Punti-Hakka Clan Wars

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Punti-Hakka Clan Wars or Hakka-Punti Clan Wars (simplified Chinese: 土客械斗; traditional Chinese: 土客械鬥; pinyin: Tǔ kè xièdòu) refer to the conflict between the Hakka and Punti in Guangdong, China between 1855 and 1867. The wars were particularly fierce in around the Pearl River Delta, especially in Taishan 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 original land. The Punti are also referred to by the dialect they spoke, Yue Chinese. The origins of this bloody conflict lay in the resentment of the Punti towards the Hakka whose dramatic population growth threatened the Punti. The Hakka were marginalized and resentful in turn, and were forced to inhabit the hills and waterways rather than the fertile plains.


When the Ming Dynasty was overthrown by the Qing Dynasty, Ming loyalists, notably Zheng Chenggong or Koxinga (simplified Chinese: 郑成功; traditional Chinese: 鄭成功; pinyin: Zhèng Chénggōng), fled to Taiwan to raise troops in the hope of eventually retaking China for the Ming. The Qing emperor, in order to stymie these efforts, twice commanded all residents of the coastal areas of Guangdong and Fujian Provinces to move inland by 50 li, approximately 30 kilometres (19 mi), resulting in a large number of deaths amongst the Punti. After the rebels in Taiwan were pacified, the Qing emperor rescinded these edicts.

However far fewer Punti returned than expected, so the Qing emperor 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.

In 1851, the Taiping Rebellion, led by a Hakka Chinese, Hong Xiuquan, erupted in Guangxi Province and quickly spread throughout Southern China. The rebellion was finally suppressed in 1867. In 1854, during the rebellion, a local anti-Qing Triad took the opportunity to rebel, attacking Heyuan and Foshan. This "Red Turban Rebellion" was finally suppressed in 1857.

Clan war[edit]

During this rebellion, the Hakka had helped the imperial army to raid Punti villages to attack the rebels and their sympathisers. This precipitated open hostility between the Hakka and Punti, with the Punti attacking Hakka villages in revenge.

Bloody battles raged. Both sides fortifying 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 Punti 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. More than 3000 Hakkas, who were defeated by the Punti in Gui county, joined the God-worship Society.

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. After the clan war, the population share of Hakka in the Sze Yup area dropped to 3% with many relocated to Guangxi.


With the end of the Taiping Rebellion, the Qing government was able to send the imperial army to suppress the conflict with indiscriminate savagery. Afterwards they separated the combatants. For many years the Hakka were allocated their own independent sub-prefecture, Chixi (赤溪镇) which was carved out of south-eastern Taishan, while others were relocated to Guangxi Province.

Similar clan wars in Malaysia[edit]

Conflict also occurred in the state of Perak, Malaya (present day Malaysia) during the mid-19th century when southern Chinese immigrants arrived to work as coolies and mine laborers. Due to linguistic differences and a history of mutual hatred for each other back in China, bloody wars broke out. This series of conflicts, marked by violence between the Cantonese (and later on, Fujianese) dominated Ghee Hin Kongsi and the primarily Hakka Hai San Secret Society is known as the Larut War, which concluded with the signing of the Pangkor Treaty of 1874.

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