Punti–Hakka Clan Wars

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Punti–Hakka Clan Wars
Date1855 to 1868
Caused by Red Turban Rebellion (1854–1856)
Resulted inSignificant Hakka population moved to Guangxi province
Parties to the civil conflict
Death(s)500,000 [1] - 1 million+ [2]
Punti–Hakka Clan Wars
Traditional Chinese 械鬥
Simplified Chinese 械斗

The Punti–Hakka Clan Wars were a conflict between the Hakka and Cantonese people in Guangdong, China between 1855 and 1867. The wars were fierce around the Pearl River Delta, especially in Toi Shan of the Sze Yup counties. The wars resulted in roughly a million dead with many more fleeing for their lives.



Hakka literally means guest family, and Punti literally means natives. The Punti are also referred to by the languages they spoke, Yue Chinese. The origins of this bloody conflict lay in the resentment of the Cantonese towards the Hakka people whose dramatic population growth threatened the Cantonese people. The Hakka were marginalized and resentful in turn, and were forced to inhabit the hills and waterways rather than the fertile plains.

The existing Cantonese-speaking natives ( 本地 , bendi) of these areas, known in Cantonese as "Punti", were protective of their own more fertile lands, and the newcomers were pushed to the outer fringes of fertile plains, despite having migrated legitimately, or they settled in more mountainous regions to eke out a living. Conflict between the two groups grew and it is thought that "Hakka" became a term of derision used by the Punti aimed at the newcomers. Eventually, the tension between the two groups (the Hakkas had by then been settled for several hundred years and could not be regarded as migrants in any sense) would lead to a series of 19th-century skirmishes in the Pearl River Delta known as the Punti–Hakka Clan Wars. The problem was not that the two groups spoke a different tongue. In fact, the "locals" comprised different peoples speaking several mutually unintelligible tongues, as was typical of the Chinese countryside all over southern China, but they would regard each other as "locals" or Puntis, but exclude the Hakkas from such designation. (The Chinese bendi describes any native people in any location; the English term "Punti" describes the native Cantonese in Guangdong but not the emigrant Cantonese elsewhere.)

Over time the newcomers adopted the term "Hakka" to refer to themselves, not least due to the migratory tendencies inherent in their own culture. Although most of the immigrants called Hakkas were Hakka speakers, the term was later used to include various hill ethnicities such as the She and Yao people who were registered as so called "Guest Families" as they migrated with the Hakkas together from the hills. Intermarriages among Hakka and Punti members was extremely rare. Through studies of both Cantonese and Hakka genealogies, some Hakka and Punti people with the same surnames allege that they may have the same ancestors, although their descendants strongly identify with one group to the exclusion of the other.

During the Qing conquest of the Ming, Ming loyalists under Koxinga established a temporary seat and regional office for the Ming dynasty [3] [4] in Taiwan in the hopes of eventually retaking mainland China. In an attempt to defeat these warriors and pirates without a war, the Kangxi Emperor strengthened his dynasty's sea ban (haijin) in 1661 and issued the order for the Great Clearance of the southeastern coast. Chinese, especially the ethnic Tanka, living off the coast of Shandong to Guangdong were ordered to destroy their property and move inland 30 to 50 li (about 16–31 km or 9.9–19.3 mi) upon pain of death in order to deprive the Taiwanese rebels of support or targets to raid. The governors and viceroys of the affected provinces submitted scathing memorials and the policy was reversed after eight years. In 1669 and 1671, however, strong typhoons destroyed what few settlements existed.

As far fewer Punti returned to the abandoned lands than expected, the Qing ruler decided to provided incentives to repopulate these areas. The most visible of those who responded were the Hakka. For some time the Punti and Hakka lived together peacefully. As the population of Guangdong Province soared, life became increasingly difficult and unrest broke out, such as the Red Turban Rebellion led by the Cantonese attacking Ho Yun and Fat Shan.

Clan war

During the Red turban rebellion in Canton, the Hakkas had helped the imperial army to raid Punti villages to kill the rebels and any real or suspected sympathisers, including villagers who were forced to pay taxes to the Red Turbans. This precipitated open hostility between the Hakka and Punti, with the Punti attacking Hakka villages in revenge.

Battles raged. Both sides fortified their villages with walls, destroyed bridges and roads, and raised armies as best they could. Entire villages were involved in the fighting with all able-bodied men called to fight. The Cantonese were armed with the help of their relatives in Hong Kong and the Chinese diaspora who lived abroad. Some captives were sold to Cuba and South America as coolies through Hong Kong and Macau, and others sold to the brothels of Macau. 500,000 perished in the war from genocidal fighting in which thousands of villages were destroyed, notwithstanding an even greater number who perished in epidemics. [1]


Conflict reached a devastating scale. Over a million died and thousands of villages were destroyed. Because the Punti significantly outnumbered the Hakka, the Hakka losses were more extensive, the population share of Hakka in the Sze Yup area dropped to 3%, with many relocated to Guangxi.

For many years the Hakka were allocated their own independent county, Chek Kai (赤溪), which was carved out of south-eastern Toishan.

See also

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  2. Minahan, James B. (10 February 2014). "Hakka". Ethnic Groups of North, East, and Central Asia: An Encyclopedia. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO. p. 89. ISBN   978-1610690188.
  3. Wills, John E., Jr. (2006). "The Seventeenth-century Transformation: Taiwan under the Dutch and the Cheng Regime". In Rubinstein, Murray A. (ed.). Taiwan: A New History. M.E. Sharpe. pp. 84–106. ISBN   9780765614957.
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