Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Searching for My Hakka Roots

I called my mom and told her what I had just discovered. She said she did not know much about what I had found, but still sounded troubled when I asked about my grandfather’s salt well business. She said the salt well had been in our family for many generations, but was lost in her father’s hands due to his health. I told her that my cousin had just told me that her father told her the salt well her father worked for was related to us. My mom said she did not know, since she was still in school and she was never in the salt business. She recommended that I ask her 83-year-old brother. I asked her if she had ever returned to Dingzhou; she said never. I was very close to the place once for a meeting, but I did not know anything about my family, nor was I interested back then. I suggested that going there could be a great trip for her 80th birthday and for my 50th birthday, she could just ask whoever to come to join us by the end of the year. Plus, it would be much warmer there. 
     I was surprised when she said, “No, I will not go. If you and your sister want to go, you can go there by yourselves. “Why mom?,” I replied. “You have never been there, isn’t it a good idea for you to see the home of your ancestors at least once? Isn’t it good to see so many Guans there, since I have never met one Guan who was not directly related to us? I told her I had already talked to my brother. He could arrange the airline tickets and all the other logistics. We could ask our uncle to join us.” She asked, “What is the point? You live your life if you go; you still live your life if you do not go. Sometimes in life, the less you know, the easier it is for you to survive.” I told her I wanted to know. Times had changed. She said, “Ying, did you lose your job or something? You have nothing else to do with your life?” “No,” I said, “I was working on this at night. She could not understand why I was suddenly interested about this family’s history and my surname was not even “Guan.” I told her that the more I knew about my family history, the better I would be able to understand myself.
     That night, in my dream, I went to pick up my children at our local library. I saw a friend of mine, Laura, typing something on an old typewriter. She kept making mistakes and it looked like she would never be able to finish whatever she was typing. I asked why she was not using the computer, which no one else was using. She said she did not know how to use the computer and she really wanted to keep her job. I told her that I could show her how to use it and help her.
     We sat in front of the computer; I picked up a piece of paper. I was puzzled because the paper looked like the old Chinese paper, very thin. On top of the paper, there was one large hand-written Chinese word, 盐 which means “salt.” I looked around hoping to find a Chinese person, but no one was around. Laura looked at me and she was wondering about the paper too. Finally, I told her maybe someone was studying Chinese.
     A week later, I called my oldest uncle Guan Jujin (官举晶),  in the morning for him, night for me. I was pleased that I could actually talk to him over the phone. I asked him if he knew about the Guan’s big complex in Qinhua. He said he did not know anything about it and he had never gone back to investigate his roots, even through he had gone to visit his son and daughter who live nearby every year. I told him that his daughter visited Dingzhou and the mayor happens to be Guan Qing. He told me his daughter did not tell him she had visited Dingzhou. I found it interesting that the mayor’s name was the same as our Guan name. I told him that I found so much information on the computer about the Guan, Shangguan family in Dingzhou. There was an online club that I joined whose goal was to connect all the Guan and Shangguan people. Our Guan roots are a missing link that I would like to rediscover. I told him a Guan descendant had already traced our family name back to the Han Dynasty, as well as Shangguan An and Shangguan Yi in the Tang Dynasty. One of Shangguan Yi’s three surviving grandsons went to Dinzhou after their grandfather, fathers, and uncles were killed. We should be their descendants; I just needed to connect our generation names together. I was hoping he would talk to my mother to convince her to make the journey, so we could all go back to visit the home of our ancestors and talk to the seniors living there. 
     He gave me the same response as my mother, “No.” He said he was too old and afraid of the cold to travel outside. I told him that we could go to visit the Guan Complex. I wanted to know their real life off-camera; if he went, they might actually tell us. My uncle was laughing and he said, “of course not, it is no good. You do not need to ask. Whatever is left over I suspect is only a skeleton of the original complex and it is surely be state-owned.” I was surprised that he thought my idea was funny. I would not want to lose my house no matter what happened. He was right that the Guan complex was pretty much empty; all the valuables were long gone, even the objects embedded into the walls or floors.
     Between 1442-1448, there was a big division of the Shangguan family. One branch moved away from Dingzhou to Qing Hua of Guangdong in the Ming Dynasty, later the name was shorted to Guan and they built their biggest fortress. They started their generation name as:
法文朝中卿. 士日捷必如, 洪韶伦常举, 正自见昭明.
     This was a five-word poem, again Shangguan style, meaning “Knowledge and law prevail in imperial court, Sun and gentleman must rise, Sun rays and time test the rulers, standing straight always shine.”
     Our four family books were compiled at the end of the Qing Dynasty. From 1442-1448, our branch moved away from Dingzou Shanghung (上杭) to Yongding near the Yongding River to a place called Longmen (dragon’s gate, 龙门), 汀洲府永定县溪南里龙门乡寨上横溪, 福建. The Yongding River is a branch off the Tingjiang (汀江) which runs from north to south. The Mother River, Tingjian, ran from west to east; Dingzhou is next to Tingjing. Yongding is on the Fujian-Guangdong border, where the Tingjian River runs into the Guangdong and then changes into the Han Jing (韩江), named after Han Yu (likly my father's root). Our family’s Shangguan was also shortened to Guan and we shared the same first word in our family generation names (法). We used the same generation name Far (法) for more generations, plus one more before we used Wen (文).  I am not sure why this was, unless it was separated us for a long time.  In 1724, our great grandfather took his son to move again to Sichuan. Our new generation name started from Zhao (朝) in Sichuan, so we matched their first three words.
     My oldest uncle Guan Jujin had to burn our family history books during the Cultural Revolution after his youngest brother’s house was raided. He knew the book could not fall into outsiders’ hands, so he tried to remember as much as he could before burning it. There was, however too much information in the four thick books; he could only remember our family’s generation names poem. My uncle said they had to have money to move that far from southeast to southwest. They must have had a way to survive, since they did not even speak or understand the local dialogue, except the written language. They owned land in Neijiang and were well established there. Landowners were happy with the Qing government’s policy, because they let go of the land and collected taxes. The Ming emperor sent his sons and family members all over the counties as kings; they took over all the land. Most of the Qing Emperor’s kings stayed in or near Forbidden City with different official names, such as this king, or that king. They did not really have much power.
     My mother finally sent me a copy of five pages of her family’s book, which my oldest uncle wrote at age seventy. She said my uncle had an addition too, but she could not find it. A few months later, I asked again if she had found the additional one, but she said there was no such thing existed. She was simply confused.
     My oldest uncle Guan Jujin (官举晶), burned quite a few of our family books (he said maybe four to five volumes) and passed down generations from the oldest to the next oldest. He was not even entitled to have them, since he was number ten in his generation. It was our misfortune that his uncle (his father’s oldest brother) passed them on to him, since everyone else was either dead or in trouble after the Communists took over. Our family was the safest one, because we had nothing.
     My uncle held them for over twenty years until the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s. It was the lowest point of our family’s life. He was sent to the lowest place in his company from his management post. My youngest uncle, Guan Ju Biao (官举彪), his youngest brother was dragged out from his house and put on display as a Russian spy, since he went to Kiev Polytechnic Institute for college and knew seven languages. They raided his home and took away all his valuables, since they could not find any evidence of wrongdoing. They even took away his radio, so he had no way of knowing what was going on in the outside world. One day, someone pushed him down from a high place and he broke his neck; he almost died. His wife Wang (王) took him to the hospital right away; his life was saved, but his neck was set looking forward only; he could not turn or move his head around anymore. He could not bend his back either; he was like a robot afterward. 
Guan Ju Biao (官举彪) #15 in boys) July 14, 1937 to January 7, 1995.  He went to Kiev Polytechnic Institute to study Electrical Engineering in 1957, then the University of Electronic Science and Technology of China (成都电讯工程学院). He worked for the National Defense Factory
     My oldest uncle, Ju Jin, was scared at this time. He did not want anyone to know our family history. His father’s oldest brother thought he was the safest person of all. He was wrong and he had to burn them just in case. Finally in 1997, at age seventy, he tried his best to recreate the books from his memory, since he did page through them before he burned them. His main goal was to memorize our own family generation names and major points. He finally rewrote five pages, mostly a list of names in his generation and whatever else he remembered from before. Since the family book was passed from the oldest to the oldest, only he knew what was in the book.
    Our 24 generation’s names were contained in a four-word poem, but finished in six lines:
朝庭选举, 忠孝尊荣, 武功丕显,新体昭明,长思世德, 大振家声.
“吾家歷來忠孝傳家,受朝廷褒揚,此家風傳統,尊貴光榮.復為官於朝,平亂有功,功績顯赫,榮耀四方,為後世立下良好風範楷模.子孫們當屢屢記住祖上留下德風,光耀門楣,以遠播家聲.” Translated by Frank Tsay.
     “It meant our family has always been loyal to the country. Always respect and care for the old. As royal court officials, our family always lets justice shine with unbeatable martial arts. Our ancestor has already set up a high moral standard, passing on an honorable and noble tradition. Forever keep the family’s good name.”
     Emperor Kang Xi (1662-1722) decided that Sichuan had to be repopulated after many wars, since he did not get enough taxes from the wealthy lands. The Hakkas were living in poverty in the coastal regions of Guangdong province and were persecuted due to their cultural differences. For example, they refused to practice the binding of feet (which was not a practice in Chinese classical eras). Hakka women worked as hard in the field as men and played very important roles. They were also skilled fighters, fighting alongside their men. The Emperor encouraged the Hakkas in the south to emigrate to Sichuan province. He offered financial assistance to those who were willing to resettle in Sichuan, eight ounces of silver per man and four ounces per woman or child. Thousands of Hakkas living in regions like Guangdong and Fujian responded and accepted the offer. This migration was referred to as the fourth migration of the Hakkas, which eventually made up 95% of the Hakka population in Sichuan. There was a TV series about one Hakka Liu family’s long journey to Sichuan to a place called Luodai near the capital Chengdu. The Hakkas have lived there for over 400 years now after migrating from Guangdong. This extraordinary Hakka journey made me cry. 镇四川/滚滚血脉
     Shangguan had always emphasized the importance of book/law study to be a government official. Our family generation poem contained Martial arts/Arms/Fighting for defense. They had to learn martial arts in addition to whatever they used to learn. That told us of the danger of the salt business. Just being book-smart was not good enough, since we needed both the government and right to arm to protect ourselves. The Guan should have learned how to defend themselves, not just go to school and learn from books, especially in the early years in Zigong before they were established.
     Zigong was well known for its salt. Its nickname was the "Salt City" because of its brine extraction techniques and salt-related culture for over 2,000 years. In 1835, the world's deepest well for its time was drilled, reaching 3,300 feet; it was drilled by the Yan family (颜昌英), who were Hakka people. The deep drilling techniques used in Zigong were 400 years ahead of the Europeans. Joseph Needham (Cambridge University Professor, 1900-1995) listed more than twenty important inventions that had entered Europe from China in his 'History of Science and Technology in China. One of them was deep-well drilling technology. Europeans copied and further refined the percussion drilling methods later. This technology can still be seen in the modern drilling techniques used for oil and water.
MT Wuyi