Hsinchu town puts Hakka cultural heritage front and center
Date / November 25, 2019
Visitors enjoy a stroll around Guanxi Township in northern Taiwan’s Hsinchu County, an area noted for its traditional Hakka architecture and lifestyle. (Photos courtesy of Marty Luo)
The Hakka people, currently comprising 19.3 percent of Taiwan’s population of 23.5 million, first arrived in the country from China’s Guangdong province in the second half of the 17th century. The group’s unique customs and traditions are now an indispensable part of the nation’s ethnography.
With the highest percentage of Hakka residents of any region in Taiwan, the northern county of Hsinchu is a bastion of Hakka culture and language. This is most evident in rural settlements such as Guanxi Township, noted for its century-old courtyard houses, stone bridges and temples.
Guanxi’s Dongan Bridge, constructed in 1933 during Japanese colonial rule (1895-1945), is listed as a historic structure by the local government.
The town’s well-preserved tangible and intangible assets have survived thanks to the dedicated efforts of civic groups and public agencies. Helping spearhead community initiatives in Guanxi is native Marty Luo. He chairs a local cultural organization that conducts promotional projects commissioned by the county government, Cabinet-level Hakka Affairs Council and Ministry of Culture.
Luo’s group publishes a quarterly newsletter highlighting the town’s history and industries, and it also arranges dance and music performances, ecological tours, photo exhibitions and tour guide training. “Community engagement has given me a deeper appreciation of my hometown and Hakka culture in general,” the 47-year-old said. “It’s really enriched my life in so many ways.”
Performers stage an outdoor concert in Guanxi.
In his youth, Luo never envisioned he would dedicate so much of his time to maintaining Guanxi. Like most of his contemporaries, he left the town to pursue study and work opportunities. When he returned in 2003 to take over his family’s restaurant, however, he had a renewed appreciation for the local environment and lifestyle. “I can enjoy the fresh air and beautiful mountains, rice paddies and streams,” he said. “It’s a sharp contrast to the hustle and bustle of city life.”
According to Luo, as one of the few among his peers with the opportunity to move home, he feels particularly responsible for supporting government economic and cultural revitalization programs. “The HAC is working hard to showcase Hakka heritage by providing funding for local arts and media and promoting language instruction in schools,” he said. “I’m confident that these efforts, combined with community-level projects, can ensure the preservation of our way of life.” (By Kelly Her)
A tour guide explains the history of local tea production to visitors at the Formosa Tea Industry and Culture Gallery in Guanxi.
(This article is adapted from “Hakka Heritage” in the May/June 2019 issue of Taiwan Review. The Taiwan Review archives dating to 1951 are available online.)