Hakka American Associations and Their Online Discourses: A Case Study of the Taiwan Council Global Website.

Author:Chiu, Ann Shu-ju
Position:Case study

Hakka groups have been referred to as "guest people" (Kejia [phrase omitted]) (Constable 1996). They were latecomers to migration and occupied the marginalized areas in their residential societies. They were guest members living in proximity to other early mainstream settler groups. In the past thousand years they have gone through five major migrations from northern to southern China in Jiangxi, Fujian, and Guangdong provinces (Lowe 2012). Quite a number have further migrated to settle in Taiwan and other Asia-Pacific regions since the eighteenth century. Today there is Hakka immigration around the globe, along with many frequent worldwide links between Hakka communities. Eriberto Lozada (1998) argues that the development of Internet technology can strengthen the formation and spread of Hakka identification as revealed from the Hakka Global Network, an Internet mailing list subscribed to by netizens interested in Hakka cultures. Using a case study of the Global Website initiated by Taiwan's Council of Hakka Affairs, we will demonstrate that the Internet also helps Taiwan Hakka Chinese preserve their distinctiveness in a multicultural society and negotiate a cultural identity beyond the nation-state in their everyday life.


The Internet, commonly understood as a product of globalization, can accelerate the de-territorialization of temporal/ spatial boundaries that may lead to universal homogenization. In this paper we examine how the Global Website, initiated by Taiwan's Council of Hakka Affairs (2018), uses the Internet to spread knowledge of the ethnic identity and culture of the global population of Hakka Chinese. The cyberspace construction of the Global Website reinforces intraethnic Hakka cohesion and emphasizes the distinctiveness of Hakka's common culture. In addition, it encourages the development of a rich variety of living Hakka cultures in different regions of the world--real and imagined. We study how the Hakka associations in the United States conduct their online communications with their ethnic counterparts overseas. If we see the websites of Hakka associations as a mirror of their organizational inclinations, we find Hakka communities in different regions holding different views toward Hakka identification. Compared to their ethnic counterparts in Southeast Asia, Hakka Americans are more interested in Taiwan local matters and using the communication forum provided by the Council of Hakka Affairs to network with their fellow townspersons in the United States. The online discourses of Hakka American associations reveal their cultural identification and hometown memory of Taiwan.

From a perspective of transnationalism, religion, and immigration, Eriberto Lozada (2003, 799) understands that the boundaries of a community have "always been 'virtual'--real only when people culturally recognize and acknowledge the power that creates rigidity of these boundaries." Lozada (1998) was among the first scholars to argue that the diasporic Hakka identity can be found in cyberspace. He analyzed the cultural activities of the Hakka Global Network (HGN) and showed a virtual community comprised chiefly of settled Hakka groups in various countries interested in Hakka history, language, literature, and social customs. The network's members also organized social gatherings in the real world, such as Hakka world conventions and cultural tours in China or elsewhere. A cultural identity based on the same ethnicity can be seen in this e-forum. Lozada studied the social networks cultivated in a virtual community in the 1990s. The cultural interests of the members of the Hakka Global Network led to their later interactions in the real world.

On the other hand, Lozada (1998, 164) points out that "HGN members were not preserving mythical, pristine Hakka folkways but are inventing new Hakka traditions, in a manner intelligible to the people of today." In various email messages, they used a romanized version of the Hakka language compiled by Jonathan Teoh Eng, based on a Hakka vernacular Bible used by the Bible Society in Taiwan. While "tai-hi" was discussed as a Hakka version of the Peking Opera and promoted as a traditional marker of Hakka identity, an HGN member explained that tai-hi had been developed in Taiwan for centuries and was popular in temple festivals and theatres from the 1940s to the 1950s (164-65). "Certain topics, especially the origins of the Hakka and Taiwanese Hakka political activity, generated heated debate between HGN members" (163). The majority of the activists initiating and responding to messages are from Taiwan and the United States. Many "HGN members currently located in the United States have moved there from Taiwan" (163-64). One of them "made an initial request for information about how to join a US-based Taiwanese Hakka organization" (165). All these observations suggest that HGN should have inspired the Taiwan Council of Hakka Affairs (CHA) with its future development of a Hakka community, that is, the Global Website, to produce its neighborhood in cyberspace.

The website we studied was established by the Taiwan Council of Hakka Affairs in 2001 when the high literacy rate and information communication technology (1CT) of Taiwan allowed its citizens a rich cyber culture. In his survey of Taiwan's ethnicity and the country's representation on the Internet, Jens Damm (2011) points out that the Hakka group performs much better than its peer ethnic groups of Hoklo-speakers (i.e., southern Fujian origin), Mandarin-speakers, or aborigines. He identifies aspects of the Internet that helped shape Hakka identity on the web in Taiwan in the first decade of the twenty-first century. Chang and Tao (2016) further examine the role of the Council as a platform for global Hakka people of diversity. To expand the role in global public discourse, anthropologist Ulf Hannerz (2015) suggests a participant observation method to examine the frames of cultural organization, that is, the stale, the market, the movement, and the consociality. To enhance the power of copresence with our participants, we may spot what is emergent in our interconnected world through contemporary media technologies, or "social media."


The Kuomintang ([phrase omitted] KMT, the Nationalist Party) ruled Taiwan since the time of its retreat from mainland China in 1949 until its ruling position was replaced by the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in 2000. Unlike the KMT, which used monolingual Mandarin in all public media and official representations, the new DPP regime practices a multicultural policy to accommodate the four major ethnic populations, that is, 65 percent Hoklo, 17 percent Hakka, 16 percent Mandarin, and 2 percent aboriginals on the island. As Li-Jung Wang (2007) points out, the ethnic awareness and cultural consciousness of Hakka elites won an increasing degree of social recognition in the 1990s. The Internet was fully adopted by democratic and multicultural activists. As Minna Hsu (2010) observes, the DPP consolidated the multicultural policy when it came to power in 2000. It set up the Council of Hakka Affairs at a central government level in 2001 to construct a distinctive Taiwanese Hakka identity. Yet Scott Wilson (2009) regards Hakkas as still exercising their agency in their everyday lives to push their civil engagement and political participation borders forward during the time of multicultural nationalism. Ethan Christofferson (2012) also notices that some face tension from being both Hakka and Christian, and need to negotiate their ethnic and religious identities in their multicultural communities. Scholars of the Taiwanese Hakka Internet, such as Ching-Ting Liao (2007), Laurance L. S. Lwo (2009), and Meihua Lee (2011), generally recognize the leading role of the CHA in creating Hakka culture and language in the first decade of the twenty-first century. Yowei Kang and Kenneth Yang (2011) find an ethnic identity emerging among Taiwanese immigrants in the United States in cyberspace.

To interact with the Hakka associations in different countries, the Council of Hakka Affairs uses the Global Website to connect with Hakka Chinese overseas. The Council grants the Global Website the potential to relate itself with its ethnic counterparts abroad, and exercise cultural politics of ethnicity in cyberspace (Chang and Chiu 2016). The vocal Hakka American communities (see appendix) negotiate an ethnic identity and cultural difference in their mainstream societies and connect with their ethnic counterparts in Taiwan. Most of them established their organizations in the 1990s with the development of the Internet that allowed an emergence of online communications. Geographically Hakka organizations are no longer confined to the West Coast of the United States. Many active ones on the East Coast have been added to this association list since the turn of the twenty-first century...

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