China // Fujian, Guangdong and Hainan Island //

The Hakka homelands

Fujian’s hilly southwestern border with Guangdong is an area central to the Hakka, a Han subgroup known to locals as kejia (客家, kèjīa; guest families) and to nineteenth-century Europeans as “China’s gypsies”. Originating in the Yangzi basin during the third century and dislodged ever southward by war and revolution, the Hakka today form large communities here, in Hong Kong and on Hainan island. They managed to retain their original languages and customs by remaining aloof from their neighbours in the lands in which they settled, a habit that caused resentment and led to their homes being well defended. While towns up this way are mostly unattractive low-level industrial settlements, the countryside is pretty in spring, and villages and hamlets around the focal city of Yongding (永定, yongdìng) sport fortress-like Hakka mansions built of stone and adobe. The largest are four or five storeys high, circular, and house entire clans.