Hakka - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. The Hakka do not have their own distinct religion, but like most other Chinese, traditionally practiced a blend of Daoism, Buddhism, Confucianism, and "folk" religion, subject to regional variation. The Hakka traditionally believed that ancestral spirits could influence the lives of the living and thus required special care, offerings, and worship. They erected homes, located graves, and built ancestral halls according to the principles of feng shui (geomancy). In many communities, Hakka beliefs and practices closely resemble those of the Yue; however, in other cases, anthropologists have also observed important differences. For example, during the nineteenth century the Hakka did not worship as many of the higher-level state-sanctioned gods or Buddhist deities, placed more weight on Daoist beliefs and ancestor worship, and were more likely to practice spirit possession than other Chinese in Guangdong. Some missionaries characterize the Hakka as having more "monotheistic tendencies" than other Chinese; these tendencies may have contributed to the fact that relatively larger numbers of the Hakka converted to Christianity during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries than did other Han Chinese. In some parts of Hong Kong, the Hakka have fewer shrines and ancestral altars in their homes than the Cantonese.

Religious Practitioners. The same religious practitioners—Buddhist and Daoist priests, spirit mediums, feng shui experts, and various types of fortune-tellers—were observed among the Hakka during the nineteenth century as among the Yue. During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries Hakka Christian missionaries became particularly active in parts of Guangdong and Hong Kong.

Ceremonies. The Hakka have traditionally observed the most common Chinese life-cycle rituals and calendrical festivals, including the Lunar New Year, the Lantern Festival, Qing Ming, the Mid-Autumn Festival, the Dragon Boat Festival, Chong Yang, and Winter Solstice. The Hakka generally do not celebrate Yu Lan, the festival to appease "hungry ghosts," which is popular among other Chinese.

Arts. The Hakka are known for their folk songs, especially the genre of mountain songs that were once commonly sung by women, sometimes in a flirtatious dialogue with men, as they worked in the fields or collected fuel along the hillsides. These songs are often love songs, but they also touch on topics such as hard work, poverty, and personal hardships. Although their clothes were traditionally plain, most Hakka women used to weave intricately patterned bands or ribbons, which they commonly wore to secure black rectangular headcloths or the flat, circular, fringed Hakka hats. These are still worn by some older Hakka women in Hong Kong and some regions of Guangdong.

Medicine. The Hakka traditionally depended on spirit healers, Chinese doctors, and traditional herbal remedies.

Death and Afterlife. Christian- or Buddhist-derived ideas of hell exist among the Hakka, as do ideas concerning the influence of the spirits of the dead and their occasional return to earth. One nineteenth-century Protestant missionary observed that the Hakka were not very familiar with the Buddhist karmic concept of one's life influencing rebirth or the Buddhist idea of hell with its tortures and purgatory. Instead, he asserted that the Hakka ascribed to the Daoist idea that "the righteous ascend to the stars and the wicked are destroyed" (Eitel 1867, 162-163).

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