Too Narrow-minded Perspective – Review of a Study of Hakka Movement in Taiwan – 1987-2000

  • Author Tseng Chin-yu
  • Degree Ph. D.
  • Research affiliation Institute of Civic & Moral Education, National Taiwan Normal University
  • Year thesis completed 1999
The article A Study of Hakka Movement In Taiwan – 1987-2000 by Tseng Chin-yu, hereinafter called Tseng’s article, describes concrete historical facts with clear and definite theoretical model. In theory and facts, however, both have appeared to be narrow-minded in perspective. But again, it is a wonderful opportunity that beginners may learn how to master the field in later studies.

Tseng’s article explores the Hakka Movement since 1987, using historical explanatory angle and political process model the social movement theory underscores. The so-called Hakka Movement seeks to regain through collective action the dignity Hakkanese have lost and rebuild recognition of Hakka for Hakka people realize the crisis of their very existence and are aware the difference in the current environment(Tseng 2000:36). On the basis of this definition, Tseng, among many Hakka movements, opts to select reformatory Hakka bodies such as Hakka Magazine 「客家雜誌」, Hakka Public Affairs Association in Taiwan 「臺灣客家公共事務協會」 and Formosa Hakka Radio Station「寶島客家電台」 as the target of analysis. Tseng’s article believes loosening of the greater environment and effect of government policy on language and emerging of new social movements are attributable to the cause of Hakka Movement (see Fig 1).

After more than a decade watching the Hakka Movement, Tseng’s article discovers that the current most critical issue Hakkanese faces is the minority position of Hakkanese culture in our society. The problem is particularly true in the area of Hakkanese language. With the exception of areas where Hakkanese traditionally congest, this minority position has made the majority of Hakkanese a loner, lacking contact with each other. As such, it has blocked Hakkanese vitality. To improve this situation, Hakkanese are simply helpless unless the government steps in. As a result, what the Hakka Movement wants is intervention by the government. In its earlier stage, the Hakka Movement used to stress for conservation of Hakkanese language only, developing later for renaissance of Hakkanese culture. Consequently, aggressive Hakkanese groups have been organized in succession, trying to promote heterogeneous movement targets, ranging from publication of Hakka Magazine 「客家雜誌」, to organization of Hakka Public Affairs Association in Taiwan and Formosa Hakka Radio Station「寶島客家電台」. Up to the current stage while preparation for organization of the Association of Hakkanese Professors is under way, the Hakka Movement remains active in multiple goals for multiple stages. In practice, however, implementation has seen different results due to different concepts different executors hold see Fig. 2). Despite existence of so many differences, the movement has, after decade-long active promotion, gradually strengthened Hakkanese awareness, giving Hakkanese society a clear self-awareness – awareness of Hakkanese rights and sense of action. New Hakkanese has gradually established the mainstay of Hakkanese.(Tseng 2000:1-2)

Tseng’s article not only describes the current status of the Hakka Movement, it also further suggests the direction of the movement in future. This expectation has naturally fallen upon the shoulders of Hakkanese elite. Tseng’s article believes Hakkanese elite may promote the movement in future in two routes: one to take an active part in politics and the other one is to return home to concentrate racial consensus. The first choice for the elite Hakkanese is to build up personal political resources by mobilizing the racial sense, which seems to be inevitable. In reality, there is no conflict at all between the two. The alternative is to return to Hakkanese community to engage in Hakkanese literature and history work in order to promote the concept of the movement. By personally creating and interpreting Hakkanese culture, the Hakkanese elite will take the initiative to practice what they pursue and will not be distant from the crowd.(Tseng 2000:1-2,134,147)。

By this observation, Tseng’s article believes that the meaning of Hakka Movement is twofold. To Hakkanese race, the Hakka Movement will make the Hakkanese race reappear; to Taiwan society at large, the Hakka Movement will move the society toward the territory of pluralism.(Tseng 2000:1)

The target of study Tseng’s article covers is Hakkanese civic bodies, ruling out those government-supervised organizations such as Hakkanese Benevolent Association of China如中原崇正會, and Rustic Songs Class. At the same time, Tseng’s article also excludes actions that are not operated in concrete form. By connotation, the first step of movement for any Hakkanese civic body is to segregate itself from civic bodies that are conventional, conservative and pro-Kuomintang to show its awareness and opposition to the past. As such we may affirm Hakka Movement from the angle of political process.(Tseng 2000:154) But logically specking, the above exposition commits two faults. One is tautology, needless repetition of empty statement and other one is to simplify the issue as a way to cover the whole. Let’s deal with the first fault first. Tseng’s article presumes the political process model the social movement theory underscores, followed by selection of three civic Hakkanese bodies that fit into this model as the target of the study, from whence Tseng tries to rationalize the theory. Further, Tseng’s article infers that the three civic Hakkanese bodies that fit in the political process model have segregated them from tradition in the first step when joining the movement. This is a mistake for having used simplified instance to cover the whole issue. Take the Hakkanese Benevolent Association of China如中原崇正會for example. First of all, Tseng’s article touches only the Hakkanese Benevolent Association of China如中原崇正會 in one stroke in the conclusion, leaving readers hardly to understand the nature of the Association. Secondly, even if readers agree with the author on the judgment of A’s nature, it proves on the contrary that in Hakka Movement, there are indeed Hakkanese civic bodies that are conservative, conventional and pro-Kuomingtang, which instantly discloses the fault of Tseng’s article using simplified instance to cover the whole issue.

In reality, Tseng has discovered the dilemma of the article. By the author’s own account, errors and omissions of the dissertation are reflected fourfold. 1) observation from the viewpoint of Hakkanese only; 2) failure to merge the observation with other minority groups; 3) after the Democratic Progressive Party becomes the ruling party, the power base of local Taiwanese has greatly augmented, the question is where shall the anti-Kuomingtang Hakkanese movement go from here? And 4) interpretation of Hakka Movement uses only political process theory. Tseng 2000:166) The former three tell the phenomena of using simplified instance to cover the whole issue because of narrow-minded perspective while the latter indicates tautology as theory comes before facts.

This narrow-minded phenomenon appearing both in theory and fact is reflected clearly in Tseng’s retrospective of bibliography as Tseng’s article believes that most Hakka studies in the past often started from textual research and ended up at introduction of Hakkanese customs and culture. Therefore, analysis and assessment in Tseng’s article relates only to movement, racial group, law and language(Tseng 2000:20) It is for this reason that Tseng has opted not to touch upon, in the dissertation, recent achievements in anthropology, history, geography, architecture, etc. This will of course make the article limited in applications, resulting, in theory, in the lost opportunity of criticizing general social movement theory. On the other hand, from the practical point of view, the approach has virtually blocked the access that Tseng may use to describe the overall Hakkanese race.

In summary, as an observatory report on understanding Hakka movement, Tseng’s article may seem to be inadequate, it nevertheless provides clear arteries and veins for future students to continue the study and, if they wish, to make comments. The commentator believes that students of Hakkanese studies in future should use the study results of Hakkanese movement to comment on general social movement theory. At the same time, students should also apply appropriate social movement theory to describe Hakkanese social movement. Furthermore, just as Tseng’s article has emphasized, the so-called ‘historical interpretation’ should not leave alone the history of Hakkanese movement over the last 200 years in Taiwan if one cares about the current Hakka Movement. Otherwise, once we neglect the long-standing social factual background, the social theory we create must be very limited in applications.