Migration and Ethnicity in Chinese History: Hakkas, Pengmin, and Their Neighbors

By Clammer, John | Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, September 9, 1999 | Go to article overview
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Migration and Ethnicity in Chinese History: Hakkas, Pengmin, and Their Neighbors


Clammer, John, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute


LEONG, SOW-THENG. Edited by Tim Wright with an introduction and map by G. William Skinner. xx, 234 pp., maps, tables, bibliogr. Stanford: Univ. Press; Cambridge: Univ. Press, distributors, 1997. [pounds]30.00

Sinological anthropology has often been constrained in its broader theoretical scope and comparative impact by self-imposed limitations as to subject matter and themes thought to be appropriate for ethnographic investigation. Issues of kinship have predominated (kinship here being understood primarily as lineage organization) followed perhaps by studies of the religion of settled groups. This has tended, with a few notable exceptions, to suppress analysis of non-territorially specific dialect groups, of the complex issues of ethnic identity that Chinese civilization poses and of the ways in which socially marginal (although incontestably Chinese) minorities carved out for themselves economic niches and patterns of ecological adaptation rather different from those of the more settled (and usually lowland) majority populations.

The pioneer of alternative approaches to the latter problem, G. William Skinner, succeeded in creating an influential model based on the idea of economic central places and their relationship to their hinterlands. This book consists of nine essays by the late Sow-Theng Leong, posthumously collected and edited by Tim Wright and with an extensive introduction by Skinner who has also provided detailed maps to illustrate and embellish Leong's application of Skinner's model to the Hakka dialect group and to the more amorphous Pengmin or 'shack people'.

The Hakka are one of the most interesting of the Chinese dialect groups. Unlike other settled and regionally specific groups such as the Cantonese, the Hakka have a long and continuing history of migration both within mainland China, to Taiwan and beyond to Southeast Asia and other destinations in the diaspora. Practising, by conventional Sinological standards, 'deviant' forms of kinship, refusing foot-binding for their women, occupying mountain valleys and uplands beyond the reach or economic interest of lowland farmers and having provided both leadership and rank-and-file members to virtually every major Chinese social, political and revolutionary movement at least since the nineteenth century, the Hakkas are an essential but still relatively little studied element in Chinese ethnohistory.

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