Wun Hsihsin, MA, Graduate Institute of Taiwan Literature, National Taiwan University
As author Li Wenliang points out, in an era when a great volume of historical data has been digitalized, searching databases for keywords seems to be the contemporary trend in academic research. But using this method it’s easy to overlook the particular reasons for historical archives existence as well as their historical context. By sequentially reading local records from the Qing dynastic period, the author not only allows readers to reflect on the deficiencies and dangers of modern research methods, but has also written and published Migration, Land Reclamation and the Building of Hakka Society in Southern Taiwan during the Qing Dynasty, 1680-1790 (2011), the product of his research.
Focusing on Qing-era immigration to southern Taiwan, through careful readings of local records and documents and contextual research, the book shows how immigrants influenced Taiwanese culture and society from the Qing period onward, becoming what we today recognize as Taiwan’s “Hakka people.” The work is divided into four major sections. Centering on the Pingdong plain in southern Taiwan (the Liudui area), the book systematically illustrates the establishment of a society of immigrant pioneers in the Ming and Qing dynastic periods and the social changes that followed. In particular, this so-called “establishment” refers not only to immigrants who put down roots in Taiwan, but also to the appearance of these immigrant groups in historical records (that is, “archive-ization”).
In the first two sections, “From the Ming to the Qing” and “Taiwan During the Reign of the Kangxi Emperor,” the writer explores the transfer of governmental power from the Ming to the Qing dynasty, and the privatization of land ownership in Taiwan, leading to the emergence of the term hak (客), or “guest”: From the early years of the Qing dynasty, archival records used the term hak-e (客仔) to describe the pioneer immigrants living in the Liudui area. Actually, hak is a noun, and a is a diminutive added on; in addition to familiarizing the noun, e is often a term of deprecation. Thus, the use of hak-e in archival records provides a glimpse of the archivists’ attitudes toward these people. In the third part, “Local Unrest and Rural Society,” the writer examines the social differentiation that took place in the Liudui area following the outbreak of the Zhu Yigui 1 rebellion in 1721. Locals used their identity as “loyalists” and the language they spoke to differentiate themselves. During the rebellion, Hakka in the Xiadanshui area formed the “Pan-Hakka Language Family Righteous Ones Association,” which raised their social status after the fighting had ended. The final section, “Recognition of Ancestry and Achievement in the Imperial Examinations,” shows how immigrants from China’s Guangdong province struggled with the nation and government for cultural position after the Zhu Yigui rebellion ending.
Running through the book is the concept of “legalization.” For immigrants of the time, “law” did not necessarily take precedence over custom; nevertheless, if they wanted to attain recognition peacefully, they had to act according to the law. As historical archives show, laws were written by those in authority who controlled capital. These laws emblemized “orthodoxy,” and only within the frame of legalization would they be kept. Starting from this consideration, “legalization” corresponds to “nation,” another motif that runs through the work. The notion of “empire” seems to shadow the book: Every issue the author examines reflects the people’s hopes of achieving “legal” status within the empire.
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