Known as kèjiārén in Chinese (“guest families”, or hak-kâ ngin in the Hakka language), the Hakka (客家人) are an ethnic sub-group of the Han Chinese family, with their own language, customs and traditions. Originally from the northern Chinese provinces of Henan and Shanxi, Hakka people began coming to Taiwan in the seventeenth century and have since developed a particularly strong identity. At first, Hakka migrants settled in Taipei county and along the western plains, but by the nineteenth century they had moved to the areas in which they predominate today: the mountainous parts of Taoyuan, Hsinchu and Miaoli counties, and in the Kaohsiung-Pingdong area. Though few Hakka are farmers today, they’re still regarded as hard workers and have a reputation for producing some of the island’s top scholars and writers: famous Hakka people include ex-president Lee Teng-hui, Soong Mei-ling (Chiang Kai-shek’s wife) and film director Hou Hsiao-hsien. Mainland Chinese leaders Sun Yat-sen and Deng Xiaoping were also Hakka.

Hakka people subscribe to the same religious beliefs as other Chinese groups in Taiwan, but they also have their own special gods and festivals. The worship of the Yimin (義民; yìmín; mostly in north Taiwan) is unique to Taiwan, while the island also has around 145 temples dedicated to the Three Mountain Kings (三山國王; sānshān guówáng), protective spirits of the Hakka and a tradition that came from Guangdong.

The Council for Hakka Affairs was created by the government in 2001 to help preserve Hakka culture on the island, and to ensure its language survives: there are several dialects spoken in Taiwan, with sìxiàn being the most important, and the one you’ll hear on train announcements. Hakka TV (客家電視台; kèjiā diànshìtái), a 24-hour station, has been on air since 2003.

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