The first people to settle in Taiwan were inhabitants of Quan Zhou who were adept in fishery and occupied harbor cities. The runner up was inhabitants of Zhang Zhou who occupied other important areas outside of harbors. Gradually these immigrants from Zhang Zhou and Quan Zhou formed villages and became the ethnic group that dominated Taiwan’s economic activities. Lastly the Hakka people arrived and occupied areas that were abandoned by immigrants from Zhang Zhou and Quan Zhou or areas that were further in-land. They farmed on their own or became serfs of Zhang and Quan Zhou people. That was the general theory of Taiwan’s immigration and settlement history.
However, according to the research done by Professor Shih Tien-Fu, the reason why Zhang, Quan and Hakka people lived in different regions was intimately related to their homelands’ living conditions. Quan Zhou people depended on the sea for a living, whose livelihood centered around traveling sales, international commercial, working as craftsmen, fishing, fish farming and salt production. Therefore naturally after moving to Taiwan, they would choose to live along the seashore. Zhang Zhou people had always depended on agriculture as the center of their living and economy. It was not surprising they would choose flat plains of the in-land area. Hakka people’s home origin was rolling hill area, so they were experts of riverside, hill and mountain terrace farming techniques. To the Hakka people, the sea was alien to them. So after moving to Taiwan, the flatlands were their ideal farming areas. However, they had an additional choice over Zhang and Quan immigrants, and that was they could practice mountain area farming, plant fruits and other agricultural products on geography that was akin to their home origin.
The relationship between Taiwan’s Amoy and Hakka people was both strained and antagonistic during Ching Dynasty. It was fueled even more by the fight for land and water sources, different customs and languages. “Hakka people are leaders, Holo people are followers”, when the fight started, Hakka side was invariably the winner. However, later because of lack of reinforcement, they became losers and were forcibly displaced, thus giving up their lands and moving into mountainous areas. In truth, all these theories could not explain fully the observed geographic distribution of Hakka people. Any ethic group, after moving to Taiwan, would not just settle down in a location permanently. They would move around due to factors such as over population, exploring new living horizon or diminishing of local influence, moving out of family members, wars, natural calamities and fortuitous geographies. These were applicable to both Amoy and Hakka people.
Generally speaking, most of the Hakka people immigrated to Taiwan later relative to Amoy people, and also with smaller population. They settled in hilly regions where on one hand they needed to face down the populous Holo people; and on the other hand, guarded against doughty aborigines. Thus they needed to weather stringent environment, diseases and forces of nature in order to survive. Under limited resources, the Hakka people not only transformed swamps into good farm lands, developed mountain slopes into terraces, but also stony grounds and riverbeds filled with various sizes of pebbles into good farm lands. Through excavating ponds, building reservoirs and opening ditches, they had professionally and fully utilized the water resource. Therefore Hakka people were industrious and not afraid to better their living conditions against hardship and obstacles. Moreover they also emphasized good interaction between men and nature. From here, one could see that the greatest contribution Hakka people had on the settlement and reclamation history of Taiwan was the development of mountainous in-land areas.(Many thanks to Legislator Chen Yun-Tong for providing the information)