Heyuan and Foshan. This "Red Turban Rebellion" was finally suppressed in 1857.

Clan war

During this rebellion, the Hakka had helped the imperial army to raid Punti villages to attack the rebels and their sympathisers. This precipitated open hostility between the Hakka and Punti, with the Punti attacking Hakka villages in revenge.

Bloody battles raged. Both sides fortifying their villages with walls, destroyed bridges and roads, and raised armies as best they could. Entire villages were involved in the fighting with all able-bodied men called to fight. The Punti were armed with the help of their relatives in Hong Kong and the Chinese Diaspora who lived abroad. Some captives were sold to Cuba and South America as coolies through Hong Kong and Macau, and others sold to the brothels of Macau. More than 3000 Hakkas, who were defeated by the Punti in Gui county, joined the God-worship Society.

Conflict reached a devastating scale. Over a million died and thousands of villages were destroyed. Because the Punti significantly outnumbered the Hakka, the Hakka losses were more extensive. After the clan war, the population share of Hakka in the Sze Yup area dropped to 3% with many relocated to Guangxi.


With the end of the Taiping Rebellion, the Qing government was able to send the imperial army to suppress the conflict with indiscriminate savagery. Afterwards they separated the combatants. For many years the Hakka were allocated their own independent sub-prefecture, Chixi (赤溪镇) which was carved out of south-eastern Taishan, while others were relocated to Guangxi Province.

Similar clan wars in Malaysia

Conflict also occurred in the state of Perak, Malaya (present day Malaysia) during the mid-19th century when southern Chinese immigrants arrived to work as coolies and mine laborers. Due to linguistic differences and a history of mutual hatred for each other back in China, bloody wars broke out. This series of conflicts, marked by violence between the Cantonese (and later on, Fujianese) dominated Ghee Hin Kongsi and the primarily Hakka Hai San Secret Society is known as the Larut War, which concluded with the signing of the Pangkor Treaty of 1874. Although Ghee Hin Kongsi was Cantonese dominated, it has Hakkas on its side and the leader was a Dabu Hakka, Chin Ah Yam.[1]

See also


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External links

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